Bringing a new baby into the house can be a glorious, exciting, terrifying occasion, especially when you have one or two already.
It can bring up a whole lot of questions.
How are the older children going to react to their new sibling?
Are they going to embrace the role of older brother or sister?
Will they turn into jealous little clingers who need constant attention and reassurance?
How will their schedule fit in with your newborn’s naps and feeding times?
However, maybe the most concerning question for anyone who’s clawed and scraped to get their little one sleeping through the night..how is this going to affect the older child’s bedtime?
Wondering how best to do the bedtime juggle when you have more than one child?
Trying to juggle two or three different bedtime routines can be absolutely mind-boggling if you’re not prepared for it.
Trying to find fifteen minutes to breastfeed your newborn at the same time you’re trying to get your toddler out of the bath can drive you right out of your mind, and toddlers… they know, they just know that you’re in a position where you’re unable to chase them down and enforce the law, so they have a real tendency to exploit that weakness.
They are, and I say this with all the love in the world, sociopaths-in-training.
Here are my tips for all of you who have two or three balls in the air, kid-wise, and are struggling to find a bedtime groove.
1. Have one bedtime for all the kids in the house.
A lot of parents I work with are surprised when I suggest that their 3 year-olds should be going to bed at 7:00pm.
Kids at that age need between 10-12 hours of sleep a night. So if your toddler needs to be up at 7am, then a 7pm bedtime is not at all unreasonable.
If the idea of running through two or three bedtime routines at once seems daunting, just keep reading. I’ve got your back.
2. Team up and switch it up
If you’re among the lucky ones who has a partner who’s home and available to help you get the kids to bed, split the tasks evenly, and then swap roles every other night.
This will prevent either of you from feeling like you’ve got the short end of the stick.
It will also prevent the children getting accustomed to either parent putting them to bed. So if one of you isn’t available on a given night, it won’t throw your little ones into a tailspin just because things are a little different.
3. Find opportunities to multitask
We’re all parents here, right? So either through talent or necessity, we are masters of multitasking.
Trying to run through two or three completely separate bedtime routines is going to leave you exhausted and likely make the process harder for all involved.
Double up wherever you can.
Let the kids take a bath together; feed your newborn while you read your toddler a bedtime story; sing songs together while you change baby’s nappy, and so on. Wherever you can, grab the opportunity to double up.
4. Meticulously craft and adhere to a 15-30 minute bedtime routine.
Bedtime routines are absolutely vital to getting your kids sleeping through the night. It’s not just a great way of keeping the the process before bed efficient, simple and fun, it also serves as a signal to their brains and bodies that bedtime is approaching.
Very importantly, a great bedtime routine stimulates melatonin production, which dials things down internally to prepare their little bodies for a long, rejuvenating night’s sleep.
A bath is a great place to start since it’s so noticeably different from everything else kids do during the day. It’s a strong signal that sleep is just around the corner.
5. Save a special activity for bedtime
Typically it will be the older child who’s capable of entertaining themselves for a little while as you’re busy finishing up with your youngest. It’s not always the case, but whichever way it breaks in your house, come up with an non-screen-related activity that will keep your toddler entertained and quiet, Make it exclusive to that fifteen minutes or so that you need one-on-one time to put the baby down.
Don’t make it too stimulating or open-ended or you could end up in a skirmish because your child’s bedtime activity is too much fun to put down. A special colouring book is a great option.
6. Set your older child to work!
Toddlers love structure and predictability, so giving them a helper
position when you’re putting your younger child to bed is a great way to keep them occupied and give them a feeling of accomplishment just before they head to bed.
Show them where the nappies are stored and have them bring you the goods as you’re getting your baby ready for bedtime.
7. Stick to your guns
Toddlers test boundaries in a constant, systematic fashion. “I’m not allowed to throw the baseball in the house? OK. Let’s see if I’m allowed to throw the tennis ball in the house!”.
Now that you’re splitting your attention between them and a new baby, you might feel a little indebted to them. That’s totally natural. However, changing or bending the rules is likely to upset them more, not less.
Children thrive on predictability and structure. If they suddenly get the feeling like the fences are down, they typically feel a little lost and that’s going to lead to more tantrums, not fewer. So keep the routine and the expectations as close as possible to the way they were before their sibling arrived.
8. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how tempted you might be, no Paw Patrol!
I know how quickly and effectively putting your child in front of the TV or handing them your phone can buy you a few minutes of peace and quiet, but screens are the ultimate enemy at bedtime.
The entire time that phone is holding your child’s attention, it’s flooding their eyes with blue light.
That might not seem like a bad tradeoff for fifteen minutes of time to tend to your baby, but blue light stimulates cortisol production and inhibits melatonin. So those fifteen minutes of peace and quiet could very easily cost you hours of trying to get your overtired child to settle down for the night.
9. Accept the fact that it’s not always going to go smoothly
These are, after all, young children we’re dealing with. If things start to go off the rails a bit, don’t look at it as a failure on anyone’s part.
They’re going to have regressions, tough nights, and the occasional meltdown. Staying calm and level-headed is the best thing you can do to avoid escalating those situations into something more frustrating and upsetting for everyone involved.
10. Embrace the peace and quiet
Once you’ve got everyone in bed, breath. Unwind. Attend to your child-free responsibilities (if you have to!) and then ENJOY YOUR EVENING!
I don’t need to tell you that this parenting thing is a stressful gig. When you get a moment to pat yourself on the back and find a little zen in your life, you should fall face-first into it. The moments right after the kids fall asleep are a prime opportunity to do just that.
Celebrate the superhero that is you.