Managing sleep times when you have more than one child
As you increase the number of your family, one area of concern can be, how can one parent prepare and comfort two or more children as part of the transition to sleep at bedtime and how do you manage naps with an older child roaming about unsupervised. There is no definitive answer to this question, but each individual family will begin to make inroads to this parenting dilemma in their own unique way. However, it can feel like a big transition and may be worthy of some forward planning and then also, some solution exploration as required.
When 1 becomes 2 or 2 becomes 3, you will have plenty of notice! As a result, I do encourage some forward planning. I begin to get curious about how this may work with another child, what do you do with the older child (ren) when you are providing a nap opportunity and, what will you do around bedtime, especially if you may be on your own a lot with more than one child.
In term of forward planning, it may make sense to encourage a high level of sleep ability for your older child, before the new arrival begins. This may mean, helping them achieve and maintain their sleep by themselves, so that you may be able to have a gorgeous, connected bedtime routine and then leave the room before they go to sleep, so that the input required from you is just the bedtime routine itself and you are not accompanying them all the way to sleep-which you may be unable to do or find as easy, with another child in the mix as well.
But maybe you will. The point is to get curious BEFORE the new addition, start thinking ahead, consider how you would like it to be and what you will be able to commit to and what will feel too hard or what would make life easier. Start now to make appropriate adjustments to the older child’s sleep experience to clear the way for a smooth transition to a bigger number of care needs arriving. I always encourage parents to think about, who will be available at bedtime in a long-term capacity and what will you be able to do when the competition of needs increases and work from there.
If you are in the space that means your older child or children require your presence at bed or nap time; you could begin a sleep learning exercises, at some point in your 2nd trimester to help promote a higher sleep ability and openness to falling asleep without a parent present. I will suggest that you use my staged-based stay and support approach for this purpose and that, if there are 2 parents involved, then each of you begin to get effective at being able to do bedtime. A shared bedtime process, alternate evenings, for example creates capacity for when we may need to start taking a child each. If you are solo most bedtimes, for whatever reason, do work on removing your presence in anticipation of not necessarily being able to stay until asleep, when you also have a nursing, or fussy baby.
Of course, in time, I do feel that you may have multiple children and one bedtime routine if their bed timings match and their temperaments allow but do bear in mind that the baby or the older child being part of each other’s bedtimes routine’s, may be too stimulating initially and affect the ease with which they get to sleep. Having a multi-child bedtime routine may also dilute one to one time for the older child as a heightened need for one-to-one time, reassurance and connection may spike emotionally due to the new arrival. Try having the new baby with you, wear them for example and just see. Again, no should or have to’s here. Just get curious and see what feels manageable and effective.
With your new arrival’s sleep profile, it may be easier to begin sleep shaping from early on, as they will need much less input from you earlier as a result and the time it will take them to adapt is much quicker than an older child. Start with my sleep shaping guidance in my books or my online courses. Introduce short pre-sleep bedtime routines for bedtime (that will be late and hopefully after the older child has gone to bed) and then do the same for naps*.
If your younger child is over 6 months and you feel you would like to help them learn to sleep more independently, but your older child is now running about or needs to go to sleep at a similar, split up initially and take a child each or pay a babysitter to mind the older child for the first few evenings. If parenting solo- then a family member or someone that you pay temporarily will help you to concentrate on one child at a time before you try to have 2 to 3 at the same time.
Once established at sleeping; everything is easier. Practise at weekends, on days when your older child is in day-care or at a play date, and then look to see can you cope with both at the same time.
Many parents suggest white noise is a good sound buffer to prevent your children disturbing each other.
I suggest bedtime with one or more child in either of the following ways:
One bedtime routine, 2 -3 children, in the bedroom of the child is who less adaptable- you will know which one this may be. Allocate longer than a single person bedtime routine so instead of 20 minutes, consider 30. Create a space on the floor for everything to do with their sleep to happen including nappy and getting dressed for sleep. Engage in stories, cuddles and connection and distribute the first child to their cot/bed and say goodnight, leaving with the other(s). Take them to their bedroom and add an extra story in their room before repeating the same thing.
If it is too stimulating or busy with the above approach, then bring them up at the same time, then encourage the older child to wait in their room, give them a busy box in their cot/room, give books, interactive toys and explain that you will be back in 15-20m. I sometimes use a visual aid here, most typically a large sand timer than spills for 15 minutes to indicate when/ how long is left before I come back. When you return, complete that child’s bedtime routine (if it is bedtime), and leave as you have established. If it is not bedtime, then they will go one to have some more time with you.
During the day, an unsupervised toddler or pre-schooler may present a challenge as you try to nap your younger child*. Do as above, make them safe in their bedroom or living room. Give them jobs to do like puzzles to complete or towers to build and use a visual aid to demonstrate when you will return to them. It is possible that your young child will have a shorter nap routine as a result but that is all part of being a family unit of more than one too.
As your family unit gets older, bedtimes can become more self-directed, paced out and manageable; I just want you to know this in case it all feels overwhelming. Do your best and so will they…