Are you expecting your second child? Caring for a newborn AND a toddler takes some juggling. Here are some tips on balancing a toddler and newborn.
I finally got one of my baby twins to fall asleep when my preschooler yells, “Mama!” On cue, the baby wakes up crying hysterically, and both kids were crying for me.
Introducing a new baby to an older child is challenging enough. Now I needed to care for all three kids… at the same time.
As a firstborn, your child has been the center of attention. And while she may get plenty of independent play, all she has ever known is being her parents’ only concern.
Now, not only will she share your attention, she’ll also have less of it compared to her baby sibling.
You may even be in an extra bind if your child is more attached to you than anyone else. She may have a difficult letting you go, and would rather not spend time with other people.
Balancing toddler and newborn needs
The easy part, though? Second-time moms are more seasoned and know what to expect when caring for a new baby.
Now for the hard part: there’s still the older child to contend with. Because no matter how much you’ve learned since having a baby the first time, you still have the older one that needs you as well.
If the thought of handling a newborn and a toddler has you worried, read on. Following a few best practices makes balancing toddler and newborn needs doable. Here’s how:
1. Spend time with the baby while your toddler plays independently
Is your older child still not used to playing alone? Encourage independent play now so she learns to entertain herself while you’re with the baby.
Your toddler knowing how to play independently can buy you more time than if she needs you all the time.
One of the best ways to encourage independent play is to set up an area just for your toddler. 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 board books she can flip through.
And don’t interrupt your toddler while she’s playing alone. Let her get used to focusing for long periods of time without frequent comments or interruptions.
2. Spend one-on-one time with your toddler
Your toddler will want one-on-one time with you, as she should. As demanding as a newborn can be, you can still find pockets of time to spend with your older one.
These moments can be simple, so long as they focus on her. You can:
- Play a simple game while the baby naps
- Read a book after the baby has already gone down to bed
- Walk to school while the baby is home with dad
- Invite her to accompany you to run an errand
- Ask her to help you do simple chores at home
These simple moments reassure her you still love her, no matter what. And however chaotic a new baby may be, you’ll always try to find ways to spend time with her.
3. Give your toddler responsibilities
You might be surprised at how helpful your toddler can be with simple tasks that can make a huge difference. Kids can come in pretty handy when you need someone to fetch a burp cloth or put a onesie in the hamper.
Your toddler will also feel responsible for being entrusted with bigger responsibilities than she’s been used to. Don’t be afraid to give her tasks a notch above what you’d normally give her—kids will meet our expectations, so might as well set them high.
Not only is she being helpful and responsible, she’ll also feel like a contributing member of the family.
And including her in tasks means more opportunities for her to spend time with you. After all, this is truly what she craves. So even though you can do a task much faster, asking for her “help” is yet another chance to bond and be together.
4. Avoid stirring jealousy in your toddler
A few weeks ago, my eldest was misbehaving while I was reading 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 stirring jealousy in your toddler, in ways you may not always expect. Like my eldest and his books, she can get jealous of items she’s outgrown, from books to clothes to blankets. Maybe she’ll feel left out while relatives are cooing over the baby, or when you’re spending time with the baby instead of with her.
Be careful of how you phrase your comments. Rather than saying the baby needs her crib, talk about how your toddler now gets to sleep in a new bed. 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 versus your toys.”
5. Tend to your toddler first
It’s easy to drop everything—including time with your toddler—to tend to the baby. You shouldn’t leave the baby crying forever, but you also want to avoid the resentment she might feel when she sees you running to the baby while making her wait.
As much as possible, tend to your toddler first. In doing so, you reassure you that her needs don’t always come second.
You’ll also avoid potential tantrums, meltdowns and whining when you show your toddler you prioritize her needs as well. It can be pretty hard not to 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 toddler needs help with the potty, it’s fine to wipe her up first before seeing what the baby is fussing about.
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6. Encourage self-sufficiency with your toddler
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It might be more convenient to do everything for your toddler, 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 toddler 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 shoes on or 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 toddler to do things independently by making your home child-friendly. Place snacks and utensils within easy reach, or steps near the sink for her to wash her own hands.
7. Explain when you’ll be more available
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 stop playing the guitar so you can put the baby to sleep.
Rather than feel flustered that you can’t do both things at the same time, give your toddler a time frame of when she can expect you to be available. You can’t play chase while you’re feeding the baby, but 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 once you get the baby settled, you’ll head on over.
Reassuring your toddler 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.
8. Find activities for your toddler while you feed the baby
You’ll be surprised how much you can do with your toddler while you feed the baby. You might read a book, roll a ball back and forth, or play with her toy figurines. She can read the baby a book or help hold the bottle.
She’ll appreciate not being excluded during the baby’s frequent feedings.
If anything, be in her presence while you feed—don’t send her away during feeding times. Even if all she does is snuggle next to you, allow her to be nearby so she doesn’t associate feedings with time spent away from you.
Your toddler won’t feel so alone for all the times you’re feeding the baby. Instead, you can include her during these frequent feeding sessions.
9. Give your toddler new items and toys
If your toddler has been playing with the same toys for a while, give her 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 rotate 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 tinker with toys she hasn’t played with in a while for a few days before showing her a new one you just bought.
Need ideas? I list a few recommended toys for preschoolers here.
What to do if your toddler and newborn will be sharing a room
We live in a two-bedroom apartment, which means all three boys share a room. While their rooms are spacious enough to accommodate all three, that also meant learning how to get all of them to bed and sleep through the night.
We set up bassinets in our bedroom for the first four months. We expected frequent wake ups in the newborn stage, so putting the twins in our room was a more convenient choice. I also didn’t want to disturb my eldest with their cries or with the added noise of his parents bustling around the room.
Once the twins were ready to sleep train and could put themselves to sleep, we move them into their cribs and bedroom. They’d still cry once in a while, but their cries were soft whimpering or infrequent enough not to bother the others.
Caring for a baby and your toddler is challenging even for the seasoned mom. These practical tips will help you get through the day and balance both your children’s needs—even during those moments when they both need you at the same time.
Get more tips on raising a toddler and newborn:
- 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
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