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Introducing your toddler and newborn in three stages

Siblings in training

Ever wonder how your toddler will react when you bring home your new baby? There are three stages of adjustment, according to Dr. Andrea McCoy, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University and the Penn State Geisinger Health System. Here’s how to navigate a smooth transition.

Stage 1: The First Meeting

You cannot predict how your toddler will act he first time he sees the newborn. You can, however, try to make the first meeting easier.

First, if you haven't seen your child since you gave birth, be sure you do before introducing baby. Show your toddler how much your belly has shrunk and tell him how much you missed him. After you have spent time with him, tell him he is going to meet his sibling. Try to use the baby's name, rather than always saying "the baby." This will help your toddler understand that the newborn is a person.

Stage 2: Baby Comes Home

Bringing your baby home is always a joy. But remember, unlike when you brought your first child home, you may have to contend with a little person who doesn't quite understand why mommy is lying in bed with this baby all day. Why isn't mommy up doing the laundry, making meals, and more importantly, playing with me? Your routine is disrupted, and so is your toddler's.

If possible, have dad or another family member or friend that your toddler is close to pick up the slack. Everyone wants to coo over the baby, but your toddler wants life back to normal! Designate someone to help him keep his schedule.

Of course, if your toddler is content with admiring the baby like everyone else, then by all means, let him! "The toddler can be included in usual routines for the baby such as bathing, changing and snuggling up during feeding," says Dr. McCoy.

Stage 3: Everyday Living

The days and weeks following your newborn's homecoming may be a bit trying. You have a new person -- who is pretty demanding -- to care for and your toddler may not like having to share you with anyone. Dr. McCoy suggests frequently talking about the situation.

"The toddler should be encouraged to talk about 'his baby' and share in feeling that this baby is part of 'his family,'" she says. "They should be made to feel proud for being the big brother or big sister. But I caution parents to not put 'pressure' on the toddler to be a big boy or girl." It is perfectly alright to compliment your toddler by calling him a "big boy," but you should never say things like, "You shouldn't be crying -- you aren't the baby," or "I wish you wouldn't act like that -- remember, you are the big boy now."

However, it's equally important for parents to maintain rules and discipline. While having a new baby in the house can be tiring for both parents, toddlers can't be allowed to get away with everything. It may also seem like giving the toddler special privileges will help him adjust, but Dr. McCoy says to avoid these dramatic changes. "This is a time when children need the security of knowing what is expected and that the limits are always the same," she says.

Granted, any large change to a toddler's life can create a difficult adjustment period. But preparation before baby comes home and keeping a close eye on how your toddler is reacting to the new situation will help tremendously. Before you know it, your children will be scheming to get to the cookie jar together, and there you'll be -- wondering where the time went.

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