02 Jul Diary of a Sleep Consultant – Entry 2 Reality: Keeping the Energetic Toddler at Bay While Caring for a Needy Newborn
Daddy’s two-week paternity leave is over. Man to man coverage is no longer in place. So here I am, alone, with two kids. Two kids with very different needs. A busy toddler who wants and needs constant entertainment. And a newborn who eats, sleeps, and poops, rinse and repeat, all day long. Oh and cries, for reasons I can’t always figure out.
This morning, like most mornings lately, here I sit on the couch, feeding my newborn. Feels like I just did this, because, well I did, not even 3 hours ago. As my newborn sucks down a bottle, my toddler is watching TV, again. Part of me feels guilty that he’s probably watching entirely too much TV lately, and yeah, I know all about the studies about children and screen time, but the fact is, it occupies him, keeping him quiet, just for a little while and gives me time to feed the newborn and, let’s be real, a little down time.
And when that show is over, the toddler is raring to go. Sure, I could just turn on another episode of Paw Patrol and sometimes I do, but I know he needs his Mama, just as much as the newborn.
And though I’m not quite ready to start the day, and I’d much rather just go back to sleep with the newborn, because he’s already asleep after his bottle, such is life, the days begins, ready or not.
So, how do you manage to keep a busy toddler entertained while also caring for the newest edition? How do you keep your sanity and minimize the meltdowns that comes with the joys of toddlerhood? Here’s how this Mama is handling her days solo… until Dad gets home. And when he does, TAG YOU’RE IT!
Big Brother, Big Helper
To make the transition from an only child to a big brother, my toddler has been actively involved in caring for his baby brother. He grabs diapers for his brother when it’s time to change him; if his brother is cold, he gets him a blanket; he brings empty bottles to the sink and more… all simple tasks that a toddler is capable of handling. And I make a big deal about how he’s such a good Big Brother and how much his Little Brother loves him and how he’s such a Big Helper. This has really helped to make him feel like it’s not just about the newborn all the time. And he enjoys the “jobs”.
My toddler also likes to interact with his Baby Brother. He likes to read to his Baby Brother. He helps me sing to his Baby Brother before his naps. They even do tummy time together.
Extra Time and Patience
It was hard before, but now, especially as a sleep deprived Mama of a newborn, I really focus on having patience and remind myself to have patience. A major task for a toddler is independence, learning how to be independent and needing to be independent. My toddler is, no doubt, in the “let me do it myself” stage and I have to take a breath and remind myself daily, this is his job right now.
Most every day, he wants to put his clothes on himself. He of course gets frustrated because he can’t, but doesn’t want my help either. But he eventually lets me help, when he realizes his head is stuck in his shirt. And every day he gets a little better at putting on his shirt.
Or even getting in the car these days can be a battle. My toddler wants to climb in his seat all by himself. I could just pick him up and put him in, rushing through; but just taking the extra two minutes to allow him to climb in by himself prevents a complete meltdown over something so trivial.
So, allowing for a little extra time and patience in the everyday tasks can help prevent unwanted tantrums.
To prevent my toddler from watching TV all day long, and to keep my sanity, I created a visual schedule for him. A visual schedule is a series of pictures that communicate a series of activities or the steps of a specific activity. They are often used to help children understand and manage the daily events in their lives. They can be created using pictures, photographs, or written words.
This has really helped my little guy to know what to expect of his day. He knows exactly what’s happening, one activity after the next, throughout his day. And bonus, prevents him from asking for a snack ALL. DAY. I can just blame the schedule, “The schedule says it isn’t snack time”, ha, motherhood loophole!
Another bonus – he loves interacting with his schedule. Some of the pictures I have included are wake up, breakfast, get dressed, naptime, etc. I just Googled some clip art photos I liked, laminated the photos, added Velcro to the back, and bought a simple felt board at Target, and viola! Visual schedule = happy toddler!
Living with a toddler and being a toddler can be very difficult if the toddler isn’t well rested. It is not uncommon to see some regression around sleep for an older kiddo when a new baby is brought home, though we were very fortunate and my toddler is still a rockstar sleeper. I still honor his daily sleep needs, including naptime and bedtime to prevent an overtired and difficult-to-manage heathen.
If you experience a regression status-post bringing a newborn home, I encourage you to stay very consistent with that was working before and don’t do anything radical or drastic. Things should get back to normal when the dust settles. Stay consistent your routines. If there are spots in the routine that have become inconsistent, bring back the structure. Toddlers thrive with routines; stay consistent with it and do not let there be any negotiating.
Toddlers thrive on attention; they love to be the center of attention! And don’t forget, negative attention is still attention. Sometimes the behaviors we see in our toddlers are simply attention-seeking behaviors.
My toddler is no different. Every effort is made to give my toddler at least 15-20 minutes of consecutive, undivided attention with either myself or my husband daily. This 1:1 time can really make a big difference in a child’s behavior and parents come to love it, and it’s really important for the child.
Toddlers have a lot of energy! We try to spend at least 45-90 minutes of outside time every day to get in some physical play. I recommend morning and afternoon outside play. But for us, this outside time is usually in the afternoons, because our yard gets afternoon shade, and this Louisiana heat is no joke; not to mention I don’t want to bring my newborn out in the heat! This outside play is shown to really help with sleep, as exposure to natural light helps with the melatonin production in our body; and additionally, the outside play burns off all that cooped-up energy our toddlers have.
45 Minutes Newborn Awake Window. I mentioned this in my first entry of this Diary Series, but I’ll say it again here because it’s worth repeating…newborns can only handle 45 minutes of awake time before needing to go down for sleep, to prevent overtiredness.
So, as you can imagine, newborns sleep a lot. So, sticking true to this schedule allows me to put down my newborn for a nap and spend quality, 1:1 time with my toddler, which in turn gives him the attention he needs and deserves.
Flexibility with Naps. Naps on the go for my newborn allows for some flexibility and getting my toddler out of the house. That being said, I always try to get his first nap of the day in his bassinet, allowing him to learn his sleeping space. But being flexible with newborns in this early stage of their life is okay. We are not home for every single nap; so, we learn to adjust. An occasional nap on the go every now and then won’t break good sleep habits, as long as this is the exception and not the norm. And it allows me to get my toddler out of the four walls that begin to close in after too much time at home.
There is an occasional car nap for my toddler after a long outing, again the exception, not the rule. It’s okay to be flexible with your little one’s sleep, if they have usually good sleep skills. That’s the beauty of having well-established sleep skills… once healthy sleep habits are established, you have the ability to be more flexible.
Invest in a good carrier. I didn’t do much baby wearing with my first, but I surely am making good use of my infant carrier this go ‘round. My littlest doesn’t always want to sleep in his crib, but he’ll sleep on me, go figure. So, wearing my newborn allows for so much freedom! I have two hands! This allows me to actually get things done, rather than being hand-tied and holding a newborn, which sometimes I don’t mind, of course, but my toddler does need me to have two hands. I can play on the floor with my toddler, make my toddler lunch, help him potty…the list is endless!
I used to joke and say, the things we learn to do with one hand while holding a baby…well with a carrier, it is possible to hold your baby, have two hands, AND get things done!
These tips are pretty easy to apply to your daily life. They have helped me immensely in my transition to a mom of two. Imagine life with a toddler and a newborn without the toddler meltdowns…ok, well with less meltdowns. Afterall, we are dealing with toddlers here and let’s be real, that’s impossible! But hopefully these tips will help make life a little easier when managing your attention-needing toddler boss and your sweet, snuggly, needy newborn!