I’ll admit, I screwed it up. Big time! As it turns out, introducing your toddler to your newborn isn’t always as easy and straightforward as it seems. There are a lot of big emotions for such little people.
I thought I had prepared. The big sister bag was packed with a present from the newborn. I had a plan for big sister when I went into labor. And, I read articles about the big introduction and what to say (and what not to say).
But honestly, when that day came and she walked into the delivery room, I froze. Granted, I had just had a baby and was pretty exhausted. But, looking back, there are things I could have prepared for better and things I could have done differently.
Now, I am on a mission to tell every mother pregnant with her second child the Do’s and Don’ts of introducing your toddler to your newborn. Here’s what I learned…
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1) Don’t send your toddler into the room alone
I was so excited when my toddler walked into the delivery room! I had literally tucked her in the night before and had my baby by 9 that morning so she had woken up without me. At the end of a long night, I missed her.
Originally, I had wanted her to be at the birth but I knew that she needed sleep and it would be better for everyone if grandma watched her at our house that morning.
When she walked into the room, Dad was holding the new baby and I was too sore to move so neither one of us could give her the attention that she needed. And, we couldn’t lift her up onto the bed with us.
It was a disaster.
And she cried.
We had to call my mom into the room so she could help our daughter. But, it was hard to console her after that. The damage was done.
Looking back, I would have wanted to make her feel special as a big sister. I could have taken our newborn so that my husband could have given our toddler some special attention, helped her wash her hands, and lifted her onto the bed.
Being a big sister and meeting your new sibling for the first time is hard enough. There are a lot of emotions going through their little bodies. It would have helped to have Dad or grandma or grandpa or somebody available to help during that moment.
2) Don’t send your toddler into the room without washing his/her hands first
I had our second baby right in the middle of flu season. Fortunately, my husband and daughter had already had the flu and recovered a week before the baby was born. Still, we didn’t want to take any chances. Neither does your birth team.
The nurse at the birthing center made a big deal about our toddler washing her hands before seeing the baby. I’m sure the hospital does the same thing.
I wish I had thought of this before delivery. But, I’m telling you so that you can plan ahead and prevent the same mistake I did.
My toddler waltzed into the delivery room and the very first thing everyone said to her was
“wash your hands!”
She immediately burst into tears. She had looked so excited to see Mom and Dad and her new brother. I could see in her eyes that she was crushed. Naturally, as a toddler, she did not want to wash her hands and the crying continued.
3) Don’t expect things to go perfectly
I had high hopes for my kids meeting for the first time. Naturally, I wanted my toddler to love her brother from the moment he was born.
I read this book I’m a big sister to her often throughout pregnancy. We talked about what it would be like after the baby was born. She talked to and hugged and kissed my belly.
The way things were going in pregnancy, I thought their first meeting would be enchanting.
When it wasn’t, I had to be flexible. I had to go with the flow of my toddler and realize that everything would be ok. Of course, there is an adjustment phase. But, it doesn’t last forever.
1) Do realize this doesn’t last forever
There will be tears. There will be behavioral regression in your toddler of some sort. And, there will be sleepless nights and days you turn the tv on. Take a deep breath.
The crying will stop. The sun does come out at the end of the storm. And, you will settle into a routine. All in good time. Be patient with yourself and your kids.
There will also be times your toddler spontaneously cuddles up with your newborn on the floor. And, your heart will melt the first time your toddler says “I love you” to your newborn.
Savor the moments.
Do offer opportunities for your kids to interact
Once we got home, I would ask my daughter if she wanted to hold her new brother. She would scowl and shake her head no. For two days!
Then, magically, she went up to her brother in the bouncer and gave him a hug and a kiss. Then, she asked to hold him.
Take pictures of those moments.
If things don’t seem to be going well, keep trying. Keep offering for your toddler to hold the baby, to hug or kiss the baby (as long as your toddler isn’t sick).
Invite your toddler to help with the baby. Ask them questions like “do you want to throw away the baby’s diaper?” Or “do you want to pat the baby on the back gently to burp him?”
“Do you want to…”
Phrasing questions in this way rather than commanding them to do something invites them to participate and gives them control over their environment at the same time.
If they say no, this can also start a discussion about why. Why they don’t want to help and what emotions they may be feeling in that moment. Whether it’s jealousy or anger or sadness, they can then talk about it so that they can work through those emotions.
2) Do take time to introduce your kids to each other
Honestly, I can’t even remember if we did this. Things were so chaotic. Once we finally got our toddler to settle down and stop crying, there were so many other cousins and family members there that I don’t even remember if the kids were introduced.
I had planned for this beautiful moment. But, I missed it. And I regret that.
I had read that introducing the baby to your toddler first can make the toddler feel proud to be a big sibling. For instance, rather than saying “here’s your new baby brother”
Talk to the baby and say “baby, here is your new big sister. She is going to teach you so many new things as you grow up and you’re going to be best friends.”
I wish I had done that.
Learn from my mistake and make that introduction as special as you can.
3) Do have a special present waiting at the hospital
I had packed a big sister bag for our toddler for use while I was in labor. My thought was that she could have something to occupy her while she waited.
As it turns out, I labored through the night and our baby was born right as my toddler was waking up at home. So, she only played with the big sister bag for a couple of hours before coming with grandma to the birth center.
I didn’t think to have a present waiting at the birth center too.
If the present had been at the birth center, I think it would have been easier to make the connection that it was “from the baby” and it would have made her feel special as a big sister. It also would have given her something to do during the footprints and shots (other than play on our phones).
As it turned out, one of our relatives had brought a bouquet of balloons. Our toddler loves balloons! It was perfect. It was a distraction and gave her something to play with. Her cousins showed up at that time as well which really helped give her some familiarity in a strange place with so much change happening.
So, that is how I screwed up the sibling meeting. In the end, I cannot go back and change how I handled that. And, it’s not worth regretting because it’s done. I can only move forward now. But, hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and have a better experience.
Once we were home, it only took big sister a couple of days to warm up to baby brother. So, no matter how bad that first meeting may seem, things will get better. The nurse at my birth kept saying that these reactions (crying and big emotions) are very normal. Be prepared for some tears and adjustment.
Do you have any other tips for the toddler and newborn meeting? How did you handle the big introduction?