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3 Realistic Ways to Handle Bedtime with a Baby and a Toddler

When my husband left for Japan a few weeks ago, leaving me alone to solo parent our 3-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son, one of my main concerns was how I would handle bedtime with a toddler and a baby by myself. When he’s home, we divide and conquer. However, due to his professional basketball career, I had to recognize and accept that I would find myself doing the bedtime routines alone often when he is away, sometimes for months at a time.

Both of my children sleep very well independently (thanks to the gentle sleep coaching that we did with Cara from Wee Sleep), which I am thankful for. However, they do both have bedtime routines that I like to follow pretty closely whenever possible. Since my daughter is obviously older and more settled into her sleep habits, if I do have to alter one of the kid’s routines a bit, I prefer it to be hers. She has proven that she has it down, while the baby is still learning. This does allow for some flexibility with her when I need to.

I did a ton of research on how to manage bedtime with a toddler and a baby without another parent around to help, but honestly very few of the suggestions that I found seemed like they would really work for my kids. Through trial and error, I figured out a few realistic ways to handle bedtime with a toddler and a baby that work for us.

Options for Managing Bedtime with a Baby and a Toddler

Option 1 – Do the bedtime routines together

There are some nights when you might really need your children to go to bed right around the same time, or, quite frankly, just not have the energy to do two separate bedtime routines. While this isn’t my favorite option (more on why to come), when we have no other choice, doing the bedtime routines together is a decent way to handle bedtime with a toddler and a baby. When I opt to one bedtime routine for both of my kids, they take their bath together. I then have my daughter put on her own lotion while I get the baby situated. She loves putting on her own lotion and it takes her quite a while, which gives me plenty of time to get the baby moisturized, diapered, and dressed for bed.

Next, I quickly help my daughter get into her pajamas, and I sit in the rocking chair with both kids to read a story. I have my older child join me in singing to the baby before I put him into his crib. When we get to my toddler’s room, she gets straight into bed. We say prayers, sing her nighttime song, and it’s lights off for her as well. I would suggest allowing an extra 10 minutes for the bedtime routine if you’re doing both children together. Having to get both kids situated at once does slow things down a little bit, but it’s still much faster than doing two distinct baths, story times, etc..

Perfect for when you’re in a pinch

This isn’t my favorite way to handle bedtime with a baby and a toddler because I prefer to give my daughter a little extra one-on-one time in the evenings. So, this doesn’t really allow for that. Nonetheless, it works really well when I’m in a pinch and need my kids both in bed around the same time. Typically, though, my 6-month-old is in bed between 6-6:30pm while my 3-year-old goes to bed closer go 7pm. The next two options (which are the options that I prefer) will work well if your toddler can go to bed 30-45 minutes later than your younger child.

Option 2 – Have your toddler be your special helper with the baby’s bedtime routine

If your toddler loves to help out with little brother or sister, have them be your special helper with the baby’s bedtime routine. On some evenings, it’s likely that your older child will want to be all up in the mix, and when that happens, embrace it. Your toddler can hand you things you may need during the baby’s bath, sing songs to their younger sibling while you get him or her dressed for bed, and pick a story that they know to “read” (i.e. recite) to the baby. This is an option for managing bedtime with a toddler and a baby that they will both really enjoy, and it makes for some pretty special memories too.

I love seeing the relationship between my son and my daughter, so when time allows, I do enjoy letting my big girl be my special bedtime helper. Jaxson’s eyes literally light up when Harper plays with and sings to him, so when we opt for this option, he is all smiles throughout his entire bedtime routine. However, if you think that your older child may be too much of a distraction to your baby and disrupt the routine, this may not be the best option.

When my daughter serves as my special bedtime helper, I give her small jobs to do throughout the baby’s bedtime routine. I keep her busy and make sure that she feels important and needed. Her final job is to turn on the baby’s sound machine before we turn off the lights, and she takes it very seriously. Once the baby is down, we proceed with her bedtime routine as normal.

Option 3 – Let your toddler have screen time while you put the baby down

To be honest, the chance of my toddler coloring or reading to her stuffed animals for 30 minutes straight while I nurse, bathe, moisturize, diaper, clothe, read to, sing to, and put the baby down is slim to none. The average attention span of a 3 year old is 6-8 minutes, so if your toddler is like mine and likely won’t focus on one quiet, independent activity for long enough for you to put your baby to bed, you aren’t alone. While parents have mixed opinions on screen time, I have found that it is a really realistic activity for my daughter when it’s time for my son’s bedtime routine.

The great thing about screen time is that you can load your toddler’s tablet up with a lot of different educational and entertaining apps that you feel comfortable with, and once they learn how to navigate it themselves, they can literally choose what they want to do and switch from activity to activity to keep themselves occupied. On top of that, it can be a good “wind down” activity for some children, transitioning from running and jumping to being calmer ahead of bedtime.

Utilize a timer for screen time

On the evenings when I allow my toddler to have screen time while I put the baby down (which is most evenings in our household), she joins her brother and I upstairs and sits either in the hallway outside of his room or in her own room with her tablet while I get him situated for bed. When I finish with him, I set a timer for 2 minutes and let her know that she has 2 minutes of tablet time remaining before her own bath time. I use these 2 minutes to run her bath, get out her pajamas, put toothpaste on her toothbrush, etc.. Utilizing a timer helps to make the transition from tablet time to bath time smooth and free of tantrums. Once the timer goes off, we say goodnight to the tablet and carry on with her bedtime routine as normal.

If you are going to allow your older child to have screen time while you put your baby to bed, be sure that you have the tablet child-safe and loaded only with applications that you feel comfortable with your child accessing without your direct supervision. If you limit your child’s screen time, allocate this as their only 30 minutes per day. Despite how you feel about screen time, this is a realistic, stress free way to handle bedtime with a toddler and a baby.

How NOT to handle bedtime with a baby and a toddler

You may have noticed that none of the options I describe recommend putting the toddler to bed first. There are a few reasons for this:

Remember how short I said a 3-year old’s attention span is? Well, naturally, a baby’s attention span is even shorter. The chances of your baby playing independently, whether on the floor or in a bouncer or swing, while you get your toddler ready for bed are pretty slim. Your baby will probably want your attention at some point, which means that you will have to stop what you’re doing to tend to them. This will make your toddler’s bedtime routine even longer and you may end up with an irritated toddler AND an overtired baby, which is no fun for anyone.

It’s no secret that toddlers sometimes have big emotions. As it gets close to bedtimes and your child gets tired, these big emotions can turn into HUGE emotions. It’s easier to manage these emotions when the baby is already down and out of the room.

Lastly, and most importantly, bedtime can be important quality time between you and your toddler. Somedays, in our house, big sister doesn’t get as much one-on-one time with me as I know she would like. Bedtime is special. I try my hardest to give her my undivided attention during her bedtime routine. This is when we share some of the sweetest mother-daughter moments and have some of our deepest little conversations. I value that time and whenever I can. I try my best to ensure that baby brother is down first so that we can have our own special time before she goes to sleep, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Shop Bedtime Essentials

While the options above have worked well for me as I’ve learned to handle bedtime with a baby and a toddler, these would be null and void if we didn’t have well established bedtime routines. Both of my children follow bedtime routines and both sleep through the night independently in their own rooms. I can’t image what bedtime would look like with a baby and a toddler had I not already had a routine in place with my daughter before the birth of my son.

All I can imagine is a circus – and not the fun kind. Both of my kids follow a version of the standard “bath, pajamas, book, song, bed” routine that works for many others. I also rely on a few essential tools to make sure things go smoothly and they sleep comfortably. I’ve linked my bedtime essentials for both my baby and my toddler below.

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Handling bedtime with a baby and a toddler is something that caused me a lot of anxiety. Even before my son was born, I wondered how I would be able to do it when my husband is away and it’s just me with the two kids. If you find yourself worried about how you will manage bedtime with a toddler and a baby, know that you will find your groove. You will find a system that works for you, and when you do, you will feel like the supermom that I know you are.

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