Handling Multiple Bedtime Routines
Bringing a new baby into the house is a glorious, exciting, terrifying occasion, especially when you have one or two already, and 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 become clingy and need constant attention and reassurance? How will their schedule fit in with your newborn’s naps and feeding times? And maybe most concerning for anyone who’s worked so hard to achieve great sleeping habits, how is this going to affect your older kiddos bedtime?
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.
So today, I have some tips for you if you find yourself struggling to find a bedtime groove.
Have one bedtime for all the kids in the house.
Many parents are surprised when I suggest that their 3 year-olds should be going to bed at 7:00 at night. Even at this older age your kids still need between 10-12 hours of sleep a night. If your toddler needs to be up at 7:00 AM, a 7:00 PM bedtime is not so far out there. But if the idea of running through two or three bedtime routines all at once seems daunting, just keep reading. I’ve got your back.
Work together and switch off, if you can
If you’re among the lucky ones who has a partner who’s home and available to help you get the kids to bed, put together a list of what needs to get done, split the tasks evenly, and then switch off every other night. In our house we have a “Daddy bath day” and a “mommy bath day”. This helps to prevent either of us from feeling like we’ve somehow got the short end of the stick and results in us both sitting down at the same time for some much needed adult time at the end of the day. It also gets the kids accustomed to either parent putting them to bed, so if one of you isn’t available one night, it won’t throw your kiddos off just because things are a little different.
Find opportunities to multitask
Parents are incredible at multitasking. Whether it’s talent or purely necessity, we’re the champs of multitasking. However, trying to run through two or three completely separate bedtime routines is going to leave you exhausted. So 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 diaper. Wherever you can overlap, take that opportunity for all it’s worth..
Stick to your 20-30 minute bedtime routine.
Bedtime routines are vital to getting your kids sleeping well through the night. A bedtime routine serves as a signal to your child’s brain and body that bedtime is approaching. More importantly, this stimulates melatonin production, the sleepy hormone that we all need enough of in order to fall asleep easily and then sleep well until morning. It also happens to be a great way of keeping your kiddos on a clock. So what should be included in your child’s bedtime routine? Well, a bath is a great place to start. A bath is noticeably different from everything else kids do during the day. It is a strong signal that sleep is just around the corner. And it helps to decrease their core body temperature which is a key factor in being able to fall asleep easily.
Invite your toddler to participate.
Toddlers love and strive on structure and predictability. Giving them a helper position when you’re putting your younger child to bed is a great way to keep them occupied. It also gives them a feeling of accomplishment. Show them where the diapers, lotion and pajamas are kept. Then have them bring you each thing as you move through your baby’s bedtime routine.
Put aside a special activity for bedtime
Usually it is older children who are capable of entertaining themselves for a little. This can be helpful while as you’re busy finishing up with your youngest. I suggest introducing a non-screen-related activity that will keep your toddler entertained and quiet. The key is to make it exclusive to that fifteen minutes you need one-on-one time with baby. Try not to make it too stimulating so that your child then becomes difficult to get off to bed. A special coloring book is a great option. Remember to put out only the ULTRA WASHABLE markers.
Hold your loving boundaries FIRM.
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!” And 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, but changing or bending the rules is likely to upset them more, not less. Remember, kids 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.
No matter how tempted you might be, don’t let your toddler watch TV, the Ipad or tablet
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 swindler. Because the entire time that they’re holding your child’s attention, they’re flooding their eyes with blue light. That might not seem like a terrible trade off. 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.
Accept 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 tough nights and occasional meltdowns. Staying calm, level-headed, and present is the best thing you can do to avoid escalating those situations into something more frustrating and upsetting for everyone involved.
Do your happy dance.
Once everyone’s in bed, take at least five or ten minutes before you check your email, finish the dinner dishes, or catch up on whatever responsibilities you’ve got to tend to. Just let yourself unwind. Pour yourself a celebratory glass of wine or a hot cup of tea and chill. I don’t need to tell you parenting is a stressful gig. When you get a moment to pat yourself on the back, you should fall face-first into it. The moments right after the kids fall asleep are a prime opportunity to do just that. Celebrate with your happy dance. There’s another night of challenges and rewards for the whole family coming up again tomorrow.