There are times in life when you’ll need to leave your toddler alone in a room for a split second while you grab another load of dirty laundry to put in the washing machine or – ya know – have a quick wee.
But how long is actually acceptable to leave a child under three playing alone?
One mum recently took to Mumsnet to ask if they were being unreasonable for leaving their two-year-old alone downstairs while she went upstairs with their very young baby to try and get them down for a nap.
The parent explained that her toddler is “so loud” and would sometimes scream or bang things if he saw that his 10-week-old brother was asleep. To make matters more difficult, her baby would only have contact naps and wouldn’t settle when put down in a cot.
Her solution was to take her baby upstairs so he could have a nap on her, while her two-year-old played downstairs – but it “doesn’t feel great,” she noted.
Fellow parents were quick to suggest this might not be the greatest solution, as toddlers can wreak a huge amount of havoc, or even harm themselves, in the shortest space of time.
“Are you aware of exactly how much trouble a two-year-old can get themselves into in the space of literally seconds?” responded one person.
Another shared a horror story of leaving their toddler to their own devices while going to the toilet.
“I remember when my daughter was around two I left her alone downstairs for a few minutes as I had an upset stomach and thought she’d be alright while I dashed to the loo,” she recalled.
“That was the day I learned how hard it is to wash a whole jar of peanut butter off a pissed off cat. The chaos a two-year-old can produce in a tiny amount of time is extraordinary. So no, not really a good idea.”
But some parents suggested it depends on how toddler-proofed the room is.
“I leave my 10 month old in the room alone to go to the toilet, have a shower, cook dinner, etc so it’s never for a very long time,” said one parent.
Another said: “If I need to leave my toddler downstairs I grab the blink camera from their room and pop it downstairs so I can watch them, the same as if they wanted to go upstairs and play in their room.
“We have all cupboards locked and the room is generally very toddler-proofed so I’m not worried about leaving them while I get stuff done sometimes. If I didn’t the washing would never get put away.”
What can she do instead?
Fellow parents were quick to share some alternative solutions to the problem, which ranged from achievable to, well, expensive. Here are some of them:
- Get a sling so the baby can contact nap while you take the two-year-old out to the park.
- Send the toddler to nursery.
- Create ‘quiet time’ with the toddler when the baby is napping where you read books, sing nursery rhymes and play simple games.
- Buy a double buggy and go for a walk in the hope both of them will sleep or at least have some quiet time.
- Use the TV – when baby is napping, let the toddler watch CBeebies.
- Go for a drive with both kids in the car.
- Take the toddler upstairs and let them play in their bedroom, while trying to put the baby down in another room with white noise on – go between the rooms to check on them. The NSPCC advises parents who plan on leaving their baby alone in a room to make sure they’re not at risk of rolling or falling off something, like a sofa or a bed. “Make sure that if you leave your baby, it’s not a place where brothers, sisters or pets could accidentally cause them harm,” the children’s charity adds.
Parents offered words of solidarity
The exhausted mum said in a separate comment on the forum: “I am so shit at this – one is beside himself with exhaustion and one is being ignored.”
Fellow parents were quick to respond, acknowledging it can be really difficult to juggle the logistics of caring for two young children.
“You are not shit at anything,” said one person in the comments. “It’s incredibly hard with a baby and a toddler, we all muddle through as best we can.
“Not one of us got it right or were perfect mums at that stage. If I’m honest it felt much more like a game of survival than of the blissful family life I’d imagined having with two that age. Please don’t be so hard on yourself, you’ve got this.”