Infant and Toddler Basics
Children included in the infant and toddler category for purposes of this book are under four years old. Taking care of children in this age group involves all sorts of fun activities, like waking up in the middle of the night for feedings and diaper changes, helping the child learn to crawl, walk, and talk, etc. There are many milestones that occur in these four years for which you need to be prepared.
CPR and First Aid
The first recommendation is to get trained in infant and child CPR and first aid. That way, if there is an emergency you will feel prepared; being trained appropriately can also give you peace of mind. Even if there is animosity between you and the other biological parent, he may rest a bit easier knowing you are serious and responsible with respect to caring for his child. Make sure you also have a list of emergency contacts handy, including the biological parent's work and phone numbers, the pediatrician's name and number, poison control, emergency services such as police, fire, and paramedics, and the name and number of the nearest children's hospital.
Where can I find a CPR or first-aid class?
You can find CPR and first-aid classes by contacting the American Red Cross or your local YMCA, fire department, hospital, or community center. They are typically very friendly, and are invested in trying to educate everyone — including those without any training or experience. They can allay some of your fears and equip you with tools you may need in an emergency.
Take a crash course with a friend or family member on diaper changing. It takes practice, so you may not be a pro with one crash course, but at least you will know which side is the front of the diaper. You also need to learn how to operate the gear most used for your stepchild — like the car seat, stroller, swing, and carrier. These often have difficult-to-secure latches and other gadgets, and how to open and close such devices may not be obvious at all. It is best to learn how to safely and effectively use such things before you actually need them, when you may have a crying or cranky infant or toddler distracting you. Car seats can be especially tricky, but once you learn how to use the snaps or grips, you will find them much easier to maneuver.
Babyproof your house if your stepchild will be visiting or staying with you. At the infant stage, he probably won't be very mobile, but the crawling and walking stages happen so quickly that it's best to go ahead and take all the precautions ahead of time.
Check all the cabinets and drawers in the house. Buy safety latches to make them more difficult to open.
Buy doorknob covers or doorknobs with locks to make rooms more difficult to access.
Install safety gates to keep a child from stairwells, rooms that might have dangerous objects, or any other place you do not want your stepchild to have access to.
Use outlet covers for any exposed outlet in the house.
Check your furniture for sharp or hard edges, especially end tables and coffee tables. Use bumper covers to make them safer for your stepchild.
Keep windows safe by installing window guards so your stepchild cannot open them on his own.
If you have window blinds, cut the cord or keep it wrapped and out of reach to prevent strangulation.
Lock all cleaning products, medicines, and alcohol in cabinets that are out of reach.
Keep small or fragile objects out of reach or locked away. Always check your floor for any object a child might pick up and pop in his mouth.
If you have furniture your stepchild might use to help him stand, make sure it is sturdy enough to support him or attach it to the wall with furniture ties.
Check your fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they are working correctly.
Finally, find out everything you possibly can from your stepchild's parents:
Does your stepchild have allergies?
Does his mother want him eating only organic food?
What is his schedule for naps, eating, and bedtime?
Does the parent have any helpful tips for getting him to burp, sleep, or stop crying?
What do you need when you take your stepchild out and about?
These are probably the most important things for you to learn. Every child is different; it will take time for everyone to figure out what this baby's different cries sound like, when he is sleepy, or when he wants to play in his swing. For now, especially if you are new at this, taking notes will be a good idea. You may deal with some ridicule from your partner or the other biological parent, but it is better to be prepared than to be stuck with a crying baby at the grocery store with no diaper bag and no idea how to soothe her.
Have two of everything. If you are caring for the child for visitation only, buy everything that the custodial parent has in the diaper bag. Buy a second of his favorite blanket, toy, pacifier, etc. If you can afford it, purchase another car seat, stroller, and carrier. Being equipped as if your stepchild is with you full time will help you avoid desperate phone calls to the other biological parent when you realize that you left his favorite blanky at the other house.
If you are really uncomfortable about taking on an infant or toddler stepchild, be honest with your partner about this. Don't stay alone with your stepchild until you feel comfortable doing so. It is much better to delay your first time alone with the stepchild than to try to prove that you are ready to take on this responsibility when you are not. The infant and toddler section of the bookstore is extensive; at the outset, pick one or two well-respected books and read them, but reading too much information can be confusing instead of clarifying. You can always return to the store later and buy more books. As mentioned earlier, every child is different; give yourself time to get to know your stepchild and you are soon likely to feel comfortable.