Life with five kids is INSANE, but one thing I can count on every single night is bedtime. It’s a universal right of passage as a parent to countdown to bedtime, only to look at pictures of your baby as soon as they’re asleep.
Bedtime routine for your baby
I often get asked HOW I get all my kids to go to sleep every night, and people wonder how long a bedtime routine for five kids takes. Every family has to do what feels right for them, so there’s no one-size-fits-all. It can also be so overwhelming with so many people telling you what to do, what steps to take… so instead of a rigid recommendation, I want to share some philosophies that help shape our bedtime strategy, and then I’ll share what our typical bedtime routine looks like.
TIPS TO HELP BABY SLEEP
Remember, parents have been doing bedtime for centuries! It doesn’t have to be hard or elaborate. You don’t need to worry what someone else is doing, because no one else knows your baby like you do.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
In our home, we’re not fans of rigid routines with elaborate schedules. All too often, parents believe that bedtime needs to be a PROCESS. But then, you’re captive to needing to do 15 things before your child will go to sleep. So instead of focusing on WHAT we do, we stay consistent with HOW we do things. We always let each of our kids know how loved they are, and they know that some nights we may read a book, sing a song, and snuggle each of them individually. We don’t create habits that they become codependent on; instead, we foster confidence that no matter what bedtime is like, they know they are loved.
DON’T BATTLE FOR CONTROL
The way we accomplish #3, below, is by not engaging in a battle for control. This one is very important. When children have to do something they don’t want to do, without realizing it they will battle you for control. They do this in little ways: “Just one more book!” “I’m thirsty!” “I need another song!”
My advice? Don’t respond to these. Your child will not suffer from dehydration without that last sip of water, I promise. Have a “last call” BEFORE the bedtime process starts, and if they ask for water again simply say “Oh, we already had our last drink! Water will be waiting for you in the morning when you wake up”. When you say one book, show your kids that you are true to your word. This is how they will know you mean it when you say it's bedtime - but if they learn they can control the situation by asking for more things, whining, fighting - then the bedtime routine you’ll create is a dance of them seeing how much they can ask for.
OUR BEDTIME ROUTINE
Now for what bedtime looks like in our family. Keep in mind - some days we do more, some days we do less if things are chaotic. But, because our kids have learned that they can trust us when we say it’s bedtime, we’re afforded that flexibility.
Hygiene: First I bathe the youngest two, and then the older kids take showers. Everyone brushes their teeth together.
Clean Up, Wind Down: About an hour before I want the kids to go to bed, we wind down. This means no high activity playing, no screens, last call for water. While the older kids are winding down (often playing Legos, blocks, reading, etc.), I put the baby to sleep since his bedtime is earlier. For my 6 month old, I feed him and then lay him in his crib happy and awake. He snuggles up and goes to bed. Healthy sleep habits as an infant are so helpful, because he learns early on that going to bed on his own is a normal, happy part of life.
Comfort: Each of my kids has a comfort blanket - I got a Little Giraffe blanket for my 11 year old while I was pregnant with him, and then he wanted to get one for his little brother while I was pregnant. And from there, it became a tradition to always get the newest baby in our family their own Little Giraffe blanket! Each of our children goes to sleep with their “Blanky” - it's the one “must” for each of them at bedtime.
Connect: This is where we have lots of flexibility. Sometimes I say pick a book for us to read together; sometimes I say EVERYONE can bring one book; sometimes we sing our family lullaby, the same lullaby in Spanish my abuelita sang to me as a little girl. Then, everyone goes to their beds awake - and that’s it!
No matter what you decide to do for bedtime in your home - make sure you ENJOY it and retain some flexibility. Kids don’t need elaborate routines to feel loved - they just need you!