9 Ways to Manage a Toddler While Caring for an Infant

Welcoming a new baby into the family is an exciting time for parents, as well as for a new sibling. However, caring for two (or more) young children can be challenging, demanding, and exhausting. Older siblings may feel jealous, displaced, or lonely—feelings that may cause them to act out. Parents need to adjust from one-on-one to zone parenting. But there are ways to cope and successfully manage a toddler while caring for an infant. 

1

Enroll Your Toddler in a Preschool Program

Siblings on bed

Maa Hoo / Stocksy United

Even if it’s only a part-time program, bringing a new sibling home can be the perfect time to enroll your toddler in preschool. Not only will it give the parents one-on-one time with the new baby, but it will also give your toddler something special that is for big kids only, providing them with age-appropriate activities, peers, and teachers dedicated to their needs.

You might consider having your toddler start preschool a few months before your due date in order to give them time to transition to their new schedule before the baby arrives. Alternatively, time their first day to a few weeks after your delivery so that they won't be starting school at the exact time you bring the baby home, which may feel like too much at once for both you and your toddler.

Also, spacing their start date a bit away from your delivery may lessen your toddler's association of going to school with the arrival of the new baby. Ideally, this timing will help temper any feelings of jealousy that may arise and prevent your toddler from feeling shunted off in favor of the baby.

Make a big deal during pick-up, ask questions about the day, and hang up works of art to show your toddler how proud you are of your preschooler.

2

Set Up a Toddler Area

If you're caring for a toddler and an infant, setting up areas where the toddler can engage in play by themself is very important. You'll want to include child-sized shelves or bins that make clean-up easy and allow your toddler to choose toys that encourage independent play.

Think blocks, materials to color with and other art supplies, play food, and simple puzzles. Make sure you also have a toddler-sized table and chair and that all the items are child-safe.

Depending on the layout, size, and child hazards present in your home, you may want to section off an area with a pen or gate so that you'll know your toddler is safe and contained. This is particularly important as you will invariably need to step away or turn your back occasionally while caring for your baby—and you're likely to be tired and/or distracted at times.

Equally important is to create a separate safe space for the baby, which could be a swing, playpen, and/or crib, so that you have a place to safely set down your baby when your toddler needs your undivided attention.

3

Try to Coordinate Naps

It’s easier said than done, but coordinating nap time so that both your infant and your toddler (and possibly you as well) are asleep at the same time can go a long way toward saving your sanity during the day. Your toddler’s naps are more likely to be stable and predictable, so work to get one of your infant’s naps to happen at the same time.

You can try putting them both down at the same time. This is particularly effective if they share a room. Or try getting your toddler to sleep first as they usually will sleep for a longer time. Then, put down your baby. Alternatively, you might put your baby down and then lie down with your toddler. This a good tactic if you want a short nap, too. It may be trial and error at first, but making the effort to synchronize naps will pay off.  

If your efforts misfire, use your infant's nap time to spend quality time with your toddler and vice versa. Having a few minutes alone with each child can help you all to feel more grounded and connected. It also can give you a chance to check-in and be more present with each other.

4

Tell Your Toddler Stories

If your arms are full with a newborn, picking up a book to read with a toddler or playing a game may not be realistic. Instead of reading a story, tell one. While you can make up a tale about anything, if you're at a loss, start with whatever your toddler is into at the time—for example, superheroes, trains, princesses, or puppies. You also can tell them stories about when they (or you) were like as a baby, just like their new sibling.

Toddlers usually get a kick about hearing about even the most mundane details of what they did when they were babies. You can also try narrating what you are doing to care for the baby and then compare it to how you cared for the toddler. Alternatively, you can sing songs with them or try having your toddler turn the pages if you want to read them some books.

5

Arm Yourself With Busy Bags

If you have an infant at home, being hands-on with a toddler at all times can be unrealistic. Busy bags are exactly what they sound like—self-contained, simple toys, craft supplies, and games that are designed to keep toddlers busy.

Keep these bags (which could also be bins) stashed in an out-of-sight place that is also handy for you to grab (say on a high shelf or in a cabinet or closet) when you need to focus on your baby, such as during a diaper change or bath.

Fill the bags with whatever items you think your toddler would enjoy, such as a few stuffed animals, building blocks, crayons and paper, or soft books, The trick is to not give your child ready access to the bags so that they will have heightened interest in the contents when you want to keep them occupied.

6

Wear Your Baby

Sometimes a toddler demands hands-on attention, and it's important to be able to manage those moments. If putting the new baby down isn't a great option, try babywearing. With a sling or a wrap, you'll have your baby close to you, but your hands free to parent your toddler and take care of whatever else you need to do.

To safely wear your baby, make sure they are positioned in an upright position, with their chin off their chest and their head visible and close enough for you to kiss. There are many types of baby carriers and with a bit of practice, they often become very convenient and easy to get in and out of.

7

Prioritize Quality Time With Your Toddler

Just as you'll want to have quality time with your newborn, be sure to also schedule special one-on-one time for you and your toddler. Your baby's nap time and/or when friends or relatives come to see the baby may create good opportunities for you to sneak in a game, book, or mini outing with your toddler.

Doing so will reinforce your bond with your older child and ensure that both children get the benefits of undivided attention. In fact, research shows that the transition to siblinghood is much less likely to be stressful and disruptive for the older child when efforts are made to prioritize their relationship with their parent.

8

Let Your Toddler Help

Keep your toddler busy and help them feel a part of caring for their new sibling by enlisting them as your special helper—you may even get some actual help out of the deal. While a toddler can't take on complicated or direct baby care tasks unsupervised, they can accomplish many small jobs.

For example, ask your toddler to grab a diaper, rattle, or burp cloth for your baby—or to get you an apple or granola bar. They could have them sing a song or do a dance to entertain the baby. You can have them help you pick the baby's next outfit or help you softly pat them dry after a bath. Including your toddler in these tasks helps them feel useful and competent, teaches them new skills, and keeps them by your side.

9

Accept and Ask for Help

Sometimes admitting you need help is tough, but it’s so important when you are juggling an infant and a toddler. Say “yes” if a friend, parent, or family member offers to watch your toddler so you can spend one-on-one time with your baby. Or, have a sitter watch the baby so you can take your toddler out for some special time together.

Alternatively, find help watching both your kids so that you can have time for self-care, housework, your job, taking a nap, and/or whatever else you want or need to do. Having opportunities for alone time for yourself and with each of your children is important for all of you.

A Word From Verywell

Juggling a baby and a toddler is difficult, but as a second-time parent you know it's only a transitional period—and one to cherish as it goes by so quickly. Getting creative helps, asking for support is paramount, and considering the needs of each child is important. Also, don't forget about the importance of self-care, as you can’t fully care for your children if you’re not taking care of yourself.

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