Updated: Oct 27, 2020
A solid routine and a set bedtime are key for little ones. They thrive on things being predictable and can be easily thrown off by change. Setting a bedtime routine for one child is pretty simple. However, the more children you add to the mix, the more challenging it can be to get everyone ready and in bed on time. Don't worry though, I've got some great tips to make bedtime easy with multiple children!
First, I want to mention a few notes about bedtime routines in general. A good bedtime routine should be about 20-30 minutes long (10-15 for newborns). It should be done in the same exact order every night. Doing this lets your child know that sleep is on the horizon. He'll be expecting it and much more apt to accept it by the time his bedtime routine is over. Events that don't happen every night, like a bath, should not be a part of the actual bedtime routine. Your routine won't be the same each night if you include these events. On bath nights, for example, you would just do the bath first and then continue with your normal bedtime routine. Here is our bedtime routine:
change into pajamas
brush teeth/go to bathroom
read a story or two
put sleep sack on
turn on sound machine
say goodnight to everyone (even this is a routine: kiss, wiggle [Eskimo kiss], head bonk, high five, hug)
put into bed
turn out light
Now you know how to do a helpful bedtime routine, but what about multiple children? Here are my best tips to making bedtime simpler with multiple children.
Don't include a newborn.
A newborn usually goes to bed much later than an older child (some start their longest stretch of sleep around 10-11pm). Bedtime gradually gets earlier as they grow out of the newborn stage. Hopefully their bedtime will be about the same as your older child by the time he is out of the newborn stage.
During the newborn stage, however, get him fed, changed, and put somewhere safe (swing, crib, with other parent, etc.) before starting the other child's routine. Then complete your older child's routine and put him to bed. You can then continue taking care of your newborn as needed. Try to make sure at least one parent is able to focus on your older child and keep his bedtime routine normal. Keeping bedtime normal for him and taking that time to spend with just him before bed could help avoid any regressions due to the new baby.
As I mentioned, a newborn's bedtime is much later, so you can do a quick version of a routine for the baby a little later. Towards the end of the newborn stage, around 3-4 months, you should be able to start doing the bedtime routine all together.
Split the tasks.
If you've got two adults in the home, then both should be helping with bedtime. You can either split duties by task or by child. We usually do it by child. We each take one child and get him/her changed into pajamas at the same time. If you have more than two children, it may be easier to do it by tasks. One parent gets them all changed into pajamas, one-by-one, then sends them into the bathroom with the other parent to brush their teeth. (There is a section below for situations when only one parent is available for bedtime.)
Do as much together as possible.
If you look back to our bedtime routine above, the first two tasks are done separately with each child. We tag team and each get one child ready. Then, we all meet in Gideon's room and do tasks 3-6 all together. There's no need to read each child his/her own book and say prayers separately. Do as much as you can to simplify the routine. After we put Gideon down, we take Phoebe into her room and finish the last couple of steps for her.
Bedtime When You're Outnumbered
Single parenting, odd work schedules, or evening activities could leave bedtime to just one parent. When this is the case, it can be tempting to skip a bedtime routine, or do one child's after the other. Skipping isn't ideal. As discussed above, the bedtime routine gives the child stability, predictability, and helps prepare him for sleep. Doing one after the other isn't ideal either because it means one child is going to bed later than the other. Also, doing one after the other means that ONE parent is doing bedtime for a solid hour of the evening. That's exhausting just to think about!
There have been occasions when Evan is gone for the evening and I am left to do bedtime myself. The easiest way is to do everything all together. I take Phoebe's diaper and pajamas into Gideon's room and get them both changed in one room. Then, we all go into the bathroom together and brush teeth at the same time. (Phoebe has two teeth now, so we've just started brushing hers too!) Then, we read a book and say prayers and goodnight in his room. I put Phoebe down on the floor, give him a few seconds of one-on-one snuggles, then it's in to bed for him. All I have left to do in Phoebe's room is put her in her sleep sack, turn the sound machine on, and put her down. That's it, they're both in bed and I can then relax.
If you are a single parent, first of all...you are amazing!! Second, since you are regularly doing bedtime on your own, you may consider consolidating things into one child's room. Clean out a dresser drawer or keep a small bin in the closet. Put the other child's pajamas, diapers, and anything else you need for bedtime in there so that you have everything you need for all children in one room.
Depending on the ages of your children, you may instead choose to get one ready for bed, then let him play quietly while you get the other one ready. Since my oldest child is still a toddler, it doesn't work as well to leave him alone while I get Phoebe into bed at night. This is exactly why I choose to get them both ready together in one room when I'm going it alone. If your child is older and can be trusted a little more, some quiet time in his room could be helpful while you're getting the other child ready.
Bedtime can be long and challenging with more than one child, but it doesn't have to be torture! Do whatever you can to simplify it while still giving the children the amazing benefits of having a solid bedtime routine. Are there any other tips and tricks you use to make this easier for your family?
This is Part 2 of the More to Love blog series. This series talks about common sleep issues for families with more than one child. Check out Part 1 below and look for Part 3 to be coming next week!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant