New Baby and Toddler

The arrival of a new baby involves stress. It can be a positive kind of stress, but it is still stress. Everyone in the family gets to adjust and learn a new routine.  It can be hard for older siblings to accept the idea that they now have a new family member. One of the parents in my class shared with me that her toddler loves the new baby and shares a lot of kisses and hugs, yet he often also attempts to hit the baby.  And hitting makes Mom concerned, sad, and frustrated. What can she do to support and help her older child for a more smooth transition?

First of all, we should understand that hitting is age-appropriate behavior. The toddler is dealing with a lot of changes in the family, he is overwhelmed and has a need to be reassured that he is still important and loved. Second, we can use a few strategies to make it easier, for the toddler, for the mom, and for the whole family. Here are a few ideas: 

1.     The older child’s “needs”

Look at challenging behavior from the perspective of the child’s “need.” Ask yourself the question: when he does ___ his “need” is ___.

It could be that he needs to know that you still love him, and he is still important to you and you want to spend time with him.

2.     Make it visual

Make visual signs when Mom is available. For example, during his sister’s nap, mom is available to play. (Picture of mom sitting/playing with the child on the floor. Or a picture of the child and mom going for a walk in the evening.)

On a paper calendar, use pictures to mark what will happen during the day. It helps support routine and also allows anticipation.  For example, on Saturday, Mom and Jack will have a playdate (just the two of them).

3.     Consistency

Don’t be discouraged if it does not work from the first try. It takes time for new arrangements to become routine.

4.     Set clear limits

To set limits, we don’t need to be or ‘show’ angry feelings. Warmth + Authority = Effective Discipline

Boundaries are important for a child’s healthy development. Children need to push limits and find boundaries to feel safe. So don’t feel doubt or guilt when you have to resist and say “no.”

5.     Restructure environment

·         Put away some of the toys. Fewer toys will help encourage independent play.

·         Arrange toys in a fun and inviting way. For example: a few cars parked in a chain next to the garage.

·         Start with less and add new items to the set.  Build on the materials you have. For example: Start with cars/trucks and add a ramp, then add passengers to ride the cars, then fruits and vegetables to deliver.  

·         Rotating the toys can help keep them interesting.

·         Create а safe space for the baby. Using gates may help.

6.    Involve the toddler in routine

Ask for help and give small tasks. “Please bring me a fresh diaper.” “Could you put this in the trash can?” “Please hold this.” Toddlers love to help when they have opportunities. It helps them feel included, important and needed.

7.    Give full attention

During the caregiving routine, give full attention to the child you are caring for.

·         Tell the children in advance about your plans and intentions, such as “In a minute I will change Katie’s diaper.” Pause. Start collecting the items slowly – it will help both children to process what to expect.

·         Tell the other child that you will be with him as soon as you are done with his sister. And make sure that once you are done you do give him full attention.

8.     Practice Time

Find a specific time during the day when you can practice a successful time together in the same space.  Start with a small amount of time (5-10 minutes); try to end on a positive note. Expand this time gradually. 

·         Set up the environment: a few open-ended light toys for the toddler, a blanket for the baby and a few toys. Sit strategically in the middle to be able to intervene when necessary.  

·         Narrate what the children are doing.

·         Model how you want the children to touch each other. When the toddler reaches for the baby, say: ”I am getting closer and I want to see what you are both doing.” Narrate what you see and model gentle touches.

·         Do not move to negative statements and criticism; if you feel that the toddler is not gentle enough, talk about it with a concerned but not angry tone of voice: “I am concerned that if you continue pulling the baby, he might get hurt.”

·         Block if the toddler is going to hit. You can say something like this: “I will not let you hit.” Pause. “Hitting hurts.”

9.     Toy ownership with two or more siblings.

With a new baby very close in age, it can be interesting because the older child still remembers his toys and might have strong feelings about them.

Getting a few new toys for the new baby might be a good idea, but I think it is not the key. Remember that most conflicts over toys are not about possessing the toy but about love, attention and identity. Providing every toy in double will not resolve the issue of jealousy and might even encourage it.

10.   Photo Album

I read about this idea in Ruth Anne’s Hammond book, “Respecting Babies: A Guide to Educaring for Parents and Professionals.” Ruth Anne suggests creating a paper photo album ahead of time with pictures of Mom being pregnant with the first child, and then him being a tiny baby. Look together at the photo album with his own baby pictures.

11.   Social Story

Create a storybook about the older sibling and the new baby. Make it simple and honest; stay away from judgment or trying to make it unrealistically sweet. Include daily routine and positive interactions, as well as some rough interactions.

12.   Create “Special Box—Mommy is Busy”

Here are ideas about how to make the box:

Just remember that these exasperating behaviors are connected to your children’s need to check if you still love them.

Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!


Teacher Kira

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