Mums & Tots: Managing bedtime with two children

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However easily (or not) your first child goes to bed it all gets more challenging when you add another child into the mix. So how should you manage bedtimes when you have a second child? There are a few options.

For the first few months the baby isn’t going to have much of a routine and everyone will be adjusting to having another member of the family. My advice for the early days is get as much help as possible and do whatever works. The older child needs help through the transition so trying to keep their routine as consistent as possible should help. Switching suddenly from Mum doing bedtime to Dad for instance can make them feel confused or resentful to the baby.

When baby starts to want to go to sleep at a fairly consistent time you can start a longer term approach. Hopefully one of these four approaches will work for you:

Divide and Conquer

If you have two children and two parents around at bedtime the easiest solution is to take one child each. This means you can follow their lead on when they want to go to sleep and give them both the attention they need.

If Dad can’t do the baby’s bedtime due to breastfeeding having him around means that Mum can at least occasionally do bedtime for the oldest child. This is can make a big difference if the eldest has been used to having mum to themselves because it gives a little one on one time between the two of you to reconnect.

All in One

It’s so easy to picture the scene, especially before you actually have children; the siblings happily play together in the bath, you get them both dressed in PJs, tuck them into bed, kiss them goodnight then go downstairs and relax. I’m sure that actually happens for some parents, but they are definitely in the minority.

For at least the first 6 months you probably won’t want to bathe the children together because the baby won’t be able to sit up and even with a bath support you’ll need to hold them at all times which leaves no hands left for helping a toddler. Add in older siblings wanting to splash and have fun in the bath and it can be pretty challenging.

Small children don’t normally need a bath every night so you could alternate bath nights until they are bigger or wash the oldest first. Babies want to go to sleep very soon after getting out of the bath so it’s probably not helpful the other way round.

Once both are in night clothes the rest of bedtime will depend on your normal bedtime routine but it could involve tucking the eldest up in bed and holding the baby while you read them both a bedtime story. You can then either stay until they are asleep or leave them to drift off while you put baby down. Another approach can be to get the older sibling to lie quietly next to you in your bed while you feed the baby and get them to sleep then move the older child. I’ve found this approach sometime works really well, other nights big sister just wants to play.

Baby First

If baby goes to sleep (at least temporarily) then it can give you time to focus on the eldest’s bedtime. The biggest challenge to this approach is what to do with the eldest child while putting the baby to bed. How long you can leave them on their own will depend on their age and personality. While screen time before bed isn’t great for encouraging sleep I found the iPad essential for bedtimes with second baby. When they were both older my eldest will read or play independently until it was time for her to go to bed.

The other challenge can be that babies, especially newborn ones, don’t reliably stay asleep so you can face the dilemma of them waking up when you are doing bath time and having to choose between leaving the baby crying, leaving your older child briefly alone in the bath or cutting the bath short. None are great options.

Nevertheless youngest first is often a popular approach with the older child and it means you can normally have some quality time with them while doing the bedtime routine.

Eldest First

Your older child probably has a time and routine they are used to for bedtime, the baby probably doesn’t, so it can be easier to get the eldest to sleep first. Unless the baby is happy to wait awake somewhere safe eg the cot, it is likely they will be with you throughout the bedtime which isn’t always easy. It has the benefit that you can be with both children until the eldest is asleep (or until you leave them to go to sleep depending on how you do bedtimes).

I would love to hear how you got on if you give these approaches a try and please comment below if you have any other tips.

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About Kate Kirk

Kate lives on the border of London and Essex surrounded by the chaos caused by her two daughters, cat and partner. When she can distract her toddler for long enough she blogs at about honest parenting. As a co-parenting, non-dairy eating, occasionally depressed and often shouty mother of girls who love toys, books, going out and mess she covers a bit of everything and is often covered in everything. You can find her chatting away on Twitter (EssexKate), Instagram (EssexKate) and Facebook (CountingToTenBlog) when she should probably be tidying the house.