I still remember the thoughts running through my mind when I brought my newborn home to meet my 23 month old. It was exciting, amazing … and terrifying! Not only was I now the mom of TWO kids, but there was a big question to wonder about.
How is my older one going to react to being a big brother? Will he even understand what that means? All the possibilities were running through my mind; jealous? Clinging? Loving? Helpful? And, of course, the problem of managing bedtime and restful sleep for BOTH of them!
Trying to juggle two (or even three) different bedtime routines can be absolutely mind-boggling if you’re not prepared for it. Trying to nurse a newborn and bathe a toddler at the same time could be a breaking point. And there is always the possibility that a tricky little toddler could pick a newborn crying fest to push the boundaries in the worst way possible. After all, no amount of love and adoring that you have for them can smooth over every rough patch that you are bound to face.
But, some planning and some realistic expectations CAN help if you are struggling to find a good bedtime groove. Depending on the ages and stages of your children, there are a quite a few tips here that you can use.
Have one bedtime (or at least make bedtime close to each other)
It may be surprising to hear, but toddlers and preschoolers still need between 10-12 hours of sleep a night. (This is excluding day time sleep and naps). So a bedtime that coincides with you infant (perhaps around 7:00) is still very appropriate. Even if the idea of multiple bedtime routines at once sounds daunting, you may be better off with this option than something else.
Team up and rotate
You may be lucky enough to have a partner who is home and available during the kids’ bedtime. Take advantage of it if you can! You can pick a “man on man” approach – with each parent taking one kiddo for bedtime – or a “zone” approach – with one parent handling bath room duties and one handling bedroom. Either way, try and switch off roles regularly. This is a way to help avoid children getting used to a certain parent every single night; which will potentially lead to difficulty when that particular parent is unavailable one night.
Use your multitasking skills
As parents, we have been gifted (or have struggled to perfect) these serious multitasking skills so we might as well use them. It will be likely be exhausting and unrealistic to accomplish 2 (or more) complete bedtime routines each night so you should try and double up tasks whenever you can. Perhaps they are perfect ages to bathe together. Or you can nurse a baby while reading a story to a toddler. Or even have one of them come with you to sing and tuck in the other one. Overlap as many tasks as you (feasibly) can while the opportunity is available.
Create and stick to your 30 minute bedtime routine
With multiple little ones to now manage, you are going to find that routines and schedules are going to be important for various tasks throughout the day. Bedtime routines are one of the things that is vital to not only establishing great sleeping skills, but preserving your sanity as well. Realize that the routine your baby and child engages in each and every night before bed serves as a signal to their body and their brain that sleep is coming. Many things happen with that signal, such as melatonin production and mental relaxation, in order to achieve that restorative sleep that they need. So put an expectation in place and repeat it each and every night to help ensure things go as smooth as possible.
Use a bedtime box for a special activity
There will be a time that you have to have one child (often the older one) entertain themselves for a short period while you need some one-on-one time to get the baby down. This is your opportunity to provide a special activity (non-screen-related) that is exclusive to just that 10-15 minutes during bedtime routine. This should be something that is entertaining and also independent – and quiet too. Perhaps a special coloring book or a set of large lacing beads or a wooden puzzle with a favorite character. Keeping these activities for ONLY this part of the day can be the best way to make sure your kiddo feels like it is a special privilege to play independently (and leave you to focus on the sibling for a few minutes).
Embrace child labor
Let them take on the big-brother or big-sister persona by giving them tasks to help with while you get the baby occupied. Not only will this keep them occupied and engaged in the tasks at hand, but you can set them up for happy feelings of pride and accomplishment right before bed. Have your helper put the dirty clothes in the hamper, or bring you the baby’s sleep sack, or carry the wet towels back to the bathroom or any number of things.
Stick to your guns
Yes, it is quite typical and expected for toddlers to test the boundaries a bit. And this is going to be noticeable throughout the day-to-day happenings once a new little one is introduced into the mix. While it may seem like they want you to bend and change the rules, with all of the boundary pushing, deep down they want to know that things are going to stay the same. The predictability is what they really need with all the changes that the baby brings, and bedtime routine is the perfect time to show them that. While it’s unrealistic to expect that things will be exactly as they were before the baby arrived, try and make the least amount of changes as possible. And once the new norm is set, keep it that way.
Beware the cost of the cartoons
While it may be very tempting to rely on the television or a phone or tablet to buy you the precious 20 minutes you need to focus on getting the baby down for bed, be mindful that the cost could be an hour or more of struggles come bedtime and the middle of the night. This is because the entire time that the screen is calmly and peacefully keeping your little one’s attention, it is also flooding their eyes with blue-light. The very blue-light that delays the production and release of melatonin. So don’t turn to the screen at this time of night to keep the peace, because they may just stab you in the back.
To quote Elsa – “Let It Go”
Set up realistic expectations for the bedtime and realize that it is not going to go smoothly every night. There is bound to be a meltdown here or there, or an evening that goes off the rails once in awhile. (Hey, if I got only a few of these bumps along the road then I would count myself lucky) But these times do not equate to a failure on anyone’s part. It is just the perfect opportunity to give yourself the reminder that we are all humans, even the little offspring. Just try and take a breath and keep a level head through it; losing your cool or escalating the situation won’t fix it or get anything back on track.
Embrace the peace and quiet
I get it, there are a million little things on your daily (and nightly) to-do list. But before you go clean the kitchen, or fold the laundry, or check the emails, or really ANY of your responsibilities, take a few minutes to just unwind. It’s safe to say, parenting is one of the most demanding and high-stress jobs out there. So the first few minutes of peach and quiet once all the kids are in bed is the perfect opportunity to sit back and let your mind wander and just relax. Look at it as your opportunity to reap the benefits of all the hard work that you put it keeping the tiny humans alive that day. Tomorrow night will be another opportunity to face the challenges of the evening and earn the rewards at the end of the day.