How do I do bedtime for multiple children?

When our third was born 7 months ago, this very question haunted me. Creating a bedtime routine for two under two seemed doable, but 3 under 3? It sounded like a nightmare. While I am usually a happy SAHM, this prospect was terrifying!

Here’s the typical scenario at our house:

It’s bedtime. I have somehow managed to get baths and PJs on with some hesitance. Then the time comes for the big show, actually getting them into bed. Two are crying out of tiredness and the third out of anger that he or she has to go to bed. I am tired and my patience is wearing thin. All of the things I try to do just don’t work. How can I end this madness?

Sound familiar? How can you do a bedtime that is not stressful and actually gets everyone to bed? The magic is in the routine, mama! (or daddy, sometimes he gets a turn, too!)

Keep reading for some tips and tricks on this touchy subject.

How can I make my kids’ bedtime routine easier?

We all want our kids’ bedtimes to become easier, less stressful, and peaceful. Take some time to look and think about the following questions. You might want to grab a pen and a pad of paper to take notes for each individual child. 

  • What types of activities do your children like to do that calms them down? Is it singing, reading, massages? 
  • What bedtime activities do you see your children liking? Are they bath people? Do they love to wear snuggly PJs? 
  • Do your children have a “lovie” or stuffed animal or blanket that they take with them everywhere? 
  • Is their room dark and cool? Or is it too bright and too warm or cold? 
  • What kind of foods are your children eating before bedtime? 
  • Are you giving reach child adequate attention and snuggle time during the day?
  • Have your children had adequate physical activity during the day?

Did you take notes? Keep these handy for the rest of the article. These factors all come into play when creating a simple yet effective bedtime routine for your child, or in this case, your multiple young children who still need help with a bedtime routine. 

Tips for making every child’s bedtime routine easier

For children 3 and under, most of them need about 12-14 hours of sleep a day. This includes nighttime sleeping and nap times (if they take naps). It is up to us as parents to help them get the best sleep they can. And for most of us, we hope that they get their best sleep without being in our beds or disturbing us during the night.

  • Dark, cool rooms ensure that children have a more restful sleep and better-developed sleep habits; it helps with their REM sleep and works with their natural sleep cycle in their bodies.
  • Appropriate foods before bedtime: avoid greasy, citrus, sugary, and simple carb foods. 
  • Encourage the use of their “lovie” as a part of the bedtime routine (i.e. snuggling or reading with it, or putting their “lovie” to bed as part of the routine)
  • Avoid drinking too much water or any liquids before bed, that way peeing out doesn’t become a regular issue
  • Create a routine that is relaxing, calming, and filled with steps that the children will enjoy (around 30-minutes all together)
  • Your day should be filled with activities that grow their brains, bodies, and lots of snuggle and playtime
  • If you co-sleep, consider some of these pros and cons.

How did I create a successful bedtime routine with multiple children under 3? These books helped me piece it together for sure!

When first learning how to create an effective bedtime routine, I first turned to Dana Obleman’s Sleep Sense program. Then we purchased the No-Cry Sleep Solution for Preschoolers and Toddlers. The combination of those, plus Then Comes Baby from Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, really helped me create the best solution for all of our kids. That and practicing consistently what we decided would work. It will come more natural and easy the more you practice.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

Putting Multiple Children to Bed: the steps I take when Daddy can’t be there

My husband is a farmer, so when the harvest and planting and spraying season hit, being around for bedtime is very difficult for him. This is the routine I use to tackle bedtime with 3 under 3 by myself. 

Our Bedtime Routine for 2 Toddlers and 1 Baby

6:30 PM: 

  • Depending on the kind of day we’ve had, and if restful naps have been taken, I start the bedtime madness around 6:30 (sometimes 7 if they are not as tired). Anymore, the kids will ask for a bath at a certain time because they love the routine and just love baths. 
  • Bathtime comes first. I used to bathe the baby separately when he was younger but now we just use all the same bathwater. Timely and thrifty. 
  • Tip: when you have three of them in the bath, constant supervision is necessary!

6:40 PM:

  • After I get them bathed, I take the little one out and lotion and dress him while the older two play in the water a bit. I give him some toys to play with so I can go get the other two
  • Then I get the other two out and brush their teeth. 
  • We are also in the potty-training mindset around here, so I encourage my oldest to go potty before bed (sometimes my middle girl hops on for about 2 seconds before “all done”)
  • Clean up the bathroom quickly so everything is put away

6:45 PM:

  • Time for lotion and PJs. So glad my kids are old enough to not put the lotion in their mouth anymore (yeah, right?!).
  • I usually give my oldest (almost 3) a squirt or two of lotion to rub into his legs while I lotion and dress my squirrelly almost 2-year-old. 
  • The baby? He’s crawling around, playing and standing up next to furniture. Safely, of course!
  • After they get PJs on, they go get their puppies and babies and “lovie” blankets and I give them some calming liquid herb blends as their “nighttime medicine”

6:50 PM:

  • Storytime! This is sometimes my favorite, but usually, it’s the activity I rush through for various reasons. I love reading and so do my kids, but when you have 3 running around trying to see the pictures, all turn the pages a different way, and then yelling at each other…
  • Let’s just say I limit the books to 6 or less for bedtime routine with multiple children.
  • I try to snuggle at least one of them on my lap, though we often end up with all of them piled on, which is also great.
  • Bit of advice: just accept right now that you may not make it through an entire book or read all the words on every page. This used to bother me, but now it’s just normal.
  • Every once in a while, we will sing some calming songs, but only if the kids need additional wind-down.

6:55 PM:

  • We are a praying family, so prayers come next! We say about 4-5 rote prayers, then let the kids pray, too (so cute!) Usually, it’s along the lines of, “thank you”, “night-night”, and “pray for ___”.
  • After prayers, I take my middle child, my sweet little girl, to bed. She still sleeps in a crib in a room by herself. The room is darkened with light-blocking curtains, and she has a nightlight that is turn upside down to not be so bright. She has about 4 stuffed animals, her pacifier, and a “lovie” rag. I give her kisses, hugs, and tell her goodnight and “love you!”. I also turn on the radio with white noise static for her, since she is a little sensitive to noises.
  • The boys are playing quietly or laying down in my oldest boy’s room. I give my almost 3-year-old kisses, hugs, tell him goodnight, and “love you!” He gets a nightlight and the lamp left on, as well as some extra books to read for relaxation.

7:00 PM

  • I then take my 7-month boy and nurse him in the living room. This is our time to relax and enjoy snuggle time together since it is so rare during the day with toddlers around.
  • He nurses for 10-15 minutes until he is asleep. Then I take him off the breast, make sure he’s burped and lay him in the pack n’ play in our master bedroom.

7:15 PM

  • Revel in the beauty of all my kids asleep by 7:30 and proceed to work on my blog or cleaning the house until bedtime.
  • Sounds great, but this is usually not reality. While this routine usually works for 2 of them, oftentimes the third child is just not ready for bed or has an issue that needs resolving before they can fall asleep.
  • Some examples: The baby didn’t get the burp he needed and woke up with an air bubble. Big brother now needs more water and lost his puppy and needs to be tucked in again. Or, sister decides to dirty her diaper because going twice a day wasn’t enough already.
  • In any case, staying calm will help keep the child in a state of tiredness and ready to go back to sleep as soon as their need is taken care of.

My best advice for doing a bedtime routine with multiple children

This is the biggest thing that I can tell you through all of this. How you act and react to during the bedtime routine with your kids will make or break it.

You must be prepared and calm through the routine. It helps if you have the PJs and diapers/underwear ready and have their towels near the bathtub. It especially helps if you do the routine in the same order every night. Be consistent.

Also, you need to be firm, loving, gentle, and patient while guiding them through the process. They will not respond well if you are impatient and harsh with them while getting ready for bed. Learning how to fall asleep on their own is a skill you are teaching them.

So, keep your cool and expect to be amazed at how your calmness can transfer to your kids.

Image by jbdeboer from Pixabay

You may want to read these articles, too!

16 Tips and Tricks for Moms of Multiple Children

10 Positive Affirmations for Kids and How to Use Them

49 Practical Tips to Make Spending Time with Family Super Fun

How to Shorten Your Bedtime Routine

When you have to do a bedtime routine with multiple children, you don’t want to be putting kids to bed all night long.

  • Do your best to stick to the schedule or routine, the familiarity will make it easier for the children to follow and quickly complete the steps
  • Be gentle, patient, and loving throughout. The kids will more likely respond to that than if you are impatient, yelling, frustrated, or rushing them along.
  • If you noticed, my entire routine was not longer than 45 minutes. We have tried doing longer routines to see if they would be more relaxed and successful, but it didn’t really work. So we stick to our 30-40 minute schedule and it works the best. Sleep Sense really drilled that into me.
  • Invest in or create bedtime picture cards for your older toddler or preschooler. These will give them a visual on what needs to be completed in order to go to bed, and in what order as well.
  • Have a max number of stories to read, and then go ahead and cut some out if the kids are showing signs of tiredness (rubbing eyes, yawning, fussing, whining, etc)

Bedtime Routine with Multiple Children: Conclusion

Completing a bedtime routine with multiple children can be stressful and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you have 2, 3, or 4 (or more) young children, these tips can be used to create a calm and sensible routine that will have your children falling asleep with ease.

Remember these key points:

  • Create a 30-minute routine that all of your children can benefit from and stick to it
  • Stay gentle and loving in those last minutes of ushering your children to bed
  • Be aware of environmental factors, including light vs. dark and room temperature, and body factors, like food intake, exercise, etc.
  • Prepare before you start the routine to make sure you have what you need so it runs as smoothly as possible.

When I have the job of putting my multiple children to bed, I choose to combine them all into one routine, keep it simple and the same every night. That is how I end the madness of what could be hours and hours of bedtime struggles. Of course, that doesn’t mean every night is perfect. It will never be. But it makes it more manageable to do by yourself (or even with your spouse).

To all parents of multiple young children: you’ve got this! Take heart, stay calm and carry on. Your littles will be all grown up before you know it, so enjoy the snuggles while you can!

Gessica is a SAHM to 3 under 3, and a wife to her rugged farming husband. She loves working on her blog, Catholic Mom Vibes, which helps new moms with overwhelm, faith-life, and becoming their best selves. Join her 7-day JOY Challenge here!