When you’re preparing to bring a new baby home, you might be wondering how the already-established relationships and dynamics in the household will change…with your partner, existing children—and even your pets! And mama—they will change, that’s for sure. But after an adjustment period, you’ll feel like your new family dynamic is everything it was ever meant to be. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare your children and pets to welcome your new baby.
How to Prepare Toddlers for a New Baby
It can be tricky to introduce the idea of a new baby to a toddler who is only a few years old themselves. They might only barely grasp the concept of a baby—let alone realizing this new additional who will live in their house (forever) with them!
What they can understand, however, is excitement. They’ll hear you and your partner talk about the new baby, and they’ll absorb some of that excitement, too! Spend time reading books about welcoming a new baby to help them learn words like “baby,” “brother,” or “sister.” If they don’t already have one, giving them a baby doll to take care of is a sweet way for them to practice being gentle and loving with a baby (and they’ll probably mimic your actions once their brother or sister arrives!).
If you need to make any major changes to your older child’s normal routine (switching their room, transitioning them out of a crib, potty training, etc.) try to make sure these changes are completed well before baby gets here—or wait until after baby’s already settled at home. Too many life changes can be overwhelming for little kids!
You might also consider giving your toddler a small gift “from the baby” to encourage a connection. And if there isn’t an immediate liking to the baby once they arrive—don’t be concerned! It’s a lot for any child to embrace the concept of sharing their mommy or daddy. They’ll come around eventually—but to help ease their fears of being less loved, or getting less attention—make sure you and your partner make a special effort to spend quality one on one time with them.
You should also be prepared for a few regressions, maybe your toddler act likes more of a baby, having potty accidents or wanting to use a bottle again. Try and empathize—it’s a normal (if frustrating) way to try and ensure they still have your love and attention, too. Give them the affection and quality time they’re seeking, and be sure to praise them when they act like the big kid they are.
How to Prepare Preschoolers for a New Baby
Preschool-aged kids are emotional little beings as it is, and while most times they’re excellent helpers when the new baby arrives (and can follow directions like “quick, throw me the burp cloth!), they’re also used to the status quo and may be sensitive to your new addition.
Make sure you (and your partner) tell your little one about their new brother or sister, rather than them overhearing about it from grandma, etc. Use books to help them learn what to expect, and explain how babies behave (they sleep. and cry. and eat. and cry). Your preschooler might be excited to get a new playmate—but make sure they know it will be a while before they can truly play with baby.
It’s easy for a kid this age to feel like they’re being forgotten in all of the new baby excitement. Ask family and friends to spend a little extra time with your preschooler when they come to visit baby (bonus points if they bring a small gift for your older child). You and your partner can also make sure your preschooler is feeling special too by including them in things like cuddling baby, and prioritizing special time together while baby sleeps. You can also ask your partner to step in as primary parent/playmate for your older kid to ensure they’re getting attention when mama is so hands-on with baby.
You should also be prepared for a few regressions, mama. There may be times after baby arrives when your older child might act like more of a baby themselves (potty accidents, wanting to use a bottle, etc.). Try and empathize—it’s a normal (if frustrating) way to try and ensure they still have your love and attention, too. Give them the affection and quality time they’re seeking, and be sure to praise them when they act like the big kid they are.
How to Prepare Older Kids for a New Baby
While older, more mature kids can be excellent hands-on helpers, they can still have some trouble dealing with the attention baby gets. Be up-front with the changes (the good and the not so good) that will happen in their house, and involve your child in helping with preparations for baby—they might enjoy picking out some outfits for baby, or pitching in to help to paint the nursery. Giving them small tasks to do once baby arrives, or even asking them to hold your little one sometimes, can make them feel important and involved. And even though your older child probably is mature enough to understand why they’re receiving less of your attention—it’s still important to dedicate some quality one-on-one time doing an activity your older kid enjoys and asking them how they are feeling.
How to Prepare Your Pet for a New Baby
While it’s fun to imagine your newborn and fur-baby meeting and immediately becoming best friends…there’s definitely some groundwork you can do to make sure your pet is prepared to share the home with your new addition.
If your pet has any behavior problems that you can foresee being a challenge with a little one in the house, be sure to address it well before welcoming your newborn. Any issues with jumping, aggression, or even potty training have the potential to get worse with a new addition in the house. If it’s a very serious issue, it might be useful to hire a professional trainer to help curb their troublesome behaviors.
When meeting for the first time, be sure to introduce your baby and your pet in a very controlled way. Some people even suggest bringing a piece of clothing or blanket with baby’s smell on it to let your pet get a sniff before meeting them. You and your partner should say hello to your pet first, then let them see and smell your baby. Keep dogs on a leash for the first interaction or two, and be sure baby is in your arms while they say hello.
Once baby is settled in, be sure to give your pet some quality time and cuddles too (notice a theme here?). They’ll still crave the attention they got before baby arrived, and could get depressed or exhibit some behavior problems if they feel stressed out (including potty accidents, or licking/over-grooming).
No matter what the make-up of your family is (human, pets, or both)—remember that new relationships take time, mama. New babies are an adjustment for everyone! You’ll all find your groove before you know it.