Kate & Wills, here's how to tell HRH George about the new arrival
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, are expecting their second baby any day. HRH George is about to become a big brother, but there's no need to share the news straight away with toddlers, says Clinical Psychologist Dr Kerry Taylor
As a play therapist and a specialist in parenting, parent-child attachment and working with infants and younger children, Kerry answers our questions on just how to approach the delicate news of a new arrival to a toddler who is used to all your attention.
1. From what age would you say a toddler can understand what you are telling them?
Babies and toddlers understand more than you think - from very early on - even before they are using words. Tone of your voice, body language and non-verbal cues communicate so much more than we realise. So, no matter how young your toddler is and how many words they can say, tell them about what is going on around them and what is going to happen, from small events (like teatime) to big events (a new sibling) as simply and clearly as you can. There are fun ways you can communicate with them, through play, toys, pictures, books, stories and songs.
2. When is the best time in your pregnancy to tell a toddler they have a new brother or sister on the way?
You don't have to tell your toddler as soon as you know you are pregnant as a young toddler is unlikely to notice. At first, if you have to explain why you're nauseous or tired before you're ready to announce the pregnancy, it's fine to just tell your child that you're not feeling well.
Toddlers are in a different zone. The world happens for them at their pace and they will struggle to understand how many months it will be until the birth. The point you choose to tell them will be a balance between their need to know because you are about to tell friends and family whilst also not explaining something that seems a lifetime away for them.
The best time may be in the 2nd trimester without expecting them to understand it all at once. The good thing is that over the next months you can take your time to help them understand the reality more and more.
When you're ready to tell, if possible, have both parents there. Choose a calm time to explain and talk about it when your child is relaxed and not dealing with any distractions or other changes.
3. What would your advice be on exactly what to say?
What to say and how to explain depends on your child's age. If your little one is just saying single words, or two to three word sentences then just tell them simply. For example, 'baby in mummy's tummy'.
Play, activities, pictures, books and songs are more likely to support your child to really grasp what is happening. Also real examples such as talking about a friend with a baby sibling or a family member who is in the later stages of pregnancy will all help to make this more concrete.
You can have fun helping your little one understand. Try getting a baby doll and playing it through. Role-play the baby being in your tummy (underneath your jumper) saying 'little baby in mummy's tummy'. Then baby coming out 'here's little baby' who is 'little sister/brother'. Toddlers love repetition and so expect to be communicating this over and over with variations. Your toddler may try to hide the doll inside their own jumper.
Depending on your toddler's age they may enjoy learning to 'care' for the baby doll; feeding or clothing the doll and using a buggy and blanket.
There are some wonderful books that will really help your toddler rehearse and understand the process of becoming a big sibling for example:
Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller
Za-Za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins
I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole
Rosalinda Kightley or Little Monster Did It! by Helen Cooper.
Reading books and telling stories mean that over time your little one can understand, ask questions and adapt to the idea as much as possible before baby comes.
4. How involved should your toddler be in what's happening eg. antenatal appointments?
Involve your toddler as much as you can in appropriate activities regarding the new baby sibling. This will enable them to feel special, included and an important part of helping the new baby become part of the family. Involvement can include antenatal appointments or checks as long as you feel comfortable having your child there.
It can be good to include them as much as possible in shopping for baby equipment and clothes, especially if they are able to choose some of the items themselves. In preparing your home for your baby, try to find a way for your toddler to 'help' in the broadest sense. It could be arranging some toys for the baby to see, sticking on cot decorations or painting a picture for the baby's room.
5. What would you say is the best scenario for the toddler while you are in hospital having the baby?
Whatever your plans are for the birth, spend time making arrangements and back up plans for care of your toddler with other members of the family and close friends. Ideally your little one would be cared at home with a close family member whilst you go into labour if you are in hospital. However, plan for different eventualities (e.g. a longer stay in hospital or having the baby at home) with other sources of support prepared just in case. Most friends are only too happy to help out and be part of a stand by rota.
Help those caring for your toddler understand that your toddler may feel lost or upset. Make sure they are able to give good clear explanations that your toddler will understand such as 'mummy in hospital', 'daddy with mummy now' 'mummy home soon' 'baby home soon'. Make it clear they will need extra love, cuddles and attention if they are missing mummy and daddy.
It is a good idea to arrange for lots of one-to-one care, treats and special attention from other special members of the family around the time of the birth for your toddler. This will also give you a bit of space to adjust following the birth.
6. How best should you introduce your toddler to the new baby?
After those present at the birth, try to make sure your toddler is first on the VIP list to meet the baby. As soon as you feel comfortable enough and able to show your little one his new sibling then arrange for him to come in to meet him. Make sure this is a calm time minimising bright lights and background noise. If you can, cuddle your toddler whilst showing him the new baby. Then, consider showing him how to touch the baby gently on the hand or the head to say 'hello'.
7. Is a present from the new baby a good idea?
It is a sweet idea to get a gift from baby to big sibling especially if there is something you know your toddler would love. Before baby arrives, you can also help your toddler choose a gift from him to new baby too. This sets up the right sort of two way relationship. The gift from baby could be something that your toddler has wanted for a while and/or it could be something your toddler can care for like their own baby such as a doll or cuddly toy. A gift from a new big sibling might be something that helps her feel clever and important e.g. a special blanket that you know you will use a lot and you can emphasise how much it helps keep baby warm.
8. What should you do if you sense your toddler isn't coping with the new arrival? eg. starts wetting themselves again
If your toddler shows some temporary signs of 'regression' e.g. showing how uncertain they feel by going back to an earlier more secure time (by acting younger in terms of sleep/toilet training/eating) – don't worry!
This is a good way of communicating that all is not well. They are probably letting you know their wish to go back to a time before new baby. The good news about knowing your toddler is feelings wobbly is we can then respond to it. Your toddler may feel jealous, left out, lonely and lost and just need to feel secure again in the new family unit. They just need extra thought, attention and care (I know- easier said than done with a new baby!).
The more loved, involved and included they are with new baby the better. This is likely to be the biggest thing they have ever had to cope with so far in their life.
Make sure you have 'time in' with your toddler e.g. a special time each day where you can be with your toddler without any distractions.
9. How should you deal with signs your toddler may hurt the new baby?
Toddlers are not yet able to share – either you or their toys – and it will be normal for them to be confused and overwhelmed by the strong feelings they will have about the new arrival.
If your toddler has hurt or is about to hurt the baby you are likely to feel highly alarmed as your protective new mother instinct kicks in. Remember to be clear, calm and consistent in your response. Get down to toddler eye-level, clearly say and make a visual sign 'No'. Then remove your toddler from the room or situation with time for you both to calm. Make sure you are feeling okay, then return to your toddler saying the behaviour your expect in your house e.g. 'be gentle and kind' or 'careful with baby'. Demonstrate this by touching baby gently. When they also copy you with gentle touch - heap on lots of praise.
Try to catch your toddler before it gets to this point. Notice how they are feeling and any tension that may be building. Make time to explain how much the new little baby cannot do anything for himself and needs everyone to care for him. It may be important to take extra care they do not become overly tired, overwhelmed or hungry as a preventative measure. As much as possible distract, engage and guide your toddler to another activity.
Positive praise and reassurance is the most effective way to divert unwanted behaviour. Make sure that your toddler is getting enough attention and praise and they know you are proud of what they can do. Never compare your toddler negatively with the new baby or others. Even when this is not meant unkindly, this may set up competition.
Take heart that sibling rivalry is very common. If this is handled well then this is a great way for your child to learn about how to get along with other people. This skill will be needed for the rest of their life! Over time, the more your toddler finds out about and connects with their new baby sibling, the more they can develop an interest and understanding in them.