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Sibling play: Games for Toddlers and Preschoolers to Enjoy Together

Helping our little ones to play together is a powerful way to nurture sibling relationships and to make home fun, but for small children at different developmental stages it isn’t always easy to find activities everyone can enjoy.

An older and a younger toddler, or a toddler and a preschooler are tricky combinations for family play. One child is likely to be mouthing and fascinated by destroying things just when the other is beginning to want more challenging or complex play. But there are many ways to play together at this time, especially by keeping activities fun and active.

Sibling play goes through many stages, and will vary depending on the age gap between your children.

There’s a 17-month gap between my children, and like many mothers of two-under-two my main challenges in the early months were tiredness and combining long breastfeeds for the baby with toddler care.

Honestly, at that time, play was not my top priority, but nor was it that difficult. My older son and I played when the baby slept, or when he settled to watch from his blanket. Things got challenging when the baby got mobile, especially once he could pull up.

Just when my toddler started to put together a puzzle or set up his farm pieces carefully, his baby brother cruised over to cause chaos. Play dough and paint would soon end up in little brother’s mouth, and any game with small parts or complex rules was a no-no.

So how did we solve the problem? First, I kept my youngest napping twice a day as long as I could. That morning nap was the time my older son and I played together with anything that needed concentration or safety precautions.

I also put puzzles and small world toys for my older son on the dining table, where he could play undisturbed. These were temporary solutions, but that’s fine because the problem was temporary too.

Most of all, I looked for ways for my sons to play together. Here are some of the games we enjoyed:

Movement Songs

A beloved activity in childcare settings for good reason! Songs with actions are a great way to entertain baby and toddler, or groups of toddlers of all ages. You can find hundreds of ideas and lyrics online, including The Wheels on the Bus, The Eensy Weensy Spider, Zoom Zoom Zoom and Sleeping Bunnies.

Bubbles, Balls, Balloons

Children who are just starting to walk usually love bubbles, and older toddlers do to, so this is an easy and fun way to play together. Challenge older toddlers to clap bubbles, stamp on them, or pop them with an elbow! Rolling balls and batting balloons can also bring young siblings together.

Animal Actions

Pretending to be different animals appeals to toddlers of all ages. Even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to one-year-olds, they’ll enjoy stomping and bellowing for the fun of it!

Play outside

Playing in the playground or the garden with two toddlers, especially ones who still mouth, can be challenging. But your kids will love the fresh air and chance to run and climb. And it helps them sleep, which we all know is a huge bonus!


We often dance to classical music and try out all sorts of actions, such as waving, jumping, spinning, clapping, going slowly or fast and so on. Describing what we do and giving instructions helps to build my little ones’ vocabularies.

Story time

Read together! This is one of the easiest and best things to do with toddlers. Our days include lots of movement and outside play, so my boys are usually happy to sit together at other times with a pile of books.

Process art

Art with two-under-three gets messy, but what I love about art at this age is it’s so simple. Toddlers enjoy scribbling and trying out crayons or paint or dough; there’s no need to fuss about the end result. While my youngest was still mouthing we usually did art at the table, with the youngest in a highchair. I’d keep him occupied with a snack or a safe art material, or combine the two and let him finger-paint with applesauce. At first our art time was short and sweet; it became longer and more adventurous as the children grew.

Pretend Play

If your preschooler enjoys pretend play, you might find your toddler is happy to join in even if it’s all a bit above them cognitively. Enthusiasm can sweep them along. We love playing picnics, doctors, rockets, dinosaurs, and most of all pirates! One of my youngest’s first words was ‘treasure’, declared very seriously while holding up a cushion!


This one’s controversial, since I know lots of parents and educators hate flashcards, but many children enjoy playing with them, and they are easy to share. Toddlers like posting things, so try making a slit in a cardboard box and letting your children post the cards. I built language learning into this by asking my kids to choose a card to post and name. With my oldest I asked questions like ‘Which one lives in water?’; with the youngest I might ask, ‘Which one do you want, hat or dog?’

Playing with toddlers together may be challenging at times, but you’re sure to have lots of fun. Now at ages 3 and 2, some of the difficulties of sibling play I mention above are over for us and the youngest can join in with many more types of activity. The boys play together constantly, often without me, and even invent games of their own. It’s not always peaceful, but I try to remember that even the conflicts help them to learn and mature! Seeing their friendship grow has been an enormous and unexpected joy for me. The hard work is definitely worth it!

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Going back to work after having a baby is hard. Regaining your footing in a world where working mothers are so often penalized is tough, and (just like most things during the postpartum period) it takes time.

The challenges we face as working women returning from a maternity leave can be so different from those we faced before, it can feel like we're starting over from scratch. But mothers will not be deterred, even if our return to the working world doesn't go exactly as planned.

We are resilient, as Serena Williams proved at Wimbledon this weekend.

She lost to Angelique Kerber in the final, just 10 months after welcoming daughter Alexis Olympia and recovering from a physically and emotionally traumatic birth experience.

Williams didn't get her eighth Wimbledon title this weekend, but when we consider all the challenges she (and all new moms) faced in resuming her career, her presence was still a huge achievement.

"It was such an amazing tournament for me, I was really happy to get this far!" Williams explained in an emotional post-match interview.

"For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today. And I tried. I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

The loss at Wimbledon isn't what she wanted, of course, but Williams says it does not mean there won't be wins in her near future.

"These two weeks have showed me I can really compete and be a contender to win grand slams. This is literally just the beginning. I took a giant step at Wimbledon but my journey has just began."

When asked what she hopes other new moms take away from her journey, Williams noted her postpartum recovery was really difficult, and hopes that other moms who face challenges early in motherhood know that they don't have to give up on whatever dreams they have for themselves, whether it involves working or not.

"Honestly, I feel like if I can do it, they can do it. I'm just that person, that vessel that's saying, 'You can be whatever you want to be.' If you want to go back to workand to me, after becoming a mom, I feel like there's no pressure to do that because having a child is a completely full-time job," she said.

"But to those that do want to go back, you can do it, you can really do it."

Thank you, Serena. You may not have won, but this was still a victory.

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Since baby Crew became the newest member of Chip and Joanna Gaines' family three weeks ago, his proud parents have been keeping the world updated, sharing sweet snaps of their youngest and even giving us a glimpse into his nursery.

Now, Chip Gaines is showing off a pic that proves there is nothing cuter than a floppy, sleepy baby.

"My heart is full..." the proud father of five captioned the photo he posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Earlier this week Crew's mama shared how she gets him so sleepy in the first place, posting an Instagram Story showing how she walks around the family's gardens on their Waco, Texas farm to lull her newborn boy to sleep.

The couple are clearly enjoying every single moment of Crew's babyhood. As recently as 7 days ago Chip was still sporting his hospital bracelet. Joanna says with each child he's worn his maternity ward ID until it finally wears off. We can't blame Chip for wanting to make the newborn phase last as long as possible.

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It was a changing table must-have a generation ago, but these days, many parents are forgoing baby powder, and now, the leading manufacturer of the sweet smelling powder was dealt a big financial blow.

Johnson & Johnson was just ordered to pay almost $4.7 billion to 22 women who sued, alleging baby powder caused their ovarian cancer.

A St. Louis jury says the women are right, but what does The American Academy of Pediatrics say about baby powder?

It was classified "a hazard" before many of today's parents were even born

The organization has actually been recommending against baby powder for years, but not due to cancer risks, but inhalation risks.

Way back in 1981 the AAP declared baby powder "a hazard," issuing a report pointing out the frequency of babies aspirating the powder, which can be dangerous and even fatal in the most severe cases.

That warning didn't stop all parents from using the powder though, as its continued presence on store shelves to this day indicates.

In 1998 Dr. Hugh MacDonald, then the director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, told the Los Angeles Times "Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," adding that the consensus at the time was that "anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Recent updates

A 2015 update to the AAP's Healthy Children website suggests the organization was even very recently still more concerned about the risk of aspiration than cancer risks like those alleged in the lawsuit. It suggests that parents who choose to use baby powder "pour it out carefully and keep the powder away from baby's face [as] published reports indicate that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs."

In a 2017 interview with USA Today, Dr. David Soma, a pediatrician with the Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital, explained that baby powder use had decreased a lot over the previous five to eight years, but he didn't believe it was going to disappear from baby shower gift baskets any time soon.

"There are a lot of things that are used out of a matter of tradition, or the fact it seems to work for specific children," he said. "I'm not sure if it will get phased out or not, until we know more about the details of other powders and creams and what works best for skin conditions—I think it will stick around for a while."

Talc-based baby powder is the kind alleged to have caused ovarian cancer in the lawsuit (which Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal), but corn starch varieties of baby powder are also available and not linked to increased cancer risks as alleged in the case.

Bottom line: If you are going to use baby powder on your baby's bottom, make sure they're not getting a cloud of baby powder in their face, and if you're concerned, talk to your health care provider about alternative methods and products to use on your baby's delicate skin.

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In the days since a The New York Times report revealed a resolution meant to encourage breastfeeding was blocked by U.S. delegates at the World Health Assembly, breastfeeding advocates, political pundits, parents, doctors—and just about everyone else—have been talking about breastfeeding, and whether or not America and other countries are doing enough to support it.

The presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians say the controversy at the World Health Assembly reveals that mothers need more support when it comes to breastfeeding, while others, including The Council on Foreign Relations, suggest the national conversation needs more nuance, and less focus on the "breast is best" rhetoric.

The one thing everyone agrees on is that parents need more support when it comes to infant feeding, and in that respect, the controversy over the World Health Assembly resolution may be a good thing.

In their joint letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week, the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians, Dr. Colleen Kraft and Dr. Lisa Hollier urge "the United States and every country to protect, promote and support breast-feeding for the health of all women, children and families."

The doctors go on to describe how breastfeeding "provides protection against newborn, infant and child infections, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome," and note the health benefits to mothers, including reduced risks for "breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

"Helping mothers to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk," say Kraft and Hollier.

Certainly such policies would support breastfeeding mothers (and all mothers) in America, but some critics say framing the discussion around domestic policy is a mistake, because the World Health Assembly resolution is a global matter and women and babies in other parts of the world face very different feeding challenges than we do here at home.

In an op-ed published by CNN, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations suggests the laudable goal of breastfeeding promotion can backfire when mothers in conflict-riddled areas can't access formula due to well-meaning policy. Lemmon points to a 2017 statement by Doctors Without Borders calling for fewer barriers to formula distribution in war-torn areas.

"International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding ... and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition," Manuel Lannaud, the head of Doctors Without Borders Iraq mission wrote.

The various viewpoints presented this week prove that infant feeding is not a black and white issue, and policy debates should not be framed as formula versus breast milk—there is more nuance than that.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics found opting to supplement with formula after first breastfeeding improves outcomes for infants and results in higher rates of breastfeeding afterward, and while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, they are sometimes overstated. Another recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found breastfeeding has no impact on a child's overall neurocognitive function by the time they are 16. Basically, parents should not be shamed for supplementing or choosing to use formula.

This, according to Department of Health and Human Services says national spokesperson Caitlin Oakley is why the HHS opposed the original draft of the breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly (although critics and the initial NYT report suggest the United States delegation were acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers).

"Many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies," Oakley said in a statement.

That's true, but so is everything the presidents of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians presented in their op-ed, and that's why the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy.

Here's another truth: This is an issue with many perspectives and many voices. And we need to hear them all, because all parents need support in feeding their babies, whether it's with a breast, a bottle or both—and we're not getting it yet.

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