You might be over the moon about your precious new baby, but your first-born has been demoted from being the star of the show to playing second fiddle to a tiny poop machine that can’t even smile or talk. While you're making googly eyes at your newborn your toddler must be wondering what the big deal is - that new baby is NO FUN!
Maybe you have a hunch that your older child will like baby more once they can play together, but you may not realize how early that sibling play can start. In our family, being gentle with a newborn came with a steep learning curve for big brother. But by the end of our first month my two babes were enjoying (brief) periods of (very closely supervised…like a mama hawk) playtime together. Now that baby sister smiles and laughs, they truly have a blast together many times throughout the day.
Here are some of our favorite ways to play:
Side By Side Parallel Play
If you have a very young or rough toddler like I do, sitting and admiring baby’s tiny ears and toes may be too much of a temptation to pull those adorable ears or yank those itty bitty toes. Laying side by side on the floor facing a parent can offer much safer positioning. Here are side by side games to try:
Big And Little
The idea behind this little game is to point out all the body parts your two (or more) kiddos have in common - “big nose, little nose,” “big bellybutton, little bellybutton,” and so on. You can do this by touching them, kissing them or our favorite - rolling a bumpy ball on them.
After the first few weeks of life, your new baby will begin to kick those chubby legs vigorously. Most of the kicking baby activities you’ll find on this site and in my book are perfect for including an older sibling in. We've been enjoying balloon kicks and splashing in a pan of water lately!
Help toddler get into position under your baby’s activity gym and then lay baby under it as well. Because it’s super-close quarters, I prefer a head to head position so that their bodies are going in opposite directions. This helps keep baby safe from swinging toddler arms.
Talking And Teaching Play
Let’s face it, all big siblings want to feel like they know more than their younger sibs. Talking and teaching games are perfect for fueling your older child's feelings of being special and unique.
Show And Tell
Encourage your toddler to find things around the house (or pictures in a book or photo album) to show baby and tell her all about them. You can help by asking lots of questions - “Can you tell her where we keep that? Could you show her how you use it? Baby doesn’t know her colors, can you tell her what color it is?" etc. Not only is it stimulating for baby, it’s great for toddler language development! And what baby isn’t fascinated by the kitchen mop, a rubber ducky and a raincoat?
Read A Story To Baby
Toddler can't read? He doesn’t know that! Let him show his new sibling all his favorite books. Another variation is to let toddler be the page turner for baby when she’s looking at picture books. My son Rowan will gladly abandon his toy trucks for a moment to run to his baby sister shouting, “ROWIE TURN PAAAAAGE!” when I mention that she’s all done gazing at a page in her book during Tummy Time. (The arrival of a new baby who is sleeping all the time will make you quickly aware that toddlers seem only to have one volume - shouting.)
Help your curious toddler notice what baby is doing with her face, her legs, her arms, her head. Encourage playful imitation. Another variation is to let your older child pretend to be the baby for a few minutes. Grab a big blanket and swaddle, bounce and shhhhhh, put a paci in or hold an empty bottle. Deep down, many older siblings begin to crave being a baby again when they see all the attention the new member of their family gets. This type of play can actually be therapeutic for their jealous little hearts (and super sweet for a parent).
Encourage big sibling to teach baby upcoming milestones - how to pick her head up in Tummy Time, how to grab and shake a rattle, how to roll, take a bit of food, etc. It can be fun for your older child to be the expert. For extra fun, challenge big sibling to demonstrate in slow motion and then fast forward speeds!
Tummy Time Peekaboo
Siblings can be a GREAT tool for making Tummy Time fun for your new baby. When baby is in the head bobbing stage, have your older child lay belly down facing baby. Each time baby lifts her head, say “Peekaboo!” and encourage your toddler to say it too. Once baby can hold her head up for longer stretches, have toddler put his head down and lift it for Peekaboo.
Make Baby Laugh
Once your little one begins to laugh or smile, help your toddler come up with ways to make your babe crack a grin or giggle. Some of our favorites are silly dances, fake sneezes, blowing raspberries on her belly and tickling her feet. Discover what makes your babe giddy.
It’s never too young to work on turn-taking between siblings. Introducing the concept of sharing space and toys can begin very early on using almost any toy or activity. In this game, I might kiss baby’s neck and wait for my toddler to say (shout), “My turn!” Or I blow bubbles for baby and then for toddler. Or dance holding baby and then toddler. Or I help baby turn one page of a book and let toddler turn the next page.
What often comes most naturally to parents is involving a big sibling in baby’s daily care - helping with diaper changes or getting baby dressed. But playtime moments of shared fun can be even more valuable for helping two new siblings feel connected to each other.
Wish you knew how to play with your new baby like a developmental expert?
Is your creativity zapped by sleep deprivation? Do you struggle to know what to do with your baby to promote healthy development?
Here are your expert guides - featuring 85 simple ways to play with your baby from birth to walking PLUS parent-friendly explanations of how they can make your little one smarter and stronger.