If you have children of differing ages, you understand how important it is to do age-appropriate activities, separate toys according to age, and generally monitor when children of different ages are playing together. You’ve probably already hidden the small legos from the younger child, and help your older child understand that their old baby toys are for their sibling now. Sometimes older children can be pretty rough and, if your toddler is not yet steady on his or her feet, it can be dangerous. Likewise, it can be hard for older siblings to understand why their toddler brother or sister, who lack impulse control and language, may resort to hitting or biting when upset. As a parent, these are careful and important negotiations.
All children need to be supervised, of course. However, toddlers have even less decision making abilities than children of many other ages and are willing to follow directions from an older child who may not have their safety or best interest in mind. For example, an older sibling may think it is funny to dare or command their younger brother or sister to do something dangerous. The older child may not actually want something bad to happen, but just not be completely aware of the consequences that could occur. Careful supervision and redirection can stop something bad or unsafe from occurring.
Even if the older child is responsible and taking careful safety precautions, they are more prepared for certain activities and will likely not know the limits of a toddler. For example, an elementary school-aged child might be competent with scissors and know how to use them safely. However, if you add a two-year old to the mix, the older child may not realize that the younger child is not ready for the use of scissors without adult support.
Older children may also become rough around younger children without appropriate supervision. Toddlers are easy to push down or push over, as they lose their balance easily. If a slightly older child gets upset and pushes down a toddler, it could cause trouble and even injury. Even if an older child is playing, a younger child may not be physically able to keep up. Helping your older child understand the limits that a toddler has will be important.
One of the best ways to keep toddlers safe around older children is to train the older children to find an adult if there are any problems at all. If they are concerned at all for the safety of a younger child, they should find a parent, teacher, or other caregiver immediately and tell them what is going on. Adults should never leave an older child in the position of taking care of a younger one, as they just don’t know what to do in most cases.