Bringing a new baby into the house is an exciting, often overwhelming time, especially when you have other kiddos at home. It can bring up so many hows and what ifs.
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? And maybe most concerning 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?
The thought of juggling multiple kids and bedtime can be hugely mind blowing 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.
I’ve also been in your shoes and am sharing some tips on how to help the process go smoother for all involved:
- 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 7:00 at night, but even at that age, kids still need between 10-12 hours of sleep a night. That’s not including daytime naps. I’m talking strictly nighttime, so if your toddler needs to be up at 7:00 AM, a 7:00 PM bedtime is not at all unreasonable.
- Team up 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. Getting your kiddos used to either parent doing bedtime has its benefits. It shows your kiddo that no matter who does bedtime, it’s the same. This also comes in handy when you get a babysitter to go on a date night! This way they also won’t be dependent on one parent always doing bedtime and frees each of you to work late, go the gym, or catch up with friends…yes it’s possible!
- Find opportunities to multitask
So being parents, we have all become proficient at multitasking. 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, and so on. Wherever you can overlap, do it!!
- Stick to a 20-30 minute Bedtime routine.
Bedtime routines are absolutely vital to getting your kids sleeping through the night. It’s a great cueing system to the mind and body that it is time to wind down and rest. This stimulates melatonin production and dials things down internally to prepare 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.
- 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 a non-screen-related activity that will keep your toddler entertained and quiet, and 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. A special coloring book is a great option.
- Get Your Older Kiddo involved
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 diapers are stored and have them bring you the goods as you’re getting your baby for bedtime.
- Stick to the rules you set
Toddlers test boundaries in a constant, systematic fashion. 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. As I mentioned previously, 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.
- Don’t use screens to occupy your Toddler
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, however it becomes counter productive so close to bedtime. These screens are omitting blue light which ultimately interferes with 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 the fact that it’s not always going to go smoothly.
These are, after all, young children we’re dealing with, so 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. Stay calm, don’t re-introduce previous sleep props or start to introduce new things to “help” them get to sleep. Calm and consistent is the way to go.
- Embrace the peace and quiet
Once you’ve got everyone in bed, wait at least five or ten minutes before you check your email or your phone, just let yourself unwind. Then, eat your hot dinner, relax on the couch, watch Netflix, have a conversation with your partner, catch up on work, read a book, what ever you choose. Fill your own cup and re-charge so that you are ready to tackle tomorrow.
Seema Bhambri is is the owner and founder of Sleep, Rest & Play. Trained by Dana Obleman, creator of the Sleep Sense program, and a Member of the Professional Association of Sleep Consultants (ASPC), she has been a Sleep Consultant for the past 3 1/2 years. She works with families to help parents get their kiddos on a schedule, give them the confidence to instill changes and give their children the opportunity to learn the skill of independent sleep. Sleep is a necessity not a luxury. Sleepless nights do not have to be a rite of passage into parenthood. You can absolutely have well rested children and enjoy your evenings without the anxiety of baby not sleeping. Seema writes comprehensive Sleep plans for babies aged 4 months to 8 years of age.