A new baby changes the family dynamic. It can be hard for toddlers, preschoolers, and older children to welcome a new baby into the family without feeling short-changed sometimes. Here is a helpful phrase that may work for your family as it did for mine.
This last time we brought home a baby from the hospital was particularly brutal.
Not due to a bad labor or rough delivery, but because the months leading up to it had been utterly exhausting…
I was exhausted, hormonal, and physically unwell for weeks and the kids felt my absence. They knew they weren’t getting the attention they were used to and deserved. They were still too young to understand exactly why, but they figured it out soon enough.
“You have to feed the baby again?”
Feeding can last a long time and doesn’t always happen regularly, even if you try to keep a newborn routine. The kids can feel that the baby is “yours” and that you are devoting all your time to “the baby.” Instead of doing Legos and reading books and hanging around acting lazy and playing with the kids, these were things they heard me say all day.
“I’m going to feed the baby.”
“The baby just woke up, let’s go get him.”
“The baby is fussy… let’s rock him.”
Eventually, I realized if I wanted the kids to feel attached to the baby – which they kind of already were – instead of in competition with all the baby’s needs, I needed a new strategy. I needed to help the kids see that the new baby was here to stay, much loved, and that all the attention he needed was temporary but necessary. And, in fact, it could be fun.
Instead of referring to my newborn as “the baby” I decided to use make it a family affair.
From that point on, we referred to him as “our baby.”
I noticed an immediate change in my preschoolers attitude towards the baby. My 1-year-old was fairly oblivious, but he even uses the phrase now. Here’s how I use the phrase so the kids feel connected to the baby, not in competition with him.
Our baby needs to feed
If the baby started fussing or biting his little fists, I’d say, “Oh no, what do you think our baby wants?” “Milk,” they’d reply, or “he’s ready to eat, mama.” Often, they would sit by me and rub the baby’s head or we’d all read a book together. Instead of saying I need to feed “my” or “the” baby, we make sure “our baby” is well fed.
Our baby is asleep, let’s be quiet
Instead of getting mad at the kids for running outside the baby’s room and trying to wake him up, I changed tack. I started closing the hall door and saying, “Our baby is tired, what do you think we should do right now?” Even the little ones understand that it doesn’t feel good to be overtired. They would respond, and still do, “We need to be quiet, our baby is sleeping.”
Our baby needs a lot of attention right now
Babies need a lot of attention. Toddlers and preschoolers do too, but not the same type of constant hyper-vigilant attention. By calling the baby by his name or referring to him as “ours” it becomes a family effort. We talk about how the baby can’t play with us right now, but soon he’ll be running around keeping up. When we say our baby needs something, the kids feel more ownership over the task.
Our baby is ours
They want to run and get wipes or diapers. They like to read books to the baby. They think our baby is cute, squishy, and cuddly. He might need a lot of time and attention, but he’s theirs. When he’s teething and in pain, it’s their job to make him feel better. When he’s hungry for a feed and mama will be a few more minutes, it’s their job to give him the pacifier while he waits.
He’s part of our family and that is special.
They love viewing him as something that belongs to all of us.
And all of us to him.