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Going from one kid to two is a big transition, in more ways than one. A big challenge can be finding ways for your slightly bigger child to play with your younger one, given their different ability (and mobility!) levels.
But you can stimulate both kids — and help them form that essential sibling bond — with a few easy activities.
These six ideas will keep both kids entertained and allow you to enjoy watching your kids connect with each other.
Make meals more than about eating (er, throwing) food. Bring a pile of sturdy — and therefore wipeable — board books to the table the next time the three of you sit down for lunch or an afternoon snack at home.
“Alternate between kid-feeding and reading,” early childhood and family educator Nanci J Bradley suggests. “Throw in a song or two and you have a super pleasant and productive meal.”
Both kids will enjoy looking at the pictures and your older child may even want to “teach” your baby about those pictures. For example, with a book about a zoo or farm, they may make animal sounds for the baby as they look at the pages.
Bradley also suggests going on a toddler-led walk around the outside of your house or down your street with your baby in the carrier (or just in your arms).
“If you move at your toddler’s pace and follow their interests, they will stay focused while you keep the baby happy,” she explains.
Check out the flowers you see growing in your front yard, the cracks in the sidewalk, ants crawling in lines — anything that catches your older child’s interest. You don’t have to go far to keep their attention, and the experience can be really relaxing if you go slow and stay in the moment with your kids.
Kids of all ages love music and movement, so singing and dancing is a natural choice for keeping your toddler and your baby entertained.
“Dance parties with my toddler are a huge hit, as I can sway with the baby at the same time,” says Alexandra Fung, CEO of recommendation-sharing site Upparent, who’s a mom of four kids, ages 13, 10, 2, and 4 months. “My toddler and I also sing karaoke while I hold the baby. The baby loves it, too — all he really wants is for someone to hold him and ‘talk’ to him once in a while.”
Switch up the type of music to keep this activity fresh. You can find kids’ music playlists on Spotify or introduce your little ones to your favorite bands — it’s never too early to start.
For a really simple activity that both kids will love, all you need is a ball.
“Give your toddler the ball and demonstrate how to throw it away, then tell the baby to catch it or bring it back to the toddler,” suggests Brandon Foster, a parent, teacher, and blogger at myschoolsupplylists.com.
“A toddler is happy by the action of throwing, and the baby will enjoy crawling or running to get it,” he said. For a change — or if your baby isn’t mobile yet — switch roles and let the baby throw and the toddler return.
Yes, it’s a little (okay, a lot) like your kids are playing fetch with each other. But they will both enjoy the movement and motor skill repetition. Plus, they’ll get practice with sharing, too.
If you have outdoor space — and sunshine — you can create a water oasis for your two kids that will keep them entertained and happy for a good while.
Mom blogger Abby Marks, who has two boys in the toddler and baby phases, came up with the idea of putting her baby’s play center in the middle of her toddler’s kiddie pool to create a wet, fun-filled space both of her kids can enjoy together.
“Our oldest was stacking pool toys and playing with our youngest while he was throwing the toys back in just as fast,” she says. “Add in some bubble bath and you’ve got the ultimate pool day for you and the kids. This idea allows us to contain the little ones and also gets them interacting with each other in a fun way.”
Many toddlers love to build and babies are often fascinated by watching older kids stack blocks, build towers and, of course, watch everything all fall down.
While the kids may not be actually playing together, you can set up your toddler with some building toys and give your baby a front-row seat to watch the action.
“Blocks and trucks keep my toddler entertained without him needing too much involvement from me, though I am often able to play along while the baby does tummy time — he loves to watch his big brother play,” Fung says.
This way, your toddler gets some time building with you and your baby gets a chance to work on their own skills, in addition to checking out what the older sibling is up to.
Of course you’re not limited to blocks or trucks. Any activity that involves some floor time — dolls, puzzles, coloring — can happen while the littlest family member hangs out nearby.
Finding the right activities to keep your toddler busy and your baby happy may take some trial and error. But when you find the right mix and are rewarded by giggles and gummy smiles, it’s worth all the work.
Natasha Burton is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Livestrong, Woman’s Day, and many other lifestyle publications. She’s the author of What’s My Type?: 100+ Quizzes to Help You Find Yourself―and Your Match!, 101 Quizzes for Couples, 101 Quizzes for BFFs, 101 Quizzes for Brides and Grooms, and the co-author of The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags. When she’s not writing, she’s fully immersed in #momlife with her toddler and preschooler.