How To Cope With a Newborn and a Toddler

Trying to cope with a newborn and a toddler add to the layer of intensity involved in having a very young family. More often than not, toddlers and pre-schoolers act out when they are feeling out of sorts themselves. The arrival of a sibling can upset the dynamics of a toddler’s life and acting out is a way of trying to navigate through that.

You may be several months into your life with more than one child, and feel things have been going smoothly, then suddenly your older child starts acting out. When things go smoothly at first then are followed with a period of unrest, it can often mean that the novelty of the new baby has worn off and big brother or sister has realised that the baby is here to stay. They understand that their is a shift away from them and the attention and affection they have enjoyed is now being shared with someone else.

There are ways to manage this so you all find your happy place again, but it needs to be a considered approach – one that won’t make your toddler feel further alienated or under threat. Here are some scenarios that are difficult to manage and a few ideas to help you through.

Disruption while you are trying to settle the baby at nap time

Suggest to your toddler that when the baby goes to sleep this is their special ‘mummy’ time. Do some one-on-one activities with them such as a cuddle on the couch and a story, or playing blocks – something that you know they enjoy doing. If they understand that the time when the baby sleeps is just for them, they will be much more inclined to cooperate when you are trying to settle their sibling to sleep.

Being very noisy while their sibling is asleep, intentionally disturbing the baby

Kids are pretty smart and any attention is better than no attention. If your child thinks you spend all your time with their baby brother or sister (because you probably do!) then they will do anything to get your attention, including waking them up when they know they are not supposed to. Focusing on the special ‘mummy’ time will help here. Consider taking them outside for a planned outdoor activity. You will have their full attention and their noise will not disrupt the baby as much.

Being too rough with the baby – patting or kissing too hard

The best thing you can do for a child in this situation is acknowledge their feelings and provide a safe space for them to express it. Try asking if they are feeling cross or angry at the baby, and explain to them that it is normal for big brothers or sisters to feel cross at their baby brother/sister. Let them know that it’s ok to feel the way they feel. Reassure them that Mummy loves them just as much as before the baby came along.

Taking toys from the baby

Again, this is a manifestation of the rivalry that the older child feels. Try not to make a big deal about it if your baby doesn’t get upset by it. Shining a light on behaviour that is not dangerous but deemed as ‘bad behaviour’ will increase the tension between you and your toddler. The less you focus on these ‘button-pushing’ actions, the less compelled your child will be to keep doing it.

General Tips

  • Set Boundaries – Rather than scolding them for their poor or rough behaviour, setting boundaries by explaining firmly that it’s not ok, followed by suggesting a cuddle with Mum, might help release their frustrations. Having a place for those feelings to go will clear the way for a loving sibling bond to grow. When a child expresses these negative feelings towards their sibling through rough behaviour and is then scolded, they will feel further alienated, and it feeds a self-perpetuating negative relationship.
  • Allow them to still be your Baby – Allowing your toddler to still be a baby is also very useful. If he or she wants to play babies, wrap them up, rock them like a baby, pretend to feed them like a baby and this way they will feel less usurped by the actual baby in the house.
  • Little Helpers – Involving your toddler in their sibling’s care can be a great tool for helping them feel less alienated. If they feel a sense of collaboration and inclusion they are less likely to start demanding your attention in ways that try your patience. There will be times when their ‘help’ is not at all helpful, but try to remain calm when this happens, as they just want to do the right thing. If they think they have upset you, they will also be upset.
  • Daily Routine – Setting up a daily ritual of one-on-one time with your older child will help enormously also. You can refer to it throughout the day during periods of unrest. Remind them how much you are looking forward to the time just with them, and ask them to think about what they would like to do during this time. It only needs to be 20 minutes a day, but that complete engagement with them, with no other distractions will make a significant difference to their wellbeing.
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