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Reacting to a New Baby

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Q: Why does my toddler ignore our new baby and demand that we give her back to the hospital?

A: When a toddler has been the only child, exclusively doted upon by all the adults in the family, it seems very worrisome to him that now folks are cooing over the new baby. Maybe your toddler expected that the new little one would be a playmate for him! Someone he could jabber with and pound with on the hammering pegboard. But surprise, his baby sister is so tiny, all she seems to do is sleep, cry, and nurse.

First, be sure that you set aside special alone-time with your toddler every day. Read a favorite book. Snuggle together and talk about his time at childcare and whom he played with. Go over any nice scribble pictures he has made and talk about the colors he used. By giving him intimate attention focused on his special interests and needs, you will be reassuring him how precious he is.

If he shows signs of regression, such as a lot more thumb sucking or demanding a bottle, go easy. Giving him a small bottle of water to carry around triumphantly does not mean that he will "revert" forever to a bottle. Indeed, after sucking on the water bottle, he may well decide on his own that drinking from his sippy cup is much easier and more fun. Do not shame him. (Shame corrodes the soul!)

If he acts anxious and worried, he may be thinking that your family only likes babies. That is why he may return to some babyish ways. Try to explain how much you love him. He may be puzzled as you tell him that you love the new baby and you love him so very much. This will help him learn that there is enough love to go around in your family.

When visitors coo over the new baby, take him aside and cheerfully remind him of how much enthusiasm he shows when he gets a new toy. He will often give all his attention to it at first. But then he surely goes back to playing with his favorite older toys, such as his train tracks and cars. Be very matter-of- fact and treat the fuss over the new baby as something that folks like to do over anything that is new.

When you are nursing the new baby, snuggle your toddler close to you on the couch. As you nurse, sing a song with many stanzas that your toddler knows and loves. "Old MacDonald " is a fine song to keep on singing while you are nursing. This way, your toddler will feel included and appreciate the special attention he is getting. Of course, tell him that when he was a baby you also nursed him whenever he was hungry.

Include him in small, kind actions. For example, if you need the baby's swaddling blanket and it is on the bed near the changing table, ask your toddler to please go get the blanket for you. Then thank him warmly for his "help." The more that you gently and cheerfully include your toddler in such small acts of care and kindness for the new baby, the more he will be reassured of being specially able and helpful. Also, when you read with him, tell him how much you enjoy this activity. The baby is much too young to understand the stories that he loves. After a while, he will begin to appreciate all the ways in which being the big brother is an advantage rather than a threat.

Be patient. Sometimes, during this first jealous adjustment phase, a toddler will call you a "mean mommy" or a "mean daddy." Reframe this so that you understand these words as reflecting your toddler's inner worries. As you accept his initial feelings by simply listening and being a kind and caring parent, he will gradually go on to become a caring big brother.

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