You might find yourself wondering, how do I cope with my toddler and my baby at bedtime? It’s a really common question. Just when you think you’ve nailed sleep with your first, you need to consider how to juggle two tired children at bedtime.
Fear not! I have some suggestions to help you. You, of course, don’t need to follow this exactly, but it can give you a helpful timeline and approach to shape your own new bedtime routine with two.
We give this advice to toddler parents, even if their isn’t a younger sibling on the scene. Giving them a chance to use up some energy in the evening, and creating some opportunities for them to connect with you one-on-one can be so helpful in reducing bedtime battles.
First of all, implement some after dinner play for your toddler with a bit of silly time to allow them to let off steam! I often put on some music so we can dance around while I am actually tidying up a little so that there’s less to do later on. You might setup some cushions and soft toys around the living room and create a small assault course for them to climb around. They might enjoy a particular dance routine that you can do together, or some wrestling/tickling and being silly together.
If possible, create opportunities for some one-to-one time with your child. This doesn’t have to be long periods of time or involve lots of planning or activity, it can be as simple as 15 minutes play each day.
If you have a partner or other caregiver home in the evening, it can work well to plan for them to take care of the baby for to let you have some dedicated time with your toddler. If you are taking care of both children on your own in the evening, then you might be able to take this time with your toddler when your baby is napping or feeding. They will still be there with you, but you can make it feel like special time for your toddler.
Give yourself plenty of time for your bedtime routine and try to stay as relaxed as possible. Sometimes it’s happens that one child (or both children!) will get upset near bedtime, but give yourself some grace and know that you are doing the best you can.
This is the general flow that can work really well for bedtime with two:
Start bath time – make sure you have everything you need ready in advance, within easy reach. Remember pyjamas, sleepsuit, nappies, wipes, towels, toys etc. The key is being prepared.
Get your toddler in the bath first while you safely lay baby on a towel on the bathroom floor. Once your toddler is in the bath, you can then lower baby into the bath with a bath support. You can gently get toddler involved – ask them to help you wash baby (it could be that they stick to just feet with a flannel). Reiterate how helpful they are, and how gently they help with their brother or sister.
Get baby out first (they really only need a short bath). While you are dressing baby, give the toddler a toy to play with and perhaps sing a bath time song together. Once baby is dressed leave him or her safely on another towel or playmat while you get toddler out and into pyjamas. This is the point where its possible that baby might get upset as they are ready for their bedtime feed, but if they have to wait a few seconds, don’t panic.
Pick up baby and head to your toddlers’ room. Ask your toddler to pick some books while you get comfy with baby. Lots of pillows/cushions are useful here to support you and baby. Take some deep breaths if you feel stressed – it happens to us all so don’t let yourself feel guilty if you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Either cuddle baby and read all together if baby is content, or if baby is hungry and can’t wait then you can feed while you read to your toddler. If it is a little tricky to turn the pages then get toddler in bed and tell them a made-up story all about a little girl or boy called *insert their name* who was the most loved and wanted little child. You can make up silly stories about what they did that day.
Once the story is over, there are a few different ways you can approach saying goodnight to your toddler, depending on if you’re doing bedtime alone/if your baby is still feeding or due to go to sleep.
If you have your partner, or other caregiver at home with you, then they might take over looking after the baby so you can tuck your toddler in or they might take over and tuck your toddler in and get them settled for sleep.
If someone else takes over tucking in your toddler, you might want to tell them that you will be back in shortly (if you are finishing feeding baby or settling them down to sleep) and you will give them a cuddle, or give them the opportunity to pick an extra book for you to read together for ‘Cuddle Club.’
Cuddle Club is a concept I came up with for my eldest daughter! It is really lovely to have some extra time alone with your toddler once baby is in bed or settled with your partner or other caregiver. You can read an extra story or two, or simply spend that time re-connecting with just the two of you.
If you are doing bedtime alone, and your toddler needs some extra support falling asleep, then you can sit with them while baby is feeding/settled with you. If your baby is ready for sleep then they can sleep on you, and you might transfer them into their cot or Moses basket later. Or, you could take could take baby into their room/your room (wherever their crib is), and settle them down to bed* and tell your toddler that you will be back in a moment (for a cuddle or extra story together.
If your toddler is always out like a light and settles well to sleep, then you can simply tuck them in and say goodnight and then feed/settle baby when they are ready for sleep.
Newborns and very young babies might not be ready for bed as early as your toddler, so their bedtimes won’t always coincide. Your young baby might be feeding for very long periods in the evening, meaning that you are feeding through bath, story and bedtime for your toddler. They might take a nap in the evening and have a later bedtime. All of these scenarios are completely normal and part of the newborn phase.
Take your time and create as much of a ‘routine’ as you can for your toddler to give them as much consistency as possible so they know what to expect around their bedtime.
Some nights they might bath without their little brother or sister, while you’re feeding them in the bathroom. Some nights you might be feeding baby for bedtime stories and when you tuck your toddler into bed. We need to be flexible and accept that you’ll go with the flow. It can be unsettling for some toddlers to know that once they are in bed, their younger sibling is still up with you. Invest in as much one-on-one time with your toddler as you can before they go to bed to help them feel secure and confident that they also get special time with you too.
Don’t be hard on yourself if routine feels unachievable some days, or at all during the early days with your new baby. You’ll find a rhythm that works well for your newly grown family.
* We follow safer sleep guidance from The Lullaby Trust who recommend that “Babies should always be in the same room as you for the first six months for sleep, day and night. This doesn’t mean you can’t leave the room to make a cup of tea or go to the toilet, but for most of the time when they are sleeping they are safest if you are close by”. Familiarise yourself with all the latest guidance provided by The Lullaby Trust to you make informed decisions.