My toddler loves our baby (which he calls “my baby”), even though s/he hasn’t been born yet. He talks to my belly all the time (often doing both sides of the conversation), tickles it, and insists on snuggling up to it at night to go to sleep. In fact, the other day he actually started crying because he was so tired of waiting for the baby to grow up so it could come out and play.
He is still very young, and he is very active. Which means that he doesn’t always understand when he is playing too rough (this holds true even when he is playing with his big brother!) and often doesn’t watch where his arms and legs are going when he is excited.
So how do you protect your pregnant belly from your active toddler? Short-term, learn protective strategies, but long-term, start laying the groundwork for a happy, safe relationship between your toddler and new sibling.
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Know the triggers. It really helped me to identify those situations when I was most vulnerable to getting kicked or hit. For example, I don’t wrestle on the floor with the boys anymore (a bit awkward in my current state anyway!), and if I’m going to tickle my toddler, I make sure to either secure his legs before they flail in my direction, or position myself up near his head to avoid them altogether. And while thankfully he is now (mostly) potty trained, before that I very had to be careful when he was on the changing table. For some reason he was always particularly squirrelly when lying there and at just the right height to kick my belly while he was squirming around.
Encourage calm activities. Of course, your toddler needs plenty of space and room to get out his energy (such as with trips to the park), but at other times you need to rest and know that you won’t be pounced on. If your little one is getting wild, be proactive in suggesting other, safer activities. Niki of Play and Learn Everyday says, “After a particularly tiring day when I just needed to rest I would sometimes tell Ethan that the baby was sleeping, then he would cuddle up to my belly and we would rest together.”
Enlist support. If there is an older sibling, s/he can play an invaluable role in encouraging appropriate behavior through both words and deeds. Watching someone else (particularly someone they love to imitate) being gentle with your belly will help remind your toddler to do the same. And older siblings can also help remind the little ones of the importance of taking care of the soon-to-be sibling. Meghan of Playground Parkbench says: “My oldest has become official baby protector – the little one just doesn’t know any better. But my oldest is constantly telling her ‘don’t climb on Mommy because it will hurt the baby.'”
Use direct language. Be very clear when explaining to your little one why it’s not okay to climb on Mommy or hit her belly. Again, emphasize that there is a baby inside your belly, and that it is still small and growing, so we have to be very gentle.
Give positive examples. Talk to your belly in the presence of your toddler, and show them how they can use their hands gently, and even snuggle up to the belly and give it kisses. This is a great way to give positive reinforcement and encourage a healthy relationship between the siblings, rather than always telling your toddler what not to do.
Empower them with a protective role. MaryAnne of Mama Smiles writes: “Some toddlers really respond to being made the “official baby protector” – in charge of making sure everyone is gentle with the baby bump.” What a fantastic way to nurture those positive qualities within your child through giving them such an important job!
Foster a relationship with the baby. We talk about the baby all the time, and encourage the kids to interact with him/her as well. Toddlers are old enough to begin to understand that babies grow inside mommies’ bellies, so it’s a great time to encourage them to think about the baby inside the belly as a real person that they can show love and that they will meet very soon. Once the baby’s kicks are hard enough for them to feel, this can be a really special way for them to interact with the baby and feel that the baby is “playing” with them.
We love Baby on the Way (Sears Children’s Library) from the Sears Children’s Library. It does a great job of giving explanations in terms little ones can understand, while also including text boxes with more information for older kids. I also love the portrait it paints of a family coming together to get ready for the baby’s arrival – and their excitement when the big day finally comes!
And long term, this is what it’s all about for me. While it’s critical that you and the bump make it through the nine months without any serious mishaps, long-term you are also laying the foundation for a healthy, loving relationship between the baby and his/her older sibling. The lessons you teach now about being gentle with your belly will translate into the beginnings of an understanding about how to act with the new baby once it’s born and as it continues to grow.
How did you encourage a special relationship between your toddler and new baby?