Speak to any mum of more than two children and she’ll tell you that the hardest parenting transition was not from two to three children, three to four or even four to five! No, the toughest adjustment for most parents is from one to two. The reason? With your first child, you learn to parent – usually with two of you to share the load. However, with your second child, you are forced to learn the fine art of parental juggling, balancing the needs of both children, prioritising, refereeing, trying to keep everyone happy and (perhaps more importantly) accepting that sometimes that’s just not possible! The age gap between your first and second born will obviously play a large part too – for many parents embarking on a parenthood for a second time, their first child may still be a toddler – combine tantrums and potty training, with sleepless nights, nappy changing and colic and it’s no surprise that parents find this stage something of a challenge!!
If you’re about to introduce a new bundle of joy to your family, here are some great tips from the NCT for managing life with two children: a newborn and a toddler….
1. Remember that your toddler is still a baby too
When the baby arrives, it’s amazing how your toddler will seem so much bigger and older. Don’t forget though, they are still young, and being an older brother or sister doesn’t suddenly make them more mature or responsible. In fact, it’s very common for children to regress when a sibling arrives; they might start wanting bottles again, for instance, when they’ve been using cups. While frustrating, remember that this is just their way of adjusting to the new family situation and also maintaining their share of attention. Try not to let your expectations of them change because of the baby; they still need your help and patience too.
2. Make a fuss of your older child too
It can be easy for all the kisses and cuddles to be focused on the new bundle. But to help your older child still feel secure and loved, make sure they get lots of attention too. Encourage any visiting friends and family to lavish just as much attention on your older child as the new baby and make a point of praising them on being ‘such a great big brother or sister’. If friends ask what gift would be helpful, remember a small present for your toddler to unwrap can be very welcome.
3. Help your toddler to get involved
Toddlers often learn from copying and imitating their parents; it’s something they enjoy doing too. Get them involved with their new baby brother or sister by asking them to help with simple tasks or giving them a special job to do. They could help pick out the baby’s clothes or toys to play with, for instance. Your toddler may be expecting a new playmate and could be distinctly unimpressed by the arrival of – from their point of view – a not very fun baby that mostly sleeps and feeds! Involving them with the baby in different ways will help them to get to know their new sibling but still feel important at the same time.
4. Learn to balance…and juggle
With two young kids, there will be moments when you have the stressful situation of two crying children who want you at the same time. It’s not always easy but it can help to decide how to respond to each child based on who has the greater need at that moment in time. So, for instance, if your toddler is crying because they just fell down and hurt themselves, and the baby is crying because they want to be held, then it probably makes sense to help your toddler first. Of course, any parent will want to make sure both children are safe and happy, and you will find different ways to balance the needs of both. And there will be probably be times when you’ll just have to scoop them both up for a cuddle!
5. Consistency is key
The arrival of a new baby will probably affect existing routines but it’s important, where possible, that your toddler’s usual routine is kept in place as best you can. It can help your toddler adjust to life with a new baby if they don’t feel everything they have always done has changed because of the baby. This is when help from family and friends can make a difference in taking your toddler to their regular playgroup or nursery, for instance, in the early days and weeks.
6. Getting out and about with two
With a toddler in tow, you definitely need your hands free to play, clean or just keep hold of them! Having a sling you feel comfortable with can be really beneficial when you need to get on with jobs or play with your toddler but also keep your baby close, safe and happy. Remember, though, it can be difficult to give your older child a cuddle or pick them up with a baby in a sling. With two under two, it can also make sense to consider a double buggy where both children can sit or lie down if they need to. Toddlers under two are not always able to walk long distances so it can help to invest in a double buggy and then move onto a single buggy with a clip-on buggy board later. There are lots of options so do some test runs first.
7. Milestones can wait
It’s probably best not to attempt any big changes at this point in your toddler’s life; having a new sibling is probably enough to adjust to! For instance, many parents start thinking about potty training at the age of two or moving them from their cot to a toddler bed but – with a new baby too – this could put too much pressure on you and your toddler. Take your time and don’t feel you have to rush into any new milestones.
8. Make time for both children
It can feel like you’re not giving enough time and attention to each child; especially when patience is not necessarily a well-understood virtue among babies or toddlers! Some parents find that mum ends up spending more time with baby while dad often takes care of the older one. Think of ways you can both have special time with your children. Perhaps dad can bath baby while you do story time with your toddler. When the new baby naps, you could devote more attention to your eldest and play some of their favourite games.
9. Join a parents group in your local area
Meeting up with other parents in a similar situation can provide a great support network and also a friendship group for the children. NCT runs refresher antenatal courses which are a good way of concentrating on the second pregnancy and second baby – often overlooked when there are toddlers and other children to look after.
10. Focus on the positives…especially when things go pear-shaped
On those inevitable days when it all feels overwhelming and you wonder why you ever had your children so close together, focus on the positives of a small age gap – it might just help you through it!
Siblings who are closer in age can have more in common, which can bring them closer together from an early age. For some parents, it can also be a relief to get all the challenging baby and toddler years done in a short period of time. And having children closely spaced can also offer practical benefits. They’re probably more likely to share activities and spend more time at the same schools, which can make for easier planning.
Most importantly, enjoy your new family and never be too hard on yourself.