10 ways to prepare your toddler for the new baby

What is the best way to prepare our 18-month-old daughter for the arrival of her new sibling in six months? She will have to move into a new bedroom -- in a bed rather than a crib -- and of course, will have to share our attention.

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Be aware that your daughter will need plenty of attention to assure her that she is not being replaced by a newer model.

1. Plan on giving her plenty of one-on-one time with Daddy. Though it is not inevitable, close spacing (less than three years) can create friction between siblings because both will have high needs for parental attention.

2. Read books about babies. You will still have undivided attention to give to her, which will help her adjust to a new situation. Begin reading books to her about babies coming into the family and talk with her about the baby in utero. Though she will not completely understand, she will be primed for the baby's arrival.

3. Stagger the timing of changes. If a new bedroom or bed is required, make this change at least four to six weeks before she becomes a big sister. Your daughter will be less likely to associate her new room or bed with displacement. Any changes that you believe necessary should not coincide with the new baby's arrival.

4. Encourage her regular contact with babies. Teach her the concept "gentle" in touching babies, as well as other living things such as cats and dogs. This will help her get some practice in before she becomes a big sister.

5. Allow her to still be a baby. Despite the fact that she will become a big sister, do not rob her of her own baby-toddlerhood. Don't assume that she must sleep in a bed instead of a crib, especially if she still enjoys and feels comforted by the crib she is now using. Continue to diaper her and offer her the bottle or breast, if you're breastfeeding. She is still very much a baby herself! Expect her to want to be held and even play "baby" by being cuddled and cooed in your arms.

6. Expect moodiness. Don't be alarmed if she seems more clingy or crabby than usual. She will need to express herself and see that her place in the family is still secure. With time and your consideration, she will adapt and gain a sense of mastery (rather than jealousy) about her new role in the family.

7. Remind her that she was a baby too. Show her pictures of herself, the attention she got and the gifts that she received when she was a new baby.

8. Buy a few special toys. It may also help to buy a few gifts that are just for her, so that when you are receiving gifts for the baby and attention is being showered on the newborn there is something for her.

9. Encourage her to help once the baby is born. This will give her a sense of competence. She can bring a diaper to Mommy, take an adult by the hand to show the new baby or giving the baby a toy.

10. Show her the benefits of being a big girl. Involve her in activities she can do which separate her from the new baby and give her the message that she can do certain things because she is not a newborn. Sitting on your lap and pointing to pictures as you read, putting a simple puzzle together or other activities appropriate to her development will continue her excitement in her own growth and the things she can do now that she could not do as a baby.

Whether a new child is being born or a teenager is leaving for college, transitions in families require profound physical and psychological adjustments. Family researchers have identified changes in daily family household membership to be the most stressful. It's natural for your toddler to regress during this time.

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