Teaching Toddlers to Wait & Take Turns with a New Baby

Dear Gigi,
Our 2.5-year-old daughter is having a really hard time sharing me with her two-month-old brother, especially during breastfeeding.
Any time I need to focus on the baby, my daughter suddenly can’t do anything without me and will often meltdown until I can give her my attention.
Short of bribing her while I feed my son or change his diapers, I am at a loss about getting her to understand that he needs me just as much as she does.
Do you have any suggestions to help all of us?
—One Stretched-Thin Mama


Dear Stretched-Thin Mama,

First of all, congratulations on the expansion of your family! It is never easy bringing a new child into the home, whether they’re your first or sixth.

However, I will say the most important thing to remember in this time is to give yourself the grace to be human. The only hard and fast rule that applies to parenting is “keep everyone alive.” Everything else is a goal to work towards — and believe me — no one gets it right all the time.

Parenting is challenging even at the best of times. And when a new baby comes into the mix, the challenges aren’t just doubled. They are multiplied by so many factors.

The best thing you can do for your kids (and your sanity) is to teach them how to wait and take turns.

The Waiting Game

Waiting is a wholly foreign concept for a kid, and it takes time and practice to master. Start by using the word ‘wait’ with your child in your everyday play and tasks to help them understand the concept. “I am making our snack, and you are waiting for it to be ready. Great job!” Or, “We are waiting for our turn to go down the slide. I’m so proud of you for waiting!”

Practice waiting as often as you can in your everyday life to help your child learn how to wait.

Your Turn / My Turn

How many times has your toddler reached over and just plucked a toy from your hands during playtime?

At first, we praise our kids for reaching and grasping as they’re learning those new motor skills as a baby. But now’s the time to teach them another critical skill — taking turns.

So the next time your kid reaches for the blocks in your hand, you can gently say, “Not yet. I am still playing with these blocks. Right now, it is mama’s turn, but soon it will be your turn. Thank you for waiting!”

Will your child understand what’s happening at first?


Will they throw a fit at this new and sudden change in expectation?

Maybe. But stick to your guns.

You don’t have to wait a long time before giving them the blocks, either. Just 10 seconds or so will help them learn it’s your choice to end your turn. And it doesn’t happen simply because your kid wants what you have. You can begin to lengthen the time between turns as you go to help them grow their patience and understanding.

Use Distraction

I have also found that distraction is one of the most powerful tools in my nanny kit. You can try to reason all you like with a two-year-old, but sometimes leaning into your toddler’s magpie-like qualities will help keep you sane and them happy.

One way you can divert their attention when baby needs you is with a unique feeding-time-only basket full of toys and puzzles. Or, you can set your toddler up with a fancy new coloring book or some Play-Doh and tools that they only get to play with while you’re busy with their sibling. Just make sure to give your toddler plenty of warning before wrapping up their independent play. Otherwise, you could have a different kind of meltdown on your hands!

I often use burping as a cue for ‘time is almost up,’ or I sometimes ask the toddler to help me get a clean diaper for the baby. Then, once your baby-focused task is complete, be sure to make a big show of just how proud you are of your big kid’s hard work in helping you out by playing independently.

Use Snacks & Other Special Rewards

Another helpful tool can be tying your nursing schedule to your toddler’s snacks or meal times.

This way, both kids are happily distracted as they fill their bellies while you get a much-needed brain break.

You can even alternate this strategy with screen time as needed. And listen — don’t feel like you are bribing your child with screen time, either. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using electronics as practical tools to help stretch your little one’s ability to share you with their new sibling.

Just remember: the most important thing to focus on is that your children are loved, alive, and happy (for the most part, cause who can keep a two-year-old happy all the time, amirite?!).

Of course, perfection is an illusion, so don’t hold yourself to some crazy unobtainable Instagram or reality TV standard. All your kids need is you, and you — with your messy bun, those two-day-old-stained sweats, and that mysterious Cheerio tucked away in your bra — are doing a great job!

You’ve Got This!


Have a question for Gigi regarding parenting or kids? E-mail [email protected] to ask, and she’ll consider it for her next article!

And for more parenting advice from Gigi, check out Kids & Technology: Tips to Limit Screen Time.
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Being a parent is hard work even at the best of times, amirite? From that first poopy diaper to even after you send them off to college, figuring out the best way to raise your children is the toughest job you'll ever love. So, where do you turn when you need time-tested advice for those hard questions and the questions you never knew you had? Hi, I'm Gigi, and I'm here to lend you a helping hand and remind you that "You've Got This." With nearly a quarter-century of experience as a professional nanny, I have pretty much seen it and heard it all. And if there's one thing I've come to realize over the years, it's that parents always seem to have the same sort of questions. "How can I tell when my baby is teething?" "Why is my toddler pinching us?" "When should we tell our child we are having another baby?" "Why won't my kid sleep through the night?!" Questions like these can cause all sorts of doubt and uncertainty for parents. I have seen how difficult it can be when you don't know what to do and need help. And I also understand how crucial it is for parents to know they aren't alone and that their concerns are being listened to with a compassionate ear. It brings me so much joy to help parents and their little ones navigate life's unexpected hiccups. So no matter your worry, woe, quandary, or conundrum, there is an answer, and above all: You've Got This!


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