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Siblings and How to Handle Little One’s Sleep Schedules

Older child and baby asleep

Are you as excited as I am that the school year is in full swing?

Maybe you have big kids who are in school full time or maybe you’re enjoying the routine that fall brings for your younger kiddos.

Either way, there is something magical about the fall leaves, crisp morning air, and schedules being back on track after a fun and enjoyable summer.

Believe it or not, about half of the families I work with have hired me to help with their second or third baby.

Either their first was a naturally great sleeper and they did not have to worry about sleep training OR they are making it a goal to get sleep on track for their younger children because it was a nightmare with their older ones.

With both scenarios, one of the biggest questions that I encounter is “how do I maintain the sleep schedule of my little ones when I have to worry about my older child’s school drop off, pick up and after school activities???”

The short answer: creative routines!

For the long answer, read on for age-specific help with my most common sleep training schedule speed bumps when older kids are involved.

Newborns (0-4 months)

The hardest part about newborn life is the sleep deprivation from round the clock feedings and care. The best part about newborn life, when an older sibling is in the picture, is that they are typically easy on-the-go sleepers.

If your older child is home with you all day and you like to plan outings or have scheduled activities throughout the day, I would suggest investing in a really great baby carrier (this is my favorite) and a portable white noise machine, like this one.

Plan your outing around a time when you think your littlest one will be sleeping (which is likely to be happening every 30-90 minutes during this time period).

When you reach your destination, allow them to continue to sleep in their infant car seat or transfer them to the carrier so you can be hands-free and available to chase your oldest child around.

Use the white noise machine if you find that your baby is getting fussy and needs a nap, but is too stimulated by their environment to fall asleep.

When your older child takes a nap, use this time to either contact nap with your newborn to get a long stretch of daytime sleep OR put the baby down as well so you can have a break. Keep in mind that newborn sleep tends to be short and erratic…check out this article here for more info.

If your older one is in daycare or school, plan on getting 2 on-the-go naps for your baby in the car on the way to and from school. What does this look like? Allow the baby to fall asleep during the ride home from school and let them sleep until they wake naturally, at which point you can head inside the house.

Find your go-to drive-thru coffee spot, order a latte, and take a driving tour of the neighborhood while they get a solid nap in. Plan on doing the same thing before picking up your older child. About 45 minutes before pick-up time, go for a drive and allow your baby to sleep until they wake naturally.

This method can build in 2 guaranteed naps throughout the day that will keep your newborn well rested.

Regardless of your child care situation, throughout your day at home, utilize your infant carrier or baby swing (while supervised) to offer more naps while allowing you to be mobile and engaging with your older child.

This is especially helpful at dinner time and during bedtime routines!

Baby (4-15 Months)

During this broad age range, your baby is taking either 2 or 3 naps. For those babies taking 3 naps per day, the last nap of the day is often the most challenging when siblings are around, so we’ll start there!

The catnap, or last nap of the day, is usually happening around school pick up time or dinner prep time. My best advice for you is to be flexible during this time period, as hard as that may be.

Pull out all of the support in order to get your littlest one to sleep for at least 30 minutes. This may mean sleeping in the car on the way to school pickup, in the swing during dinner prep, or in a baby carrier while you cook for your family (or place a take out order, like I love to do!!).

If your baby skips this nap, it’s not the end of the world. Aim for an earlier bedtime of around 6:30 p.m. in order to make up for lost sleep and give you time to just focus on your oldest one during their bedtime routine.

For babies who have transitioned to 2 naps with siblings who are still at home during the day, your goal should be to have all children napping at the same time for the afternoon nap, which will land around 12:30/1:00 p.m. for both babies and toddlers. This will give you time to yourself and a much needed break in order to gear up for momming the remainder of the day.

The morning nap for your littlest one will be an opportunity for you to spend one-on-one time with your oldest child(ren).

If you plan on getting out of the house, the best time is around 10:30, which is after Nap 1 but before lunch and Nap 2.

You also have a window of time to get out and about between 3:00 and 5:00, which is after Nap 2 and before dinner/bedtime. Plan your activities during these hours in order to help keep schedules generally on track.

If your baby is taking 2 naps and your older children are at school, the baby’s nap times likely do not interfere with the most common drop off/pick up times.

If you find that your baby is falling asleep in the car during drop off/pick up, then pull out all of the tricks to keep them AWAKE until you are home to offer a crib nap (I’ve even suggested screen time for kids who are notorious car sleepers… the audacity!!).

If they end up taking a car nap, be sure to offer the next nap or bedtime in their crib about 30-60 minutes earlier than normal.

Toddler (15+ Months)

By this point, your baby is on a solid 1 nap schedule, which starts around 1:00 p.m. and likely does not interfere with your older children’s schedule too much.

The most common temptation I see with families who have 1 child napping and other children who have dropped the nap is to transition their youngest children to a no nap schedule. Beware of doing this before the age of 3 as it may cause nighttime sleep issues.

Instead, I recommend offering “rest time” for older kiddos. This can look like 1.5 hours of quiet reading or playtime in their room (or your room, if your kids share a room). They don’t have to fall asleep, but they have to play quietly until it is time to come out.

This allows you to have a break during the daytime and both of your children to capitalize on rest for their bodies.

You can also begin to do bedtime routines together at this age, as all of your children will likely be going to bed around the same time.

Baths can be taken together and each child can choose a story after they change into their pajamas.

Timers can be super helpful during the routine so you are giving the same amount of time to each child and allowing them to fall asleep independently in an appropriate amount of time.

What Did We Learn About Our Sleep Schedule?

When I began learning how to juggle my second daughter’s sleep schedule around my oldest daughter’s day, my biggest take away was that I needed to be creative, flexible, and maintain some sort of routine or flow to my day in order to stay sane.

As a result of my flexibility, my youngest daughter caught onto flexible sleeping habits more quickly than my oldest did at her age. My oldest daughter also learned how to accommodate the needs of other people in the family, an important life lesson.

As you learn your new routines as a family of 4 or more, give yourself time and grace for things to fall in place. And as always, if you are looking for personalized sleep help, feel free to click the button below to chat with me about working together.


Be Well,

Sarah (Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant)

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