Trying to find 15 minutes to breastfeed your newborn when your toddler needs a bath OR attempting to help brush your little guy’s teeth with a screaming baby on your hands? You can’t be split in half, or in three. And somehow while all hell is breaking loose, someone manages to pee on the floor or there’s a tantrum, spit up, naked toddler running loose…It's madness!
Is this what bedtime looks like for you with multiple children?
I hear you, I see you, I’ve been you (and still am some days). So, I know how desperate you must be to make this time a little easier.
Here are some of my favourite tips to help parents juggle two, three, and maybe even four kiddos at bedtime.
1. Determine one bedtime for all the kids
Let’s call it 7pm. Yes, your 3 year old can go to bed at that time. It’s not too early. Kids need about 10-12 hours of sleep a night. Not including daytime naps. So, if your toddler needs to be up at 7am, this is a perfectly reasonable time for bed. If this is just not doable for you, I get it. You need to do what works best for your family, and I have some other tips that will help get you through.
2. Team up and switch off (if you can, of course)
If this works in your family, and you get the opportunity to have your partner home during bedtime, use it! Split the tasks (kids) so no one is overwhelmed and each one can be present. Be sure to switch your roles where you can so the kids get used to bedtime with each of you and neither of you feels they are getting the short end of the stick with the more difficult bedtime task.
My husband wasn’t home at bedtime for my first three kids. I didn’t have the luxury of trading off, so I totally appreciate that it’s not for everyone. He was however, all in on the weekends, so I could look forward to that. And now, in pandemic life, one of the few silver linings is that he’s been home in the evenings and I’ve had the privilege of sharing the chaos with him with number four in the mix. I mean, we are still outnumbered, but the switch off makes it easier.
3. Find opportunities to double up (multitask)
Mama, I already know you can do it all. Doing the parent juggle is truly heroic. And as a parent, through either talent or necessity, or both, really, you can take it all on. BUT, don’t do it all if there’s an easier way. Trying to run through multiple bedtimes each night will drive you nuts. So double up the duties! Give the kids a bath together, sing songs with your toddler while you change baby’s diaper, read a story to your toddler while you feed your newborn. We all know multitasking is your jam, so give it a bedtime spin!
4. Stick to a 20-30 Bedtime Routine
A bedtime routine is so important for the transition into sleep. When the usual steps begin, our child's brain is signaled to get into bedtime-mode. Keeping this going every night will help the kids get down easier and quicker, and will help keep us parents on track when so much is going on.
5. Save a special activity for bedtime
There’s comfort in knowing that your older child is capable of finding something to do while you put the baby down. BUT, this is most definitely not always the case. I suggest coming up with a non screen related activity to keep your toddler/older child entertained and calm so you can finish up with the baby. A 15-minute activity exclusively for that time. Nothing too stimulating or that takes too long so he’s not upset when the time is over.
I used age-appropriate activity books for my kids before they could read. A page each night! At 7, they still love word searches before bed when they don’t feel like reading. Dollar store, you guys!
6. Appoint a Special Helper
Toddlers LOVE tasks. So, giving them easy things they can do while you put your newborn to bed will keep them occupied and make them feel super helpful. Need them to bring you a diaper, or baby’s blanket, maybe turn on the light…Involving them keeps them busy, happy and out of trouble.
7. Stick to the rules and routine
With your attention being divided, your older one might test boundaries to get the focus back on her. As tempting as it might be to feel bad about the lack of attention, and give in - Please don’t. The structure and predictability of the routine and rules is actually most comforting to a child. This will prevent tantrums and difficult behaviour at bedtime. A smooth bedtime is really all we wish for all day! Stick with it.
8. Avoid screens
TV Blue light stimulates cortisol production and inhibits melatonin. 15 mins of peace could cost you hours of trying to get your overtired child to settle to sleep.
9. Accept that bedtime won’t always run smoothly
You are doing your best. But the reality is, is you are dealing with young kids. There will be a tough night and that’s OK. Just stay calm and accept it. Accept that you have done the best you could do, but tonight the baby is extra fussy or dinner ran late and the bedtime schedule is off...try again tomorrow. You got this!