So you’ve either just welcomed a new sibling into the house for your older child, or you’re about to shortly. What wonderful news!
If you’re concerned that this new arrival might upend all of the hard work you and your little one have done to get them sleeping well, try not to panic.
There is often a period of adjustment for every family with the arrival of a new baby. And there are things you can do to keep sleep on track.
What’s going on for my toddler?
Bringing a new baby into the house is likely to impact your older child’s sleep habits in some way. There are two big reasons why.
1. Your newborn is going to wake up numerous times a night and make some noise, which might wake your toddler.
2. Your toddler’s going to be jealous of their new sibling.
So let’s look at number one first.
There’s going to be a noise factor when your newborn wakes up crying for night time feeds. There’s little that can be done about that, and even if there were, you probably wouldn’t want to. Newborns cry for a reason most of the time, and most of the time it’s their way of letting you know they’re hungry. So even if there were some way of muting the noise, it wouldn’t exactly be beneficial for your baby.
What can I do to help?
Your best bet here, if possible, is to keep your newborn in your room and get your toddler into their own, in a cot, preferably down a hallway as far away as possible from your newborn’s sleeping area. Let me just stress the “in a cot” clause there, because you’re likely going to have an easier time of this if your toddler’s still in a cot, rather than a bed. Regardless of whether or not there’s a new baby in the picture, I recommend keeping kids in the cot as long as it’s safe to do so.
A white noise machine can also help to cover noises at night. Just make sure to keep the volume level under 50 decibels, and keep the machine a minimum of 30 cm away from your little one’s ears.
Depending on their age and comprehension skills, it’s also a great idea to just have a conversation with your toddler about the fact that their sibling is going to wake up crying in the night sometimes. Explain to them that it’s nothing to worry about. It’s just something that newborn babies do and they don’t need to be concerned if they wake up and hear their sibling making a fuss.
Dealing with jealousy
Unless you’re exceptionally lucky, your toddler is going to get jealous of their new sibling. After all, newborns require a lot of attention. Attention which was all directed at your toddler up until their brother or sister came along.
Jealousy may well cause a regression, prompting your toddler to crave the comforts they enjoyed when they were the new kid on the block.
1. More requests for cuddles
2. If they’re in a big kid bed, they may ask to go back into the cot
3. They might want to sleep in your bed or in your room
4. Neediness and clinginess during the bedtime routine
The most common reason this can affect sleep is because one or both of the parents start feeling guilty about the fact that they don’t have the time and energy to dedicate to both children, so they try to compensate by making concessions, and those concessions frequently show up around bedtime. Extra stories, longer cuddles, getting into bed with them, and so on.
Let me just say, I get it. Parental guilt is a powerful motivator. And we’ll do almost anything to ensure our kids know that they’re loved, cherished, and secure. If a couple of extra stories at bedtime will help reassure our babies that they’re still #1 in our hearts, why wouldn’t we accommodate them?
Here’s one of my favourite quotes about toddlers. “Toddlers are like little night watchmen. They go around checking all the doors, but don’t really want to find any of them open.”
Kids of this age test boundaries almost incessantly, but they don’t test them in the hopes that they’ve moved. They test them to ensure that they’re still in place. It gives them a sense of security to know that the rules and expectations surrounding them are constant and predictable.
I know it doesn’t feel that way sometimes, but the more you give in to those demands, the more they’ll ask for. They feel much more secure and relaxed with the confidence that their parents are in control.
So if this situation comes up, I recommend you keep try to keep bedtime the same as it was before the baby arrived. Same bedtime, same bedtime routine, same number of stories, same sleeping conditions. If you start moving boundaries, it’s only going to reinforce your toddler’s suspicion that things have changed. And that’s likely to bring on more insecurity.
One to one time
During the day, however, I would suggest carving out a chunk of time reserved just for your toddler. It doesn’t have to be long, even 10-15 minutes is great. Just make sure that your attention is focused solely on them. Let them decide what they want to do with the time, and feel free to smother them with love and attention. This “you-and-me” time works wonders in reassuring your older child that they’re still at the centre of your universe, even if they’re sometimes sharing the space with a new sibling.
Remember, when that sense of guilt starts to creep in, you’re not a bad parent by refusing to bend to your toddler’s will. You’re doing what’s best for them, and staying firm and sticking to the rules is the secret to a happy, secure, firmly-attached child. Even if your gut tells you otherwise in the moment.
Making those tough calls for the good of your kids is what being an awesome parent is all about.
If you’d like some support to help your family during this period of change, please join my waiting list. My Growing Your Family Guide also has lots of tips to help prepare for and navigate this period.
If you have any questions about this transition, please come and join me for my Instagram Q&A every Wednesday.