Most of us adults find change hard, so just imagine how difficult it is for your toddler who relies on familiarity and predictability to make sense of her world.
But change can’t be avoided in the toddler years and it can be quite unsettling for your child.
It’s possible to substantially reduce the distress your toddler experiences. The following are simple strategies you can put in place to lessen any negative impact and ensure life goes on as smoothly as possible.
A new sibling
For all her little life, your toddler has been at the very centre of your universe, but with the arrival of a new baby, all that is about to change. Even if your child appears to be excited about the prospect of having a baby sister or brother, it’s important to prepare her for the inevitable adjustment that will need to occur, and this process can begin as soon as the pregnancy becomes public knowledge.
Preparing her while you’re pregnant
*Begin by pointing out other families with babies so she can see that a family with more than one child is perfectly normal.
*Get your toddler involved by letting her come along to hospital appointments, showing her the scans, feeling the baby move, helping to prepare the baby cots and so forth.
*If the baby’s arrival necessitates other changes in your toddler’s life, such as moving out of the cot, then implement these slowly and in advance so she has plenty of time to adjust.
Introducing the new baby
*Fuss over your toddler before showing her the baby, and then refer to the new sibling as her baby brother or sister. This will help build attachment.
*Discourage having many visitors until your toddler has had a chance to properly get to know the baby. Having an audience of relatives looking on could overwhelm her.
*Follow your toddler’s lead by letting her do as much or as little with the baby as she feels comfortable with.
*Expect some resentment. It’s a rare toddler who doesn’t feel a bit usurped by a new baby. Just let her know you understand how she is feeling and that her reaction is perfectly normal.
*Offer constant reassurance to your toddler by affirming your love and focusing on the positives rather than negatives. Now, more than ever, she needs to feel safe and secure.
*Make time for your toddler by setting aside even just ten minutes a day when it is just you and her. Ensure she has quality time with other family members too.
A family break-up
Family break-ups are never easy for children, and for a toddler with limited understanding, it can feel like their world has been turned upside down. The good news is that you can make your child’s adjustment to these changes much easier, lessening the trauma.
Preparing your toddler for the split
*It’s important that you talk to your toddler about what is happening before any changes in living arrangements occur — just a week or so before should be enough. If possible, do this with your estranged partner, and try to present a united front.
*Don’t try to pretend everything is fine. Your toddler is likely to be experiencing a sense of loss and it’s important to acknowledge her feelings of sadness.
*How your toddler copes with the split is largely dependent on how you and your ex behave towards each other. If you can work together and be civil to each other, you’ll substantially reduce the trauma to your child.
*Inevitably there will be change, but try to make arrangements that disrupt her routine as little as possible. If things must alter fairly drastically, establish new routines quickly and adhere to them. Both you and your ex need to be consistent, particularly if your toddler is going to be sharing time between two homes.
Coming to terms
*Don’t focus on feelings of guilt, as this will do neither your toddler nor yourself any good. Instead, try to focus on all the positives in your family, even though it may no longer be the one you expected.
*Give her plenty of opportunities and encouragement to express her feelings through play. Also use books to help her understand some of the emotions she may be experiencing. A family break-up is complex and your toddler needs time to adjust.