New Baby | Pregnancy and New Baby | Ages 0–2 | Ages 3–5

Parenting Baby with a Toddler in Tow

Solutions to 5 common challenges parents face when caring for a newborn with an older sibling

You’re holding your newborn, cuddled up with pillows, blankets and the soft glow of postpartum hormones. Aaaahhhh. But wait! Here comes your toddler, full force, limbs and demands flying, and reality suddenly sets in: You’re now the parent of a toddler who expects your full attention and a helpless infant. We’re not going to lie; parenting isn’t always easy with a toddler in tow. But it’s possible — and going deuce can be totally rewarding. We talked with some parenting experts to help you make the transition as smooth as possible. 

Challenge: Occupying toddler while caring for baby

Solution: Entertain with books and toys, and enlist his help

First up, there are two little ones who need your attention now! Chances are you’ll be spending hours a day feeding the baby — often while your toddler wants you to dance or play trains or get him a snack. Unless you master the art of nursing while walking around (and we’re not suggesting you do), there are going to be plenty of opportunities to teach your toddler the virtue of patience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find meaningful ways to connect with him at the same time.

One of the easiest ways to spread the love is to read together while feeding the baby. Sure, it takes a little juggling and practice before you find a way to comfortably prop a book on the lap, but your toddler will love the dedicated time. Other options include audiobooks, or a basket of special toys, activities or snacks that you only set out when you’re caring for the baby.

But what about keeping your toddler occupied while you change a diaper or any other number of baby-care tasks? Don’t forget that toddlers often love to help. There are plenty of age-appropriate “jobs” that your toddler can do, from getting out a diaper to finding baby clothes in the laundry bin.

“The more involved and included the toddler feels, the easier it will be to manage two young children’s needs at the same time,” says Grow Parenting’s Melissa Benaroya, a licensed independent social worker specializing in family coaching and education. “By giving the toddler ‘responsibility,’ it will also fuel the toddler’s feelings of belonging and significance.”

Challenge: Germs, germs, everywhere!

Solution: Use common sense, and then lighten up

It’s easy to become germophobic when there’s a baby in the house. But how realistic is it to expect to shield a baby from the runny noses, dirt, grime and sneezes that often accompany toddlers?

“There is unfortunately no magic to trying to keep babies away from germs,” says Dr. David Hildebrand, a pediatrician at Swedish Medical Center. “The usual washing of hands and avoidance of sick people is the best approach. However, even with these precautions, babies sometimes get sick.”

So do your best, but don’t stress out. Do your homework by talking with your pediatrician about best practices for keeping your baby healthy, and find good ways to make hand washing fun for your toddler.

Challenge: Competing naptimes

Solution: Get help in the short term, then work toward simultaneous schedules

It seems like one of the most common pieces of advice people give to new parents is, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” What? How are you supposed to do that when there are not one but two little ones?

“Honestly, the most efficient way to deal with nap times is to try and get kids on the same schedule,” Benaroya says. “This can take some serious time and effort, but it will allow the parent a window for self-care and rest.”

Be prepared for it to take a little while, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember that you need to care for yourself, too, no matter how impossible it might seem at first.

Challenge: Mighty displays of affection

Solution: Demonstrate gentleness and offer ideas

Toddlers aren’t exactly known for being refined or gentle. So how do you help them demonstrate their affection while protecting the baby?

“The best ways to help toddlers understand how to show affection for their sibling is to model what that affection looks like,” Benaroya says. They won’t understand the concept of gentleness unless you show them what it looks and feels like.

Benaroya also suggests giving toddlers a couple of ideas, such as gently stroking the baby’s head or lightly touching the baby’s toes.

“By offering two different ways he/she can show affection, it will increase the likelihood that they are gentle and will also increase the likelihood of cooperation, since they are not being told what to do, but are given a choice.”

Challenge: Tantrums, jealousy, etc.

Solution: Create rituals of connection and manage your own emotions

The firstborn was an only child for a while. Now her world has been shaken up. Put yourself in her shoes and try to imagine her emotions. And then give her a big hug. What she’s looking for is time with you.

Benaroya suggests creating rituals of connection at certain points of the day. In as little as five minutes, these rituals can fulfill your toddler’s need to connect with you. Be sure to name it, she says, such as “our special playdate,” “Jonathan time” or “big-girl time.”

If the toddler is throwing a tantrum, take a moment to check your own emotional state before you respond.

“Emotions are contagious, and if we react to our child within a heightened emotional state, they will just escalate,” Benaroya says. “The more we focus on our own emotional state and staying connected to our rational brain, the easier it will be for our child to recover from their big emotions.”

And even when the days seem long, try to keep a longer view.

“If parents take care of themselves and weather the initial storm,” Hildebrand says, “it just seems after six months that everything is the way it should be.”

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