Adequate sleep is crucial for your children’s growth and development. A bedtime routine is a useful tool for helping children transition from awake time to sleep time in order to get the rest they need.
A bedtime routine is a predictable sequence of events you follow every night consistently. When you had your first child, chances are you created a bedtime routine for your baby, even if it was unconscious. A set of things you did each night before laying your baby down to sleep.
Most bedtime routines include things like bath time, diaper changes, bottles or night time snacks, pajamas, teeth brushing, prayers, and a bedtime story or a song. One caution if you’re just starting with a bedtime routine, don’t make it too long. You will need to do this routine every night at your child’s bedtime. You do not want to be spending two hours each night just getting them ready for bed. 20 to 30 minutes is a reasonable goal for a bedtime routine.
Keeping the bedtime routine simple and short becomes even more important when you add a second or third child to the mix. If you have your oldest child started on a two-hour routine and then baby number two comes along, fitting another child’s bedtime needs into your evening is going to be challenging. Here are a few ways you can integrate the needs of two or more children into a simple, 20-30 minute bedtime routine.
1. Allow Enough Time
Consider your children’s usual wake-up time, or the time they need to get up for school or daycare. Next, consider how many hours of sleep each child needs. Now, set a reasonable bedtime to allow adequate rest for each child. Once you have that time in mind, go back 30 minutes. You now have a start time for your bedtime routine.
If you’re like most families with work and various evening commitments, getting to bed on time can be hard. Even a short routine may need to be condensed from time to time, but do your best to stick to the schedule.
2. Divide and Conquer
If you’re fortunate enough to have two parents home at bedtime, I encourage you to get all hands on deck. Each parent can take one child through their bedtime routine and everyone meets at the end for storytime. Or one parent does diapers, the other brushes teeth, however you care to split it up between you.
Many families may only have one parent home for bedtime. Whether you are a single parent, a couple who works separate shifts, or has frequent evening obligations, you need a routine that can be handled solo. The rest of these tips can easily fit a one parent bedtime routine scenario.
3. Assembly Line Style
If bath time is a part of your bedtime routine, can your children bathe together? Do you have more than one diaper to change? A few sets of teeth to brush? Once you’re set up for a task, it saves time to get everyone taken care of at once. All kiddos in the tub, wash and rinse, wash and rinse, repeat until everyone is clean. Change one diaper, wash your hands and change the next. Line everyone up with their toothbrushes, take turns, one after another and get everyone done. Lay out everyone’s pajamas and get dressed one after another.
4. Encourage Independence
It is very likely a younger child requires more hands on help with pajamas and teeth brushing. They may require a bottle or other soother. It’s possible your older children can do some of the bedtime tasks independently. It can be helpful to get your older children set up to do a few things for themselves while you take care of little brother or sister.
Have your oldest go potty or get a diaper on and then direct them to put on their pajamas while you diaper and change younger siblings. If your older children can’t brush their teeth independently, have them bring you their toothbrush and pick out the book for storytime while you tend to younger ones.
These activities free you up to get your younger children ready and help your older children learn skills and a sense of accomplishment.
5. Bedtime Helper
If you have to spend a large amount of bedtime routine time on a younger child because of diapers and bottles and other needs, invite your older children to help. You want to avoid having any one child standing around waiting impatiently for story time. If one of your kids is ready early, engage them in helping you out with younger children. Helping little sister or brother dress, or keeping them entertained while you change their diaper can be a fun bonding experience for all of you.
If there are things you can do all at once, go ahead and have them overlap in the name of efficiency. I frequently find myself feeding my youngest a bottle while I read all the kids a story or sing a song.
7. End Together with Storytime
Once the getting ready for bed chores are accomplished, get everyone together to enjoy a few minutes of relaxation. Spending time together for storytime, songs or prayers can be a special bonding time for the whole family. Many older children can still enjoy a simple bedtime story meant for a younger child. And little ones can enjoy the sound of your voice while you read a more mature story to your older child.
It’s important to include time for relaxation and cuddling in your bedtime routine. This helps your children end their day on a happy note, feeling secure and loved.
8. Age Appropriate Endings
While it’s nice to end the bedtime routine as a family, you want your routine to meet the needs of all your children. Younger ones may need an earlier bedtime. Rather than start over with a second, later bedtime routine, continue with the combined routine, but change the ending as your oldest is ready for a later bedtime.
After storytime or a song together as a family, finish the routine for your littlest and tuck them into bed. Once little brothers and sisters are in bed, you can encourage your older child to read in bed or choose a quiet game or activity until their later bedtime.
A bedtime routine can make a big difference in helping your children make the transition from awake to bed time. But with busy schedules fitting in a routine that works with multiple kids can be difficult. I hope these ideas can help you establish a routine that works for your whole family in an amount of time that makes it a happy end to your day instead of a burden.