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November 17, 2022

Toddler Independence for Baby's Naps

The other day I shared a day-in-the-life of my three-year-old, Teddy. During the day, many people noticed that he would play independently while I nursed his baby sister to sleep. One of the most common questions I got that day was "how did you get him to let you put the baby to sleep quietly?" Now, there isn't one easy answer to this question so I wanted to share some tips that helped up move to independent play for baby care tasks. 

First, I want to clarify that Teddy is in no way perfect when it comes to times when I need to focus on baby care - in particular when I need to put Penelope down for a nap. There are days when he is loud, comes in and turns on a light, or interrupts. It happens, a lot. He's a toddler. Go easy on yourself and your toddler if that's happening in your home.

In general, Teddy has two options while I put Penelope down. One, he can come sit quietly in Penelope's room as she nurses. He's welcome to bring a book. Or, two, he can play independently in another area of the house. These days he almost always chooses to play because it's far more fun. 

Montessori Tips for Toddler Independence During Sibling's Nap

But there have been a few things we have done since Penelope was born that have helped him become more independent at nap time. Here's a few things to consider if you're struggling with a toddler + baby + nap situation: 

  • Offer choice: Ask the toddler if they want to quietly join you or play alone for a few minutes. Don't sneak off and leave a toddler wondering what's going on or force one choice over the other.  
  • Obvious Place: Make an obvious place for your toddler to be if they come into the room with you. We have a small reading nook with a cushion and that is Ted's spot. That keeps the confusion down and makes for a good expectation. 
  • Practice: Babies sleep really hard when they are tiny so practice then, practice babies falling asleep with noise, practice before they need the perfect conditions to sleep. And then, practice for the toddler, what to do and where to go during nap time. Make it a game and do it outside of nap time when you aren't stressed. 
  • Come back quickly: In my experience once you have multiple kids, gone are the days of spending tons of time putting the baby to bed. You need to set reasonable expectations for your toddler. You can't be gone 30-40 minutes and expect them to be ok. Cap yourself at 10-15 minutes of trying to put the baby down then go back to the toddler. If the nap fails, try again in a little bit when the sleep pressure is greater, or use a baby carrier to try to get them to sleep on the go.

  • Pick an activity: Don't leave your toddler hanging during the nap to figure out what to play. Help them choose what to do and get them started before going to put down the baby. 
  • Explain: Toddlers are often capable of understanding what's going on and why it certain situations require different behavior. Explain to them why it's important for the baby to nap, and why it needs to be quiet or dark or whatever. Don't expect them to understand without teaching them why. 
  • Keep Consistent Boundaries: If the expectation is quiet and staying in their spot, then hold that expectation or remove them from the space. We can't expect that sometimes we allow them to play or sit on us or come in and out and others that they don't. The exact boundaries don't matter - do what feels right for your child and home - but keep them consistent. You can acknowledge feelings that come from those boundaries and help your toddler through them while also keeping those limits in place. 
  • Involve: Get your toddler involved other times of the day. Share in the baby care tasks when your toddler is able. Let them know they have a role to play, but that nap time just isn't it. When they feel secure in their role, they may let go of nap more easily. 

This is such a hard parenting phase and learning to juggle multiple kids at once isn't easy. Like I said go easy on yourself and your children as you navigate and set new boundaries. This is going to be easier for some kids than others. But, hopefully, you can find a rhythm that works for you and your children. 

8 tips for helping toddlers play independently while a parent buts a baby down for nap. These tips help in our Montessori home with multiple kids


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Anonymous said…
This couldn’t have come at a better time, as we are beginning to struggle with this exact thing! Thank you so much, as always ☺️