When I brought home my first child from the hospital, I thought to myself, “There is no way I will ever be this exhausted again.” Eighteen months later, smack dab in the middle of my husband’s combat deployment, I brought home my second beautiful child. It turned out that handling a newborn and keeping a toddler entertained on my own was a whole new level of exhaustion. I knew I needed to figure out a better way to do things, and fast! I needed a way to keep everyone, including myself, as happy as a newborn, toddler, and Mom alone in their home could be.
After a week or two filled with lots of tantrums and tears (mostly from me), we found our groove. I tapped into my early childhood education background and figured out a way to make it work. The steps I took are simple and could be done in any home. With so many families stuck in their homes, it seemed the perfect time to share these 4 tips for staying sane with a newborn and a toddler.
1. Prep your Space
Minimize the times you have to say, “No.” Childproof everything you possibly can. Child lock cabinets and drawers. Move everything that is not toddler-friendly out of reach and mount those shelves or containers to the wall. If the majority that is within reach is okay for them to touch, it is less worry and stress for you throughout the day.
Create a, “Yes space,” for your toddler in every room where you spend time during the day. This could be the bottom drawer in the bathroom or a small plastic bin in your bedroom. Just something filled with exciting things just for them. If you’re feeding the baby and your toddler needs some attention remind them of their special space.
When possible, also have a, “Baby space,” in rooms you frequent. This could be anything from a blanket on the floor to a bassinet. It is a place that is all set up for when you need to set down your newborn. Set boundaries for your toddler regarding this space, “This space is for the baby. You can play with your special bin.”
Have a safe and completely childproofed space to put your toddler when you truly need all attention on the baby (or yourself). This could be a crib, their room, or a portable playard. Somewhere there is nothing that could cause them harm. When things got chaotic having a safe place I could put my toddler for a few minutes was my saving grace.
2. Keep it Simple
Toddlers are wonderful, curious creatures. It doesn’t take much to entertain them. The special drawer in the bathroom could be filled with cotton balls, empty paper towel rolls, and a zipper bag. The bin in the kitchen could be empty Tupperware with lids, a few (be aware of choking hazard) bottle caps and a dry paintbrush. If it is new it will be exciting. If you are excited, they will be excited. A simple. “Whoa! What’s that?!” will spark their interest.
3. Change of scenery
When you notice your toddler losing attention or everyone is starting to meltdown, get up and move. Simply moving to another room or space in your home can be the reset everyone needs.
When at all possible, go outside. I used outside time to get us through those, “witching hours,” before nap and bed. Fresh air can fix just about anything. A little bin of (closely supervised) water on the front porch, or grass in a bowl might buy you hours of toddler entertainment.
If your toddler is playing quietly with their special activities, make sure to make eye contact and smile. Tell them you enjoy watching them play. If you’re feeling up to it, ask them what they are doing. Even children who are not talking yet thrive with this kind of attention. Catch those positive moments and give a little praise, or if your hands are free a little hug. It doesn’t have to be loud, big, or boisterous. Just an acknowledgment that you see them and love them. A little bit of positive attention goes a long way.
Have a designated time just for your toddler. Every day at bedtime I would put my newborn in a safe place nearby and read one book with my toddler. If the baby was calm, we read two! It was less than 5 minutes, but that time in the rocking chair snuggled with my big kid helped us end the day on a positive note. It was something we looked forward to during the day. When the baby was crying and the toddler wanted my attention I could say, “I need to help baby right now but I can’t wait to snuggle with you and read!” No matter how crazy the day was, I could go to sleep knowing I had given each child some one-on-one attention. It doesn’t have to be bedtime, and it doesn’t have to be a book. Any special time during the day when you can have all your attention on your toddler will be beneficial for you both.
This stage of life is hard! It is exhausting but you are doing great! Do your best. Love your babies. Smile when you can. Shower when you can, but most of all give yourself grace. This is a hard time for everyone but it’s an exceptionally hard time for mothers stuck at home managing a newborn and toddler. Do what you need to survive and be kind to yourself.
You’ve got this!
About Catherine Marx.
My name is Catherine Marx. I have my Masters degree in Child and Family Studies and have been teaching young children for over 10 years. Despite my experience and degree, I felt ill prepared for solo parenting two very young children. It was humbling, but over time and with lots of grace for one another we were able to figure it out. To all you moms out there now stuck inside with multiple kiddos, I am rooting for you! You can do it!
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