The bedtime juggling act: 9 tips on how to survive, manage and thrive through bedtime with multiple children 

sleep Oct 30, 2022
A mom is hugging her baby boy, surrounded by another young boy and identical twin boys.

By Gina Gersh, Certified Pediatric Sleep Coach of Lulla By Gina Sleep Consulting
As a parent, what does the bedtime hour mean to you?
For many, bedtime can be a struggle—a daunting and often exhausting part of the day. As new parents, we quickly learn how to navigate this territory with our first and only child (unless you’re a first-time mama of multiples) and can more easily combat the bedtime battles with a one-on-one approach or, if both parents are available, two-on-one.
But how does the bedtime hour take shape once your family grows? Juggling multiple children at bedtime can feel like a whole new level.
It may look like trying to find 15 minutes to feed your newborn when your toddler needs a bath or attempting to help brush your little guy’s teeth with a screaming baby on your hip. And somehow, while all hell is breaking loose, one child manages to pee on the floor or paint toothpaste all over the bathroom; another child is hungry and pulling at your leg; and of course, the baby is tired and crying…and it just feels like total madness!

Does this sound like the kind of bedtime you’re experiencing these days? No worries, I got you!
Here are my most useful tips for making bedtime with multiple kiddos run more smoothly. Implement them all or pick the ones that will suit your family’s needs best. But be sure you are consistent and intentional with whatever you choose.

Determine one bedtime hour for all
Let’s call it 7:00 or 7:30 PM. Yes, your three-year-old can go to bed at that time. It’s not too early. Kids need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night (not including daytime naps). So, if your toddler needs to be up at 7:00 AM, this is a perfectly reasonable time for bed. If you also have a newborn, bedtime for them tends to run later, so you can put the baby down for the last nap when the others go to bed for the night.

Join forces and switch off (if you can, of course)
If this works in your family, and your partner is home during bedtime, use it! Split the tasks (kids) so no one is overwhelmed, and each parent 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 routine.

Look for ways to double up (multitask)
Trying to run through multiple bedtimes each night will not only drive you crazy but will be much too time-consuming. So, double up the duties and involve everyone in a shared bedtime routine. Give the kids a bath together, sing songs with your toddler while you change the baby’s diaper or read a story to your toddler while you feed your newborn. We all know multitasking is your jam, so give it a bedtime spin!

Stick to a 20 to 30 bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is so important for the transition into sleep. When the usual steps begin, your child's brain is signalled to get into bedtime mode. A consistent routine will take the guesswork out of the bedtime tasks for you (the parent) and support your child in making a calmer switch toward sleep.
For older children, give them the independence to follow the routine on their own. This will keep them occupied while you manage the little one and ensures the track to bedtime stays on course.

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 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 they’re not upset when the time is over. Age-appropriate activity books from the dollar store are perfect for this!

Appoint a special helper
Toddlers love helpful tasks. So, give them easy things they can do while you put your newborn to bed to keep them occupied and make them feel super valuable to the process. Ask them to bring you a diaper, the baby’s blanket or maybe turn on the light…involving them keeps them busy, happy and out of trouble.

Stick to the rules and routine
With your attention being divided, your older one might test boundaries to get the focus back on them. 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 are actually most comforting to a child. Having them as a constant is a reminder that they are safe and cared for, and will prevent tantrums and difficult behaviour at bedtime. A smooth bedtime is really all we wish for all day! Stick with it.
Avoid screens
TV blue light stimulates cortisol production and inhibits melatonin. 15 minutes of peace could cost you hours of trying to get your overtired child to settle to sleep.

Accept the “off” night
You are doing your best. But the reality is you are dealing with young kids. There will be a tough night or two, 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, or your toddler is in a mood...try again tomorrow. You got this!

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