As number four of six children, you can probably guess that I shared a room pretty much my entire childhood. We were three girls and three boys in a three-bedroom house, so my sisters and I were in one room, and my brothers were in the room right next to us. Looking back, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have changed a single thing; not a bigger house, not my own room, and not even my own bathroom. If I had those things, I would be trading it for some of the greatest memories of my childhood as well as the most valuable lessons I learned…simply through sharing space. I can also guarantee that I wouldn’t have as close of a relationship with my sisters as I do now. My husband and I now have our own two girls (with another on the way) that currently share a room. Through this, I see them starting to share the same kind of memories, learning some of the same lessons, and creating the same kind of sisterly bonds that are unique to sharing a room. Even if the space allowed it, my husband and I fully intend on keeping them in the same room for as long as we can!
Room sharing can be viewed as a last resort and definitely not the “ideal” thing, especially in the world of sleep training. But, I view it differently. It certainly comes with its own set of challenges, and some nights, they are up past their bedtime giggling, but your perspective on it can make all the difference. Those giggles are my favorite sound. If you find yourself in a position where your children will be sharing a room, and maybe you wish they didn’t have to, I am here to tell you it will be okay! In fact, it will be more than okay. Healthy sleep habits are still incredibly possible, and your children will create some of the best memories of their childhood in the end.
So, as a sleep consultant who shared a room all her life and who has children of her own all in the same room, here are my top 5 tips on room sharing with siblings!
Manage your expectations
Managing expectations is always the first place I start when coaching a parent of children who room share, especially if they are starting to sleep train. Room sharing, at times, can feel “messy,” especially when you crave consistency and quick results. The reality is, one may wake the other. They may take a little longer to fall asleep. You may catch your four year old playing in your two year old’s crib at 2am (spoken from experience). There is another reason for your child to fight sleep a little longer, and it’s because his or her best friend is in the bed next to them! Expect this, and have a plan with exactly how to handle it. Remember that sleep training takes time, and it may take a little more time with room sharing, but that’s okay. With your consistent response, you will start to see them adjust!
Black outs and sound machines are your friend
No matter how old your little ones are, get that room DARK! Visual stimulation can make this process a lot more difficult. It’s one thing if they know the other is in the room, but when they can clearly see them, it’s a lot harder for them to want to settle to sleep (especially if they share a nap time). Invest in some black out shades that are adhesive to the window to completely black out the room.
Sound machines are also equally as important. It may not prevent one from waking up the other, but it can certainly help. Have a sound machine next to each bed or crib on medium-loud setting to help drown out some inevitable noise, especially if you are sleep training one or both. And don’t forget your cord covers if the machines are next to their beds!
Sleep train separately, but together
When it comes to siblings sharing a room, especially if there’s a baby in the room with an older toddler, the natural reaction is for the parent to immediately run and remove the child who’s awake from the room in effort to not wake up the other. However, your goal with room sharing is to essentially teach your children how to go back to sleep on their own, should the other sibling wake them up. This means, you must resist the urge to rush in and take out the sibling who is awake in an effort to not wake the other. When you transition your children to the same room, be sure you are prepared with a sleep training method (whatever you are comfortable with) for both children, should one or both wake up. Children adjust, and they will learn how to navigate through these wakings if you let them. You may be using the method with one sibling while the other is sleeping, or you may be using the method with both siblings at the same time. It might feel a little messy at first, but stick with it. It’s important that your plan includes your children falling back asleep in their beds and you not rushing to take one out of the room so the other keeps sleeping.
If you have an older toddler sharing a room with a baby, let the toddler know what to expect before the start of the night. It can be as simple as, “If baby sister wakes up crying, mommy hears her and will come check on her. Remember she’s safe, and you just go right back to sleep!” Stay consistent and give them plenty of time paired with your consistent response to help them adjust.
Mirror or stagger bedtimes
If your children are around the same age, putting them down at the same time shouldn’t be too much of a problem. When you can, mirror their bedtimes and put them to sleep together! This will help them unwind and hopefully fall asleep around the same time as well as wake up at the same time in the morning. If your children are different ages (example: 4 months and 4 years), you may find that the baby needs an early bedtime when the older sibling isn’t quite ready yet. If this is the case, get baby in bed early and when needed. With your older sibling, have a separate designated area of the home where you do bedtime routine that is quiet with no TV/other stimulations. After routine, make sure the sibling knows that baby is sleeping and it’s important to stay quiet! Walk him or her to their bed, tuck them in quietly, and sneak out of the room. If the baby wakes up, go right into your training method that you’re prepared with.
Simplify the room
Make the room as boring as possible and avoid any toys in the room. If you have children out of the crib, make sure that all cords and outlets are covered, dressers and bookshelves are anchored to the wall, and there is nothing they can pull down on themselves. Siblings tend to get into mischief a little more together, as well as the added stimulation of the other being in the same room, so you just want to be sure the room is 100% safe and 100% boring.
Room sharing can be such a wonderful thing if you shift your perspective on it. Both of my girls get at least 11-12 hours of sleep at night and have the most beautiful little relationship that is in full bloom! There are nights where bedtimes feel a little messy, but for the most part, they have become amazing at navigating through so many different nighttime scenarios. Just remember, you’ve got this!
If you need any help navigating through your little ones’ room sharing, we would absolutely love to help create a customized sleep plan just for them, and give you all the support along the way.