Juggling multiple bedtime routines can be an absolute mind-bender especially if you are solo parenting. Trust me I know: I’m a mom to 3 girls: now aged 5, 3, and 3 (yes, I have twins!). After 3 years of practice, including a couple of months with 2 newborns, I like to think I have it down to a science now, so I’m here today as your baby consultant to give you some ideas on how to handle the juggle:
Have an evening schedule and stick to it
You probably already have a bedtime routine, and if you don’t I’d strongly encourage getting on that. But what people often overlook is that even before you get to bedtime, your evening should follow a set rhythm every night.
Scheduled meal times ensure hungry tummies, and it also gives both babies and children a sense of assurance and predictability of what is to come. A new routine might be hard to implement at the start, but over time your children will resist less and less. With older children, give them the autonomy to drive their evening activities- it could be as simple as putting up a pictorial chart on the wall and saying, what’s next on the list- can you get started on that in 5mins, please?
You don’t have to be too rigid with the routine. It can be as simple as having dinner around about 5.30 pm every night. But it *does* require a level of commitment- you might have to leave that playdate early to make it back home in time to start dinner at home, or you might just have to say no to a birthday party that starts at dinner time.
Buffer in more time
The reality with children is that things *always* take much longer than you’d expect. Your child likely won’t cooperate the way you’d like them to, so give yourself 10 mins of “buffer time” before your usual start time. Start late and you might find frustration creeping in.
Combine this with some of the strategies of giving your older child a choice (do you want to wear the paw patrol PJs or my little pony PJs tonight?), and you’ll find less fighting in the lead-up to bedtime. The idea is to promote a calm (as opposed to an agitated) state before going to sleep.
Have a repertoire of activities to fall back on whilst your focus has to be on one child
For instance, if you have to breastfeed your newborn who is tricky to feed, then have a fallback list of activities your older child can engage in that will keep them occupied. If you free-style this last minute, you might not have the materials. Also, there’s the brain fatigue of having to think things up on the fly. This is a really good candidate for putting things on auto-pilot.
I like the idea of a “bedtime basket” filled with coloring books, books to read, and/or toys (no flashing lights and loud noises please) that can only be played with at bedtime to keep them “fresh” and exciting.
What I do not encourage is using screen time in the lead-up to bedtime. While it may not seem like much to sacrifice 15 minutes of peace and quiet to care for your infant, research has shown that exposure to blue light causes the body to produce more cortisol and prevents the production of melatonin. This means your older child will find it difficult to fall asleep later at bedtime.
Combine overlaps in the bedtime routine
Doing 3 bedtime routines consecutively takes far too much time and work (trust me, I speak from experience) so multi-task where you can.
Have your children bathe together, brush their teeth together and change together “assembly line” style, or do storytime together (if their ages are close enough). If you can, you might even breastfeed your baby whilst reading to your toddler.
A younger infant might have more steps in their bedtime routine than your older child, but you can still exploit the overlaps. Just appoint your older child as your bedtime helper. Have him dress his sibling, or get diapers and bottles and the like.
Figuring out if bedtimes need to be shifted up
For most children under the age of 4 years old, an age-appropriate bedtime would be between 7 to 8.30 pm (except children under the age of 4 months, their bedtimes tend to be later- between 7-10 pm- because they take more naps).
You would also know whether your child is an early riser or a late riser. If, regardless of whether he sleeps early or late, your child is up every morning at 6 am, then chances are you shouldn’t put him down to sleep too late.
Once you have those parameters to figure out what’s your child’s age-appropriate bedtime, then the next step is to look at naps. Children aren’t robots. There will be days when naps didn’t go well and in those situations, you probably should opt for an earlier bedtime (as early as 6-7 pm). If not, your child might be really cranky.
In those situations, you might end up switching up the order of who goes down to bed first. Don’t always assume that the older child should wait for sleep because of his age! And for sure this won’t be the norm, just the odd day. And you’ll still (for the most part) be able to follow your regular evening routine. You might just need to shorten the bedtime routine by keeping it to the bare bones of what’s essential.
In closing, I just want to say that there will be some nights that won’t go as well as others when it's time to turn in. Don’t feel like a failure if things begin to fall apart. As best as you can, keep your cool and proceed as usual. And once everyone is asleep, go off by yourself for ten minutes. Don't start the washing up or check your inbox. Simply relax. Relax for a moment. The daily grind of parenting can be exhausting, so reward yourself for getting through it and for helping your children develop into sleep aficionados.
Have you given these suggestions a shot, and despite your best efforts, you're still having trouble? A sleep coach is someone who can help you build a strategy that is tailored to the requirements of your family. We'd be delighted to have the opportunity to talk with you.