The average age gap between siblings in the UK is three years and nine months. Given there are families with more than two kids in the mix, that means an awful lot of parents are coping with two under two. Juggling a newborn and toddler is a roller-coaster ride of nappies, food, sleep and love. It is a juggling act, but it can be done. Here are our top tips for juggling a newborn and a toddler.
- Start when it’s just one: That’s right – our first tip involves stepping back in time. If you’re too late for this, no problem, but it’s worth putting out there for those yet to welcome the new bundle of joy. Take the time to explain what a new baby is like. Get your older child a doll, and start the role play. Show how the older one can help. Show them photos of when they were a newborn. These foundations work wonders for when the newborn arrives.
- Get your hands under your control: With a newborn and a toddler on the scene, you’re going to spend a lot of time wishing you had another pair of hands. As this isn’t often possible, you need to learn how to liberate your own. Your number one weapon of choice should be a sling. With baby attached to you, they will be happy, and you’ve got two hands for a road-rampaging toddler. Other tips for freeing up your hands include: using a cushion to bring the baby higher for feeding, meaning that you should be able to liberate one hand for the toddler; and using a handle attached to the buggy for the toddler to hold
- Get the toddler on board: Toddlers are, inherently, self-centred little beings. They usually aren’t quite ready to share the attention with their little sibling. Therefore, rather than expecting them to play single-handedly whilst you feed baby, or change them – get them on board. Can they pass the nappy? Would they like to help feed? If that fails, get creative with some verbal games to keep them out of attention-seeking mischief. ‘I Spy’ by colour, or scavenger hunts, Simon Says, or guessing games, are all excellent ways to give the toddler your attention. When feeding baby you can also read to your older one, with them snuggled in.
- Plan and Prepare: It might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’ve finally got the two off to sleep at the same time, but it’s worth using a little of this time to plan and prepare. You can have special boxes of ‘big kid’ toys or activities which only come out when you’re feeding baby or rocking them to sleep. Also, if lunch is prepared and ready to go whilst you’re making breakfast, you can save yourself from a ‘hangry’ toddler having to wait. This is particularly true when it comes to bath time. So make sure towels are ready, clothes are ready, and everything is in reach before you commence. Use an infant bath support for the little one, and get ready for Operation Bath Time.
- Get sleep when you can: If you struggled with the sleep deprivation of baby number one, you’re likely getting in a bind over managing a newborn and their crazy sleeping hours; your slumber; and a toddler who thinks cartoons at 5am are the way to go. The number one biggest thing you can do is be kind to yourself, and lower expectations. Your sleep is more important than the hoovering. Try to get both the baby and toddler napping together, so that you get some downtime. If this fails then, when you can, play lying on the floor with your toddler or snuggle up to watch a movie together.
- Let the big kid be little: When a new baby arrives, your toddler will probably seem like a galumphing giant. They’re not! They are just overgrown babies themselves. It is normal for toddlers to revert to needing to be babied when a new sibling arrives. They might even suddenly start having accidents when they’ve been comfortably toilet trained. This is all normal. Simply allow them to be babied, they need tangible reassurance that they matter just the same. This is a phase, it will pass sooner rather than later, if you just let it happen. Where you can, give them more time than the baby. The baby’s needs are simple: to be fed, cuddled, and kept clean. Your toddler’s needs are a little more complex, and they need to, at times, be given primary focus.
- Don’t go it alone: Whether you’re a single parent, or surrounded by a huge extended family, actively seek out relationships with others who also have a newborn and a toddler. You’ll feel supported, and in it together, and that holds immense value.
Remember – you can do this. You’re earning your parenting stripes! It’s daunting at first, but soon you’ll wonder how you ever thought drinking a coffee and cleaning the bathroom was ever multi-tasking. You will be a pro – ready and set up for the parenting years ahead.