Whether you plan to breastfeed or bottle feed your babies, expecting parents of twins with an older child often worry about how they can keep their child occupied while they feed twin newborns.
Take the time to explain to your first born that new babies need to eat frequently. They are putting all of their energy into growing right now, so they can be a little bit boring at times, too. If you are able and choose to breastfeed, explain what it is all about — your child will be curious.
Don’t be afraid to ask your older child for help while you are feeding — bring things to you that you’ll need, and help burp the babies by patting them on the back. Being included and involved helps your older child to adjust and to feel needed.
A little advance planning can go a long way to keep things running smoothly for your older child, your twins, and you.
1. Special Activity Basket.
Well before your 30th week of your twin pregnancy, begin gathering items for a “special activity” basket. The basket can be brought out for your child to choose an item to play with while you feed your twin infants. You can choose to allow your child to keep the new play item after the feeding session is over, or you can replace the item into the basket and put the basket away until the next session. Both strategies have some advantages.
Putting the item back will help to retain the “specialness” of the items in the basket. You may find that your child has a particular interest in one thing when they choose that item over and over again. But, be prepared for the inevitable melt downs when the item is taken away and put back to the basket. This can be a learning opportunity for your child.
Having this special activity basket will encourage your toddler to look at feeding times as a positive experience rather than a negative one that diverts the attention of mommy & daddy. This basket will be especially helpful for the first several weeks — until your little one becomes accustomed to the process and learns that a little independent play is required.
Ideas for items for your special activity basket:
- New toys
- Coloring Books
- Play Dough (and accessories like muffin tins, jello molds, cookie cutters)
- Match box cars
- New videos
- Felt boards
- Coupons for watching a special video or tv show
- Jobs your child can help with (this is a treat for them), like dusting or hand washing dishes
While you can use the special activity basket as your primary strategy, you won’t want to go to the basket for every feed. It will be important to keep the “Special Activity Basket” fresh and perceived as a special treat. With that in mind, it is helpful to decide on a schedule for which feedings you will use the basket and which you will use other strategies.
2. Snack or Meal Time.
One or two feedings for your twins can coincide with a snack time for your toddler or preschooler. Plan ahead and have the snack prepared in advance. You can put out crackers, cheese, sliced apples and such to allow your toddler to help herself, or contain your child in their high chair to keep probing hands away at a safe distance.
3. Reading Time.
Another feeding could be designated as “reading time”. Again, planning ahead is key. Pick out a book that will hold your child’s interest and ask him to help by turning the pages. You might choose to have a “special” book that is only read during feeding time — to add to the feeling that your older child is special, too.
4. Story Time.
Wait… didn’t we already cover this? Nope. These are stories without the book. Kids love it when parents make up stories — especially when you incorporate your child and other family members into the story. Ask your child to contribute to the story, too. “What should happen next?”
While it is important to limit screen time, an occasional educational video or tv show — when it is planned within the context of an enriched environment — can be a sanity saver. Don’t feel guilty about it. One of our favorite TwinParenthood mantras is “You do what you have to do.”
6. Game Time.
Imagination Games are great to play during feeding time. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Animal Actors. Have your child act like a… bear, dog, cat, lion, etc.
- I Spy. This can occupy a young child for quite a while. “I spy something red… you’re getting hotter/colder… etc.”
- Mini scavenger hunt. Plan ahead, and draw pictures on little slips of paper and place your clues around the house. One clue leads to the next and so on. For example, the first clue might be a picture of a specific ball. At the ball, you’ll place the next clue, maybe a firetruck. At the firetruck you place a picture of a puzzle, and so on. Make sure you make the hunt long enough, but easy and age appropriate or else you’ll get sucked into helping!
- Word or Counting Games. Have your child bring out all of their stuffies (one by one) and organize them into a zoo in the living room. Then, have your child return them, one by one, to the bedroom and put them into the toy box or crib — Count them up as you go.
7. Location change.
Often times, just a change in location is enough to ensure your child is happy and occupied. Keeping toys segregated to specific areas of the house help with this strategy. The basement toys stay in the basement, the family room toys stay in the family room, etc.
8. The Entertainer.
Have another adult or older child play with your child. It can be very nice to hire a teenager from the neighborhood to come be mother’s helper for an hour after school each day. This can be a special time for your child and a break for you.
9. Adventure Train/Airplane/Bus.
Set up some chairs to create a vehicle and have your child sit down as the driver. Tell him to close his eyes and imagine taking a trip. Where would he like to go? Describe the scenery, describe things that happen along the way. When you arrive at your destination, have your child continue the action by gathering objects from this special place. A ball can be a coconut. A postcard can be a notice for a party. Help his imagination to soar.
10. New “Twin” Dolls.
Getting new “twin” dolls and caring for the new babies (the dolls) can be very comforting to your child. Have your child shadow you and she pretends to feed her infants, too.
As with all things in life, balance is key. Identify the strategies that work best for you, those that allow you to bond with your infants and maintain that special relationship with your older child, too.
Have you used any of these strategies? What else has worked for you?
copyright 2010 – TwinParenthood / Kathryn Whiteley