Five Tips for a Seamless Transition From One Kid to Two
One of the questions we get frequently at Happy Family After is how to transition from one child to two without losing twice as much sleep and keeping only half your sanity. Transitioning from one child to two is a big adjustment for the whole family. We’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know and do to make that transition as smooth as possible, and give your whole family the tools they need to thrive.
1.) Work through big transitions well in advance of the baby’s arrival, or schedule them for after everyone is settled in.
Any big changes for your child such as transitioning out of a caregiver’s bedroom to their own room, weaning from breastfeeding or a pacifier, learning to use the potty, or transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed should be done several months prior to baby’s arrival. Be very cautious about the language that you use to discuss this big change. Avoid telling your child that their younger sibling needs their crib, or that only babies can sleep with mom. This kind of language can make your child feel fearful that they are being replaced, or that their treasured belongings are going to be given to the baby. It’s better to talk about things you look forward to doing together as a family than to bring up things that may cause your child to feel jealous or apprehensive towards their new sibling.
If your older child is due for a big transition, and the arrival of your new baby is imminent, wait until the baby arrives and everyone has adjusted before tackling the big change. I get it, the temptation to have just one instead of two kiddos in diapers can be very convincing. So when nesting kicks in during the final month of pregnancy, and those toddler-sized diapers are getting old fast, you may feel the urge to use your final few weeks of pregnancy to potty train. Don’t do it. Do NOT do it. Potty training requires a lot of hands-on supervision and super vigilant monitoring for the first several weeks until your child is reliably using the potty independently, and remembering on their own that they no longer have a diaper on to catch their refuse. The same goes for transitioning your child to a toddler bed, or out of a parent’s bed, starting a new daycare or preschool routine, etc. It’s best to have a regular routine set before your new baby joins the family that will continue once the baby arrives, with minimal interruption. Your older child will count on the normalcy of their schedule as a comfort when suddenly life is chaos with a new baby in the mix. You will all feel better about the transition to a new bed, ditching the sippy cup, or using the potty if your child can tackle it with confidence and avoid the regressing that can so often happen when a skill is new and you suddenly have two children to look after instead of one.
2.) Let them be little and don’t sweat the small stuff.
When a new baby joins a family, it can suddenly feel like everyone forgot about the first one. Your house might be flooded with guests, all of your big kid’s favorite people even, but they’re walking right past to get their hands on the baby! There might be lots of gifts to unwrap and new things every direction you turn, and every single one of them are for– you guessed it, the baby.
Naturally, your child is going to have some not-so-little feelings about not being your little baby anymore. It’s perfectly normal for your child to feel jealous of all the attention their sibling is getting, and to try and redirect some of that attention back to them. You might find that suddenly a toy your toddler hasn’t played with in over a year is their absolute favorite and just has to come to bed with them every night. They might climb onto your shoulder and ask to be burped, or onto the floor to roll over and swat at tummy time toys, or even climb into equipment designed for younger babies such as a bouncy seat or bassinet. Your child that’s been sitting at the table for months may want their high chair back, and out of the blue everything tastes better from the sippy cups you almost threw out from lack of use 6 months ago. If they aren’t being destructive or unsafe, just roll with it. If you try to restrict your child’s insistence on working through these feelings, their obsession with it will only grow twice the size. Instead, let them explore with curiosity, and they will move through it relatively quickly and return to their more age appropriate possessions.
Your child is working through some big feelings. There’s no harm in allowing your child to explore old toys they haven’t paid attention to in awhile or ask for attention in a way they have observed their sibling being cared for. Be sure to also allow them plenty of opportunities to do “big kid” things as well. Ask grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other people who they are familiar with spending time alone with, to schedule some one-on-one time to run around at the park or have a playdate or ice cream trip. This also gives you a short break and provides you with some much needed focused time with your new baby.
3.) Set aside some one-on-one time with your older child every single day and stick to it no matter what.
Does your toddler love puzzles? Trains? Monster trucks? Set aside 15 minutes every day to do exactly that with your child. Turn off your phone, put someone else in charge of the baby (or use nap time for this purpose if you are doing things solo), turn off electronics and get down on your child’s level and play with them. Ask them about their toys and listen about their feelings. Be silly and laugh until your bellies hurt. Be really present and tuned in for those 15 minutes that belong to you and your big kid only. Your child has probably never looked as big to you as they do the day you bring a new baby home, and their behavior can often be challenging in those first days of adjustment. Just remember that your child is seeking the opportunity to connect with you, and by committing to doing so every single day, you are providing a foundation of safety and security that they can rely upon.
Commit to your special, undivided play at the same time every day, so your child can rely on that normalcy, and you can also remind them when their next one-on-one time is coming. This will also ensure that you do not forget to do it, and you aren’t scrambling to fit it in 10 minutes past bedtime when you’re both already beyond done with the day. If there are multiple caregivers in the home, I recommend each caregiver doing this with the older child. It can be tempting to pair off, especially if one parent is breastfeeding, and assign that caregiver to the baby and the other to the older child. While this strategy may work for meal times or certain aspects of caregiving in the beginning, it should not be an absolute rule. Your children need the opportunity to be cared for, and bond with, each of their parents and isolating their caregiving to one parent can really make things difficult for your child and increase problem behaviors. Your older child has been accustomed to the undivided attention of each of their caregivers for their whole life now. They crave attention from each of you and need to know they are still of the utmost importance. Filling up their cup with some one-on-one attention is exactly what they need to get through those moments where they realize your attention no longer belongs to just them.
4.) Make your older child a part of caring for the baby in age appropriate ways, and talk with them about the many ways we care for each other in a family.
The research is clear that when each member of a family has responsibilities and a sense of belonging, everyone experiences more satisfaction and less feelings of resentment towards each other. No hands are too little for helping! For a two or three year old, that might just be bringing you a burp cloth when feeding, and fetching a diaper during diaper changes. For a four or five year old, that might mean teaching them how to help burp the baby together, having them help entertain the baby for very short periods of time, or showing the baby how different toys work. For an older child, they might help entertain the baby during diaper changes, or play with them for brief periods while you prepare a snack or use the restroom.
Talk with your child openly about how we work together in a family so that everyone’s needs are met. Sometimes that means we have to be patient while our mom has to help our brother or sister. The key to this is, you also need to point out when you are helping your older child with something and the baby is the one that is waiting. If all your child hears is that they need to wait so you can help the baby, they will quickly lose their patience and resent their sibling. Instead, discuss everyone’s needs openly. So when you are getting yourself a glass of water and both kids are waiting, you might say “Thank you for waiting so nicely while Mom gets some water. I am so thirsty right now!” When the baby is hungry and crying, but you’re grabbing a snack for your older child, articulate that out loud so your older child remembers that sometimes they get to go first too. You might say “I’m just getting some applesauce for your brother, I know you’re hungry too, baby and I will feed you next.”
5.) Accept help early and often.
One of the ways to ensure you don’t get burned out and overwhelmed is to choose early on to accept help. Often the most successful people learn early on how to work smarter instead of harder. More often than not, this means outsourcing tasks that could be done just as well by someone else. This may mean phoning it in on the cleaning and cooking while you adjust to life with two littles. This may come in the form of family members and dividing responsibilities equally with your partner if you have one. We have covered in the above points how to utilize help from those sources. Sometimes the best help is the kind that is highly trained, knowledgeable, and unbiased. Having help from someone who does what you ask them to instead of what they think you need, and has the experience and confidence to teach you a few things along the way can make all the difference in the world. An experienced postpartum doula or newborn care professional can help your family get enough sleep and start your baby out on a solid, age appropriate schedule, encouraging healthy sleeping and eating habits from the beginning.
There you have it! Five detailed tips from the professionals on making the transition from one to two a smooth one. If you’re assembling your postpartum dream team, we’d love to chat about how we can help give you a Happy Family After.
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