Are you expecting another baby? Caring for a newborn AND your older child 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 three-year-old yelled, “Mama!” On cue, the baby woke up crying hysterically, and now both kids were crying for me.
Introducing a new baby to your toddler is challenging enough, especially with the baby’s constant crying. Now you need to care for both of them… at the same time.
As a firstborn, your child had been the center of your attention. And while she may get plenty of independent play, all she has ever known has been 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 might even be in an extra bind if she’s more attached to you than anyone else. She may have a difficult time letting you go, clinging onto you instead of other people.
Balancing the needs of both your toddler and newborn
The easy part, though? Second-time moms are more seasoned and know what to expect when caring for a new baby. You’ve been through this before. You know that the sleep-deprivation won’t always last, and that the challenges truly will pass.
Now for the hard part: there’s still your older child to contend with. Because no matter how much you’ve learned since having a baby the first time, you now have plenty to learn with your older one.
If the thought of handling a both kids has you worried, read on. Following a few best practices makes balancing toddler and newborn needs doable. Here’s how:
1. Tend to your toddler first
It’s easy to drop everything—including time with your toddler—to tend to the baby. Don’t leave the baby to cry, but avoid the resentment your toddler might feel when she sees you running to her brother while making her wait.
As much as possible, tend to her 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 her that 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 the 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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2. Spend time with the baby while your toddler plays independently
Is your toddler still not used to playing alone? Encourage independent play now so she learns to entertain herself while you’re with the baby. Knowing how to play independently can buy you more time than if she needs you for every little thing.
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 flip through.
And don’t interrupt her while she’s playing alone. Let her get used to focusing for long periods of time without frequent comments or interruptions.
3. 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 her.
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 around the block while the baby is home with your partner
- Invite her to go with you to pick up groceries
- Ask her to help you do 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.
4. 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.
She’ll also feel responsible that you trust her with bigger tasks than she’s been used to. Don’t be afraid to give 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.
5. Avoid stirring jealousy in your toddler
My eldest had been misbehaving while I was reading books to his baby brothers. 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 her.
Be careful of how you phrase your comments. Rather than saying the baby needs her crib, talk about how she now gets to sleep in a new bed. And, except for a few special ones, share most toys, rather than creating a divide of “his toys versus your toys.”
6. Encourage self-sufficiency with your toddler
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. She’ll 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 fruit cup. Think about all the little tasks you do for her and see if she can do them herself. Give her the benefit of the doubt before writing a task off as too hard. She just might surprise you with all she can do on her own.
And make your home child-friendly. Place snacks and utensils within easy reach, or a step 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 your toddler 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 her 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 him 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 her 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.
She 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 him new toys to keep him occupied. This is the perfect time to stock up on dollar bin toys or easy activities you can bring out when you need time with the baby.
You could also rotate toys now so that they seem new down the line. Store a few toys he doesn’t seem interested in, then a few weeks or months later, bring them out to rekindle his interest.
And don’t give a bunch of new things all at once, either. Let him tinker with toys he hasn’t played with in a while for a few days before showing him a new one you just bought.
What to do if your toddler and newborn share a room
We lived in a two-bedroom apartment when the twins arrived, which meant all our kids shared a room. While their room was spacious enough to accommodate all three, that also meant learning how to get them to bed and sleep through the night.
Set up a bassinet in your bedroom for the first few months. With frequent wake ups during the newborn stage, putting the baby in your room can be a more convenient choice. You’ll also avoid disturbing your toddler with the baby’s cries or added noise of busting around the room.
Once the baby can sleep through the night, you can then move him into a crib in the kids’ room. He might still cry once in a while, but it’ll likely be soft whimpering or infrequent enough not to bother your toddler.
Caring for a baby and your toddler is challenging even for the seasoned mom. Thankfully, you now have a few tips to care for both of them.
Start by tending to your toddler first as often as possible. Spend time with each child while the other is napping or playing independently. Find opportunities—however small—to spend one-on-one time with her.
Give her responsibilities, encourage self-sufficiency, and include her even as you feed the baby. Avoid stirring jealousy about the baby, and give her new (or rotated) toys to keep her occupied. And if you do need to be with the baby, give her a time frame when you can be available.
These practical tips will help you balance both children’s needs—even during those moments when they need you at the same time.
Get more tips:
- 4 Ways to Help Your Older Child Handle Baby Crying
- Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby
- When Do Newborns Get Easier?
- 10 Children’s Books about a New Baby
- How to Survive the First Few Weeks with a Newborn and Toddler
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