What do you do when you’re caring for a baby AND your older child? Here are tips on handling a toddler and a newborn.
I finally got one of my baby twins to fall asleep when my preschooler yells, “Mama!” On cue, the baby wakes up, and both kids are crying for you. Introducing a new baby to an older child is challenging enough. Now I needed to care for all three kids… at the same time.
Tips on handling a toddler and a newborn
The easy part? Second-time moms are a bit more seasoned and know what to expect when caring for their new babies. (Check out what I’m doing differently this second time around.)
The hard part: there’s still the older child to contend with. I needed to learn how to care for the demanding needs of a new baby (actually two!) and my older child.
And here’s what I learned to do:
Spend time with your older child during the baby’s naps.
Your older child will still want one-on-one time with you—one of the easiest ways to do so is during the baby’s naps.
If you have chores to do, include her in the tasks or do them nearby her play area. Even snuggling together for a nap will reassure your her that you still want to be with her.
Spend time with the baby while your older child plays independently.
Is your older child still not used to playing alone? Begin to encourage independent play now so she can learn to entertain herself while you’re with the baby. You might not always have time to be with her, such as when you need to put the baby to sleep or nurse for several minutes. Learning to appreciate time spent alone can mean buying you more time than if your older child needs you for entertainment.
One of the best ways to encourage independent play is to set up an area just for her. This might be an art table with plenty of open-ended crafts and materials, or a play tent with her stuffed animals. You can also set up a library of children’s books she can thumb through.
And try not to interrupt your child while she’s playing alone. You want her to get used to focusing for long periods of time without constant comments or interruptions.
Involve your older child with tasks.
Kids can come in pretty handy when you need someone to fetch a burp cloth or put a onesie in the hamper. You might be surprised at how helpful your older child can be with simple tasks that can make a huge difference.
Your older child will also feel responsible for being entrusted with bigger responsibilities than she has previously been used to. Don’t be afraid to give her tasks a notch above what you’ve normally given her—kids often try to meet our expectations, so might as well set them high.
Not only is she being helpful and feeling responsible, she’ll also feel included in the family. The baby will demand a lot of attention, but when she’s included in the day-to-day tasks, she won’t feel neglected but rather a contributing member of her family.
And finally, including her in tasks means more opportunities to spend time with you. Many times, this is truly what she craves. So even though you can do a task much faster, ask her for her “help” for yet another chance to bond and be together.
Avoid stirring jealousy.
A few weeks ago, my eldest was misbehaving while I was reading our children’s books to the twins. Apparently, he not only felt ignored but also upset that we were reading what to him were always “his” books.
Be aware of things that might stir jealousy in your older child. Like my eldest and his books, this could be giving your baby her favorite old blankets and old clothes she had worn. Maybe she’ll feel left out while relatives are cooing over the baby. Or it could simply be the time you used to spend with her now dedicated to yet another baby task.
How to avoid jealousy? Be careful of how you phrase your comments. Rather than saying the baby needs her crib, talk about how she gets to sleep in a new bed now that she’s a big girl. And, with the exception of a few special ones, treat toys as communal and something everyone gets to share, rather than creating a divide of “his toys, your toys.”
If possible, tend to your older child first.
It’s easy to drop everything—including time with your older child—to tend to the baby. You shouldn’t leave the baby crying forever. But you also want to avoid resentment your older child may feel when she sees you running to the baby while making her wait. You don’t want her to feel like her needs always come second.
You’ll also avoid potential tantrums, meltdowns and whining when you show your child you prioritize her needs as well. It can be pretty hard to not burst into tears when your parents tend to the new baby first all the time.
You’ll be able to tell from your baby’s cries whether he’s truly upset or is simply complaining. If your child needs help with the potty, it’s fine to help wipe her up first before seeing what the baby is fussing about.
Encourage independence with your older child.
It might be more convenient to do everything for your older child, especially when it takes her five times longer to do the same task. But start teaching her how to do things on her own for those times when you can’t do it for her.
Besides, encouraging independence and autonomy is an excellent skill to teach, regardless of a new baby. Your child will appreciate the ability to make her own choices and will more likely follow through because it was her own initiative.
Start with simple tasks, like showing her how to put her clothes on or how to open a cup of yogurt. Think about all the little tasks you do for her and see if she can do it herself. Like playing independently, give her the benefit of the doubt before writing a task off as too hard. She just may surprise you with all she can do on her own.
And make it easy for your child to do things independently by making your home child-friendly. You might place snacks and utensils within easy reach or place stools near sinks for her to wash her own hands.
Explain when you’ll be more available to your older child.
You’ll come across a time when, no matter how much you’ve prepared or tried to avoid it, both kids need your attention. You might be feeding the baby at the exact moment she wants to play chase. Or you need her to be quiet as you put the baby to sleep just as she wants to play her toy guitar.
Rather than feel flustered that you can’t do both things at the same time, give your child a time frame of when she can expect you to be available. You might say that you can’t play chase while you’re feeding the baby, but that once you’ve set her down in 15 minutes, you’re all hers.
Or maybe you can’t read a book with her while you’re changing the diaper, but explain that once you get the baby settled, you’ll head on over.
Reassuring your child of a time frame lets her know that just because you can’t be here now, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to be with her down the line.
Find activities you can do while you feed the baby.
You’ll be surprised how much you can do while you feed the baby. You might read a book with your older child sitting next to you, or roll a ball back and forth, or play with her toy figurines. Maybe she can read the baby a book or help hold the bottle. She’ll appreciate not feeling shut out during the baby’s frequent feedings.
If anything, be in her presence while you feed. Even if all she does is snuggle next to you, allow her to be near you so she doesn’t associate feedings with time spent away from you.
Your child won’t feel so alone for all the times you’re feeding the baby. Instead, you can include her during these frequent feeding sessions.
Give your older child new items and toys.
If your child has been playing with the same toys for a while, she could play with new toys to keep her occupied. This is the perfect time to stock up on dollar bin toys or crafts you can bring out when you need time with the baby.
You could also begin rotating her toys now so that even old ones seem new. Store a few toys she doesn’t seem interested in, then a few weeks or months later, bring them out to rekindle her interest.
And don’t give her a bunch of new things all at once, either. Let her play with toys she hasn’t played with in a while for a few days before showing her the new one you just bought.
Need ideas? I list a few recommended toys for preschoolers here.
Caring for a baby and your older child is challenging even for the seasoned mom. These practical tips will help you get through the day and meet your children’s needs. Even during those moments when they both need you at the same time.
And make welcoming the baby easier with my FREE 31-page Baby Prep Workbook for tips and worksheets to help you prepare for your baby’s arrival. Download it below:
Get more tips on welcoming a baby into your home:
- 4 Ways to Help Your Older Child Handle Baby Crying
- Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby
- When Does It Get Easier with a Newborn?
- 10 Children’s Books about a New Baby
- The Anxieties of Balancing Newborn and Toddler Needs
Tell me in the comments: What are your tips on caring for a baby and your older child?
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