Ages and stages: babies, toddlers, and overstimulation


She starts to get restless.  I recognize the whimper and I pick her up and whisper in her ear as we walk around the bedroom. We walk and rock and it doesn’t take long before she is asleep, worn out from play and observing the world around her.

There are fussy moments that mean the baby is tired.  Or hungry.  Or overstimulated.  Amelia lets me know.

As I learn more and more about my child, I learn what her cries mean, what facial expressions indicate she’s overwhelmed, and I can anticipate her responses. 

This is something that an older sibling (and sometimes other adults) can’t as easily do.  At times there are hurt feelings.  “She doesn’t like me anymore.”

Sometimes, we can’t always decipher what our babies are trying to tell us.  One moment baby is happy and giggling, enjoying the game, and the next she is overwhelmed and frantic.


When play becomes too much

I’m not an expert on babies, by any means.  But I am an expert on my babies and I have learned over the years that there are times when my baby needs to turn away, take a break, even from play.

As fun as the game of peek-a-boo, or repeating the ba-ba-ba-ba sounds we mimic back and forth to each other, or the funny faces her brother makes are to her, as an infant her attention span is short and sometimes she simply gets overstimulated.

My job is to respond when the baby is pushed too far, to recognize her gestures and sounds and facial expressions, and to soothe her while  explaining to the big brother or big sister that the fun is done, for now.

My job is also to make sure that older siblings know this isn’t a rejection of them, but a natural part of the process of play for babies.  


Hopefully we all reach a healthy balance, but sometimes that isn’t so easy when you are five and really, really love playing with your baby sister.

 A year later and I find over-stimulation is still something I need to watch out for during play for Amelia as a toddler.  Her attention span is a bit longer, of course, but it is important for promoting peaceful play between siblings to be on the lookout for signs baby or toddler is over-tired or overstimulated.


Have you heard the news? The new baby play ebook Zero to Two is here and it is full of ideas for play and learning from infancy through the toddler years. Find out how to pick up your copy here.

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Thanks for this post. I have a 6 yo and a 5 mo baby and it can be hard explaining to big brother that his sister needs a break from playing. He gets his feelings hurt when she goes from laughing to crying. I’m still trying to come up with the best way to let him know that he needs to give her space when I recognize the cues for overstimulation.

  2. As the mother of a toddler who was just a baby and a three year old, I love how you pointed out this oft over-looked truth. Many times peace is restored when I calm down the environment and simplify their toys/activities/life.
    I just listened to a recent podcast of Tsh’s where she mentioned some changes for the SLM and I’m excited to see the changes around here. =) I love the four pictures of your kids, such a good visual of what you’re writing about.
    Breanne´s latest post: In Which I tell you of the Elves and a Retreat

  3. This is SUCH an important post Kara! Thanks for sharing it. New parents often get overwhelmed in the beginning, thinking that everyone else will “do this” better than they will. They need gentle reminders that the more time you spend with your kids, the more of an “expert” you will become. It’s something that grows and develops. Then you can interpret their little expressions and cues to everyone else. Thanks for the great reminder that no one else is quite the expert I am on my kids, and that by “translating” more often, I can avoid meltdowns and hurt feelings. :-)
    Heather Gaither´s latest post: 4-Step Formula for Handling Difficult Grandparents


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