Lately, a lot of people are writing in about having a new baby (very exciting!) and wondering how to juggle more than one sleep schedule. This article will give you tips to maintain multiple children’s schedules, when their ages vary. (Twins/multiples have a different set of challenges, so that will be a subsequent part of our sibling series.)
Once you help your baby sleep through the night, and then your baby becomes a toddler, many families decide to add another baby into the mix. If you haven’t, you might want to read the first part in this series, Do you have another child after a horrible sleeper? At each stage, the challenges are different, because a newborn’s sleep needs are very different than that of an 8 month old, for example.
Balancing Sibling Schedules: Your Newborn’s Schedule and Your Toddler’s Schedules
When you first bring home the new baby, this is, ironically, probably one of the easier times, unless the new baby has colic or is otherwise more high-needs. Of course, this is only my perspective and opinion. There are a lot of factors to keep in mind and what’s easier for one may be harder for another.
A newborn baby will sleep SO much in the beginning. And for the most part baby will be content to be in a Boba Wrap type carrier, laying on a baby playmat, or playing in a swing. Carriers are great for having the ability to allow you to do things for/with your toddler while also keeping the baby happy. There are many other benefits of baby-wearing too. I used to put my younger son in a wrap while I cooked dinner. I also let my toddler chase me around, putting my baby to sleep in 2.2 seconds. It was great! When the baby is a newborn, schedules are virtually non-existent and you should put your baby to sleep after just 1-2 hours of being awake. At this age, sleeping on the go is typical and welcomed.
Balancing Sibling Schedules: Your 4-12 Month Old’s Schedule and Your Toddler’s Schedule
This is, by far, the most common time when I begin to get e-mails from parents. The problem? Your baby is growing up, becomes more social, may not be as portable (if he was to begin with), needs more and more time to “help” to sleep, then the 4-month sleep regression hits, and, eventually, the 8 month old sleep regression. You may be up with the baby numerous times each night and then you no longer have the luxury of napping when the baby naps (if you ever did), unless your toddler is in pre-school or some type of “Mother’s Day Out” program. And, you simply can’t take an hour to get your baby to nap while your toddler is unattended. And, if you’ve ever tried to tell your toddler “Sshhh… be quiet while the baby falls asleep.” you know that is a difficult feat.
- Begin a nap and bedtime routine early on to cue the baby to sleep. Involve your toddler in the routine by making him a helper in the routine.
- Limit how long you work on a nap with your baby. If she’s not asleep in 20-30 minutes, get her up and try again 30 minutes later. Your toddler needs your attention, too.
- Once your baby is around 6 months old, consider implementing a predictable nap schedule. Try to be home for those naps, and avoid car rides shortly before them. A predictable routine/schedule will help give you one-on-one time with your toddler. Before 6 months, plan toddler outings in the afternoon, where your baby’s third or fourth nap will be in the car.
- Teach your baby how to fall asleep, independently. (Easier said than done, I know!) I can’t tell you how nice it was to be able to say “nap time,” walk into my younger son’s room, put him in the crib, and then walk out and get back to my toddler. He was an “easier” sleeper. If the boys had been born in opposite order, I’m sure it would not have been that easy, so I’m thankful.
- Work on overlapping at least one nap between your baby and toddler’s schedule. For example, your 6 month old baby may sleep at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m., so target your 18-month old’s nap to be 1 p.m. Or, target your 10 month old’s naps to be 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. so your toddler’s 1-3 p.m. nap has 1 1/2 hours overlapped. This will enable you to do chores or enjoy some downtime. (You deserve it!) If your baby is waking too early and you haven’t been able to fix that, consider waking your toddler earlier such that he can nap closer to when your baby naps.
- Although it’s common to try to combine bedtime routines, sometimes at these ages, it’s easier to put the baby to sleep, first, then your toddler later. Most babies this age need an early bedtime anyway and their interests are usually very different at this age. Your toddler probably desires more uninterrupted time with you by this time of the day too.
Balancing Sibling Schedules: Your Baby’s Schedule and Your Pre-Schooler’s Schedule
The trickiest thing about having a pre-schooler and a baby? Most families agree that it is the fact that you need to keep your baby awake for the drive to/from school. My recommendation is to work hard on getting your baby on a schedule that works for drop-off/pick-up. For example, if your baby is waking at 6 a.m. and can’t make it to 9 a.m. drop-off, work on shifting his schedule forward to wake closer to 7:30 a.m.
This is a common problem, but if your baby takes a 5 or 10-minute nap in the car and then awakens when you get home, it may be hard for him to go right back to sleep in his crib. Do recognize, though, that one of the baby’s “jobs” is to adapt to your family life. It may or may not be perfect for him or her. You can only do the best you can, and you can’t keep a toddler cooped up in the house all day, either!
Your Toddler’s Schedule and Your Pre-Schooler’s Schedule
Ideally, your toddler’s nap would not be later than 1 p.m. or so, but this can wreak havoc on a schedule if you have to drop off or pick up your pre-schooler from school. In general, you’ll have to keep your toddler awake until after drop-off/pick-up. Try not to let her snooze in the car unless she is easily transferred to her bed for a full-length nap.
This is a common age to begin combining bedtime routines. If my husband is home, we usually each take a child or a task. (For example, I might oversee putting on the pajamas and he brushes their teeth.) Then, each of us reads to one, cuddles, then switch. If one of us isn’t home, we get ready together. Then we each choose one book to read, and one waits while I cuddle with the other. Then I cuddle with the other. I have found trying to cuddle with both at the same time leads to too much silliness. 🙂
One common issue in this age group, including school-age children, is that your older child may not nap anymore. In this case, his bedtime most likely needs to be earlier. Sometimes that means going to bed before his younger sibling. This can be difficult to accept for the older sibling.
One last important thing I have learned? Everything can’t be 100% “fair” all of the time. Your children are different people with different needs. You must make decisions based on what’s best for each of them. It’s impossible for everything to feel fair. Adjusting expectations and explaining “why” often helps. Also, listening to their frustration and empathizing helps them feel heard. It may not change the outcome, but at least they can feel understood.