How to Help Your Toddler Cope with Change

Whether you are planning on adding a new sibling, you’re moving to a new house, or a parent is returning to work, you may notice changes in your toddler’s behavior or sleep patterns. 

Why is this?

Why do seemingly small changes disrupt a child’s routine so much?

When your baby becomes a toddler, their sense of independence increases. They may want to pick out their own clothes, select their own snack, or be more vocal about the activities they want (or don’t want) to do.

And that independence can be nice, as your child no longer requires your assistance 100% of the time. And for some families, it’s around this stage when they decide to bring in a new baby.

Imagine the surprise, then, when your once independent toddler seems to regress. From waking up in the middle of the night to refusing to use the potty, toddlers will sometimes exhibit behaviors they long ago left behind.

In your child’s early years, regardless of how many words they can string together, they simply don’t have the skills to verbalize their emotions or frustrations. Nor are they developed enough to sit down with you and say, “Mom, I’m feeling jealous that the new baby is getting more of your attention,” or “Dad, I’m scared of being in this new house.”

So, they do what they know.

They act out, they cry, they revert behaviors.

In this post, we’ll chat through some ideas for preparing before the change, as well as tips for helping your toddler cope to change.

Preparing your toddler for change in advance

When possible, preparing your toddler for changes before they occur is ideal. Here are a few ideas to help your brainstorming gears turn:

  • Visit a new baby and let your child experience what they will soon see daily. Talk through what changes will occur: “You see how the baby cries? That’s how she tells her mama that she needs something. She’s loud, right? That’s okay! Babies are loud, but that doesn’t mean they’re hurt.”
  • Read a book about a new sibling, a new house, or a parent returning to work. As a former librarian, I guarantee that your local librarian will be over-the-moon excited to help find a book for your unique situation. Read the book each night and throughout the day. Talk about different things that the characters go through. Ask questions, if your child is verbal enough.
  • Go to different houses to show your child that every house is different, but safe and fun. You can go to relatives’ or friends’ houses, or even look for open houses in your neighborhood. Walking through a new house can excite a child with the endless possibilities for their new space.
  • If a parent is going to be returning to work, role play. “Daddy is going to be spending more time at work. When you wake up, I’ll probably be gone already. Let’s see what you’re going to do all day when daddy is gone. Can you show me what toys you’ll play with?”
  • Let your child help with preparations. Painting the nursery? Let her paint, too! Take him to the store to pick out a new outfit for his new sibling. If you’re moving to a new house, let him pick his room or what paint color to buy. If a parent is returning to work, let your toddler help mommy pick out what she’s going to wear for her first day back.

How to help your toddler cope with change

Whether you prepped for months or didn’t prep at all, some toddlers will have a hard time once that change arrives. Here are a few ideas to help your toddler cope to the change happening in their lives.

  • First, validate their feelings. Change is hard for children. They thrive on consistency, and any change in routine is a huge deal. Don’t play down what they’re feeling or make them feel like a baby.
  • Comfort when you can. If your child is struggling to fall asleep in their new room, it’s okay to spend a few nights in their room with them until they feel safe. If you added a new family member, it’s okay to “baby” your toddler a little more than normal. When you get home from work, it’s okay if your toddler is upset. Give them hugs and talk about their day!
  • Spread your attention. If they see that the baby is getting a lot of attention, they’ll naturally crave that, too. Give it to them! Spend some alone time together, and also spend some time as a family together. I know it may be hard to include your toddler in all activities with a baby, but the more you can, the quicker your toddler will adapt. Even narrating to your toddler what you’re doing with the baby can be helpful, as it makes them feel included. “You see how mama is feeding baby? This is how I fed you, too!” or “Time to change baby’s diaper! Can you smell that? Oh my goodness! Do you think that’s stinky?”
  • Praise and positively reinforce behavior you want to encourage. After spending years as a teacher, I can tell you: it doesn’t matter how old your child is: they like praise. If your toddler sleeps in their new room all night, praise them in front of other family members! If he waves goodbye to mommy when she’s leaving for work and doesn’t scream, tell him how brave he is. If she brings daddy a diaper when he’s changing a diaper, tell her she’s a great big sister.

Adapting to change can be hard, but children are incredibly resilient and quick to adapt. In time, you’ll find your new rhythm and identify what works for your family. Regardless of the change, it’s important to remain optimistic and excited about what the future holds. Children can pick up on energy, and by keeping your spirits high, they will follow.

I’d love to hear what other ideas you have for helping toddlers adapt to change. Can you do me a favor and drop a comment in the section below so that other parents can read it?

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I’m Katie

certified pediatric sleep consultant

Fueled by equal parts caffeine and passion, I spend my days helping exhausted mamas get their babies the sleep they need. 

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