I brought a new baby home from the hospital this year for my third time, so my second time introducing one to an older sibling. We had our kids each about 3 years apart, so I’m familiar with what it is like to have a very young child who still needs you, and is feeling replaced by or jealous of a new baby.
In addition to throwing money at the problem with new toys and games, there are several strategic ways to help your toddler cope with the addition of their new baby sibling. I’ll never forget when my second daughter was born, the pediatrician telling me I needed to devote 15 minutes a day solely to her. No baby, no distraction, no screens. At the time I wanted to weep because 15 minutes seemed like so little, but there were many moments in those first few months where I learned how much good and lasting stuff you can pack into a short time.
It is also important to be sneaky! When you are juggling a newborn and a toddler, you want to maximize the baby’s naps in ways that give your “big kid” more. This is where baby wearing and strollers can be a real godsend. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on new and exciting distractions to get your toddler through the day. What matters most to them is your attention. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes!
Photo: Kristine Foley
Create a Home Base
In the very early days when you’re recovering from childbirth and getting used to being up all night, relaxation and comfort are key. Turn your need for rest and convenience into an adventure with your toddler in tow, by setting up “shop” with a diaper changing station, lots of snacks for you both, bottles and/or pump parts, and extra clothes for the baby all nearby. Turn your bed or couch into an all-day hangout area. Play their favorite movies and do handheld crafts like making bracelets or simple-weave potholders together. Chat! Listen. The baby becomes a bit of an accessory but that is OK. While you relax and heal with everything you need at your fingertips, your toddler is getting amazing quality time they will remember fondly in the months to come.
Walk & Talk
When you’re feeling up for light physical activity, consider walk times as the golden moment to reconnect with your toddler. Whether you wear Baby in a carrier or put them in a stroller, make sure that your attention is on what your older child is saying. Skew the walk in their favor by making the destination a local playground. Or bring bubbles or a ball and find a quiet cul de sac where you can enjoy them together. Embark right after a feed so the baby will sleep while you and your toddler get some mild exercise and enjoy a chat.
Sneak Out Together
The feeling of camaraderie is priceless at this age. Your toddler will absolutely adore being “in on” a special secret getaway with Mommy. Even if you’re just running to Target to pick up diapers, bring them — and not the baby, if at all possible — and reward them with a small sweet treat or dollar bin toy for all the great big sibling stuff they’ve been doing.
You can also kill two birds by bringing your toddler along on a self care errand like manicure for you and polish for them. This will make your little-big kid feel very grownup and special while letting you feel taken care of and “normal” amid the newborn haze.
Ask for Help
This is a two-parter! First, make your big kid feel special by asking him for things you need for the baby like pacifiers or wipes. I actually have a cute DIY idea for a big brother or sister basket in this piece.
Part two of asking for help is asking an actual adult for help with the baby so that you can spend quality time with your toddler. Whether that’s a grandparent or partner, or maybe a mother’s helper type from down the street. Just an hour goes a long way—in fact, an hour alone with you will be BLISS for your toddler even with very little on the agenda. Remember the 15-minute rule and imagine just how special four times that much will feel.
Affordable babysitters for little ones can often be found in local Facebook groups or just by phoning around to neighbors. Essentially what you need is someone to hold the baby and maybe change a couple diapers between feeds. You need and deserve this! So does your toddler.
Put Your Phone Down
Yep. You know it’s true — the smartphone can be both a lifeline for parents and our absolute downfall. Make a rule for yourself that you will leave the phone charging in another room when you sit down (or set out) for special time with your toddler. They might not mention it, but they do notice when our attention is elsewhere. You will never regret that one email you responded to 30 minutes after it came in instead of right away, but that focused time where all you are looking into is their eyes, is priceless.
If it’s photos you’re worried about, consider investing in a cheap digital camera or a fun Polaroid style one so you and your tot can take selfies and document your adventures without the temptation of texting and social media for you.
Make Something Together
It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but a small crafts project can go a long way. If you’re running low on time, supplies, and energy, simple collages made of magazine and catalog cut outs glue-sticked onto printer paper is a favorite.
Another one my girls loved in the early baby days was repurposing the hospital-issue pre-mixed formula bottles for their baby dolls. Use card stock, scrapbook paper, or simple glue and rhinestones to decorate these would-be recyclables into something special your toddler can play with and enjoy.
Making something can also be as simple as a fruit salad or a batch of box brownies. Don’t go crazy gathering ingredients and supplies. The idea here is to use whatever is on hand in your home to maximize a half hour of alone time with your toddler, NOT to add more to your already very full plate.
Embark On a Reading Journey
Books are the best adventures for tiny humans and taking quiet time to read together will alleviate some of your guilt about any extra screen time they’ve been getting while you’re busy caring for a new baby. Set the stage for a delightful morning or afternoon reading session with floor pillows, a cozy blanket to share, simple snacks, and a stack of their favorites. It wouldn’t hurt at all to throw some big sibling books in the mix like I Am a Big Sister by Caroline Jayne Church or I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole.
… And be kind to yourself. When all else fails, go back to that 15 minute rule. Most days you’ll be able to spend even more time focusing on your toddler, but when things are hard and you’re utterly exhausted, set an alarm for 15 minutes, put the phone down, and have a quiet cuddle with them. Like any other season of parenthood, there will up days and down days. Some days will have lots of ups and downs right within them. You are the parent that was chosen for these children and you can handle this! When in doubt, an ice pop and a breath of fresh air go a long way!