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10 Tips to Prepare Your Toddler for a New Baby

February 17, 2012

So you’re having another baby. Whether it was a thoughtful decision founded in the confidence you’ve amassed from raising one little person to toddlerhood or simply the result of too much wine, you will soon be the parent of two small children. Yikes. I’m mean, yeah! Congratulations! However you arrived here, transitioning to two warrants preparation. Not to the degree that baby number one required, you likely possess most of the necessary gear and drive the standard issue SUV. The most important task this time around is preparing your one & only for his role as a big brother. Here is what I did, what I didn’t do but woefully regret, and why priming your little one for her new sibling is worth the effort!

What to do

#1 Be well on his way to 100% potty trained

#2 Transition into a regular bed, but not yours..

#3 Streamline the bedtime routine

#4 Foster independent play

#5 Set-up child accessible snacks & drinks

#6 Practice independent hand washing & teeth brushing

#7 Teach the “flip flop” method & invest in Velcro shoes

#8 Role play with a baby doll

#9 Read I’m a Big Brother type books

#10 Engage her in the preparations

#11 Fill up his reserves with unconditional love

Where to buy

For today’s list, I shopped at Amazon.com and Target. For more of where I like to shop for baby, check out Where to buy.

Why to do it

The goal here is creating a reasonably self-reliant toddler to free up your time to care for a new baby.

1. Whatever your ideal potty training method, it’s just plain easier to have only one diaper wearer per household. Potty training is a messy and often time-consuming undertaking, best tackled months before new baby arrives. Regression upon arrival is common. I hear. I waited until my baby was 3 months old to get serious about potty training his big brother. My then 2 ½ yr. old toddler had been using his potty chair and wearing pull-ups for a year when changing a particularly unpleasant pull-up became the last. My no turning back approach elicited screams of fury from my son, but we stuck to underwear, and he was fully potty trained weeks later.
Set up the bathroom so your child can maneuver unassisted, including a non-skid step stool at the toilet or a freestanding potty chair, another step stool at the sink, and an easy to push soap dispenser.

2. Some parents like the safety and confinement afforded by keeping their toddler in a crib as long as possible. I prefer not to have someone yelling at me at 6:30am. But do enjoy awakening to a sweet little guy crawling into my bed each morning. I also did not want to own another crib. My toddler transferred to a regular bed with safety rails at 22 months, 4 months prior to the birth of his brother. He made the switch after spending a week in a hotel bed and weeks after helping me decorate his big boy bedroom.
Like potty training, the no turning back approach worked best for us. Include your child in setting up his new bed. Celebrate the milestone, mindfully detaching it from his future sibling so he does not feel displaced, i.e., kicked out of his crib for the new guy.

3. Cut the fat from your child’s bedtime routine. Toddlers are adept at extending and adding to their nightly rituals. Stick to the basics and help your child fall asleep on her own if she doesn’t already. You may have time now to indulge her, but very shortly will not.


4. Cultivate an environment for independent play. It’s healthy for you & your child, and will soon become a necessity. This article from Redbook magazine offers some practical tips.

5. Set up a child accessible drawer or shelf with healthy snacks, cups, bowls, and silverware. My son takes great pride in preparing his own snack, and even though he can’t pour his drink from the refrigerator yet, just handing me the cup is helpful while I’m holding baby.

6. Insist on hand washing before eating, after using the bathroom, etc. Newborns immune systems are not fully developed and toddlers are germ magnets. My son got the picture from reading Germs Are Not for Sharing. Tooth brushing was a battle until we started “taking turns,” he gets a turn and then I finish up at least once a day.  Using a 2 minute sand timer is an entertaining way to keep them brushing or handwashing for a full 2 minutes.  Place a cup at the sink so your child can access a drink of water at anytime.

7. My son learned the “flip-flop” method of putting on his jacket in preschool. Place the jacket, lining side face up, on the floor and stand with your feet at the neck. Bend over and place your arms as far as you can into the sleeves and “flip” the jacket over your head, pushing your arms through the end of the sleeves. Voilà! What a help it is for him to put on his own jacket and Velcro shoes. Organize your child’s dresser so that underwear, socks, and pajamas are also accessible without your assistance.

8. Purchase a baby doll with a diaper, bottle, and pacifier if you plan to use those items with your baby. Teach your child to take care of “his” baby, in particular how to address a crying baby’s needs and the importance of being gentle.

9. Read your toddler stories about her significant role as big sister. Replace the characters names with her and her future sibling’s names or relate the people in the book to other families she knows with young children. We read What a Good Big Brother! many, many times.

10. Include your little one in any tangible preparations for the new baby. Choose clothing and toys together, and enlist his help in setting up the nursery. My son really enjoyed going through his old items and deciding which ones to share with his future brother. He would ultimately be sharing them all.., but seemed to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility for his new sibling by having a hand in the planning. This also afforded many opportunities to talk about what I did to ready for his arrival. And who doesn’t like to hear about themselves?

11. Seize these last few months to fill your only child with unconditional love and reinforce her irreplaceable position in your family. Explain and consider practicing your family’s new routine prior to the arrival of her sibling. Mom walking around like a zombie, the house a disaster, only one roll of toilet paper left, no milk to drink..It’ll be fun!

What about you

Management consultant Patrick Lencioni reinforces the idea of creating a family action plan prior to the arrival of a new baby in his book The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family. The takeaway point for me was his resolve over which projects NOT to take on at this phase in life. If it wouldn’t simplify his family’s imminent new routine, he tabled the task. His personal example involved holding off on landscaping his front lawn. It was a daily eyesore to him, but he recognized – or perhaps his wife kindly educated him – that a yard with curb appeal wasn’t going to ease the chaos of caring for impending baby number four. But finishing the kitchen remodel would.

I tend to give essential and non-essential tasks equal priority. Like staying up an extra 2 hours sewing two buttons onto a sweater I will only ever wear again because I wasted all that time sewing on those two darn buttons! I’m exhausted the following day and minor tasks appear daunting. Sleep deprivation is a primary trait of parents with small children. Take any and all steps to mitigate it by being mindful of how you allocate your time even before baby is born.

Temper any aspirations of perfect parenting. Even if you take credit for your darling toddler’s behavior and achievements – dismiss the misguided idea that applying the same techniques to your next child will result in the same perfect specimen. It won’t, and you won’t have the time anyway. I’m just coming out from under a cloud of guilt on this issue as I see my now 11-month old contentedly hitting his developmental milestones without the same level of mothering intensity I applied to his 3-year old brother.  (He looks to his big brother instead of me for entertainment and modeling how to play & manipulate his environment.)  It really provides me a freedom to do the best I can & enjoy parenting my two sweet little boys.

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