When you bring a new baby home, it is an exciting, treasured and terrifying time. Now when you already have one (or two) children at home, this transition can bring up a lot of questions!
How are they going to react to their little brother or sister? Are they going to enjoy the role of being the big sibling? Will they be jealous and clingy? What is going to happen when I’m feeding the baby? How will their schedule fit with the new baby’s schedule? And maybe most concerning for anyone who worked HARD to get their child sleeping through the night, how is this going to affect my older child’s bedtime?
Trying to juggle two or three different bedtime routines can be mind-boggling and exhausting. How will I breastfeed my baby while also bathing my toddler? How will my toddler act when he/she knows I’m busy with the baby? Will he/she figure out that I am unable to chase them down and enforce our schedule?
I’ve got some tips for you if you have found yourself in this situation or anticipate it coming soon.
1. 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 old should be going to bed at 7-7:30pm, but even toddlers need 10.5-12 hours of sleep each night. If your toddler’s day starts at 7am, then a 7pm bedtime is not at all unreasonable!
Now there is one exception to this. If you have a newborn, your baby will need a later bedtime. Don’t expect your baby’s bedtime to be around 7pm until 12 weeks of age or older.
2. Team up and switch off if you can. If you’re among the lucky ones who has a partner that is home and available to help you get the kids to bed, do it together! One parent is brushing teeth while the other is on PJ duty. One parent is does the bath and the other reads the bedtime story. Switch off now and then so your kids get accustomed to either parent putting them to bed. Then if one if you isn’t available on a given night, things won’t spin out of control.
3. Find opportunities to multitask. We’re all parents here, right? Whether it’s a natural talent or we’ve stumbled upon the skill in parenting, we’ve all learned to multitask. Managing two or three separate bedtime routines will leave you exhausted. Double up wherever you can. Bathe the kids together, feed your baby while you read a book to your toddler. Wherever you get a chance to overlap – take advantage of it!
4. Meticulously craft and adhere to a 20-30 minute bedtime routine. Bedtime routines are vital to getting your kids sleeping through the night. It’s not just a great way of getting them into bed on time (although that's a huge benefit), it also serves as a signal to their brains and bodies that bedtime is approaching. This stimulates melatonin production and begins to calm them down internally to prepare for a long, rejuvenating night’s sleep. I always suggest a bath as part of the routine, but more important than what is involved in the routine, is the fact that it’s the same. Every night.
5. Save a special activity for bedtime. Even in a perfect world, you won’t be able to manage multiple routines without some “dead” time for at least one of your children. Typically the older child will have some extra time to entertain themselves as you finish up with your youngest. Come up with a non-screen-related activity that will keep your toddler entertained and quiet. It should be exclusive to the time that you need on-on-one to put the baby down. Don’t make it too stimulating or open-ended (this can cause a struggle when it’s time to put it down). A special coloring book is a great option.
6. Put your child to work! Toddlers love structure and predictability. Giving your toddler a helper position when you are putting your youngest to bed is a great way to keep them occupied. Show them where baby’s PJ’s are and have him/her bring them to you when it’s time. Giving them their own job to do will make them feel important and keep them occupied. It's a win win.
7. Stick to your guns. Toddlers test boundaries constantly, it’s how they are wired. Now that you are 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 your toddler more, not less. As I mentioned previously, kids thrive on predictability and structure. If they suddenly feel like all the rules have fallen by the wayside, they will end up feeling lost and it could 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.
8. Stay far away from screens. I know that putting your child in front of the TV or handing them your phone can effectively buy you a few minutes of peace and quiet. But beware of screens before bed. While it is holding your child’s attention, it’s also flooding their eyes with blue light. This light stimulates cortisol production and inhibits melatonin. Now that 15 minutes of peace and quiet may now cost you an hour of trying to get your child to settle down for the night.
9. Accept the fact that it’s not always going to go smoothly. This is real life. You can have everything planned perfectly, you can have it timed down to the minute and you can even have some really good nights right off the bat. But we are dealing with young kids here. There are going to be regressions, tough nights, and the occasional meltdown. Staying calm and level-headed is the best thing you can do to avoid escalating those situations into something more frustrating and upsetting for everyone involved.
10. Embrace the peace and quiet. Once you’ve got everyone in bed, take at least five or ten minutes before you check your email, start a load of laundry, or catch up on whatever you got behind on that day. Let yourself unwind. Appreciate the peace and quiet of a house with sleeping children and prepare yourself for another day tomorrow.