If you’ve had more than one child, you may be wondering, “Can my kids share a room?” If so, when?” This is usually followed by the ever-practical question usually on my mind as a mom … “HOW?”
My husband and I started our family in downtown Chicago, where we lived in a two-bedroom apartment. When our second child was born, we started him in our room with the eventual plan of putting our two boys (two years apart in age) together in one room—a natural plan since our urban living space was limited to the two bedrooms.
However, what wasn’t natural to me was the idea that these two small children, who we had worked so hard to get to sleep, would in fact successfully sleep in a room other than a quiet, predictable, private type of space where I could control the noise and interruptions. While my anxiety about the possibility of creating even more chaos and loss of sleep didn’t see how a baby and a toddler sharing a room could possibly work, my rational mind kept reminding me that around the world and throughout history, most children have shared a sleeping space with siblings, if not their entire family.
There are so many ways to live, and each child having their own bedroom is certainly not a requirement for living well. I gathered courage from these realities and took the plunge. (It *only* took me 10 months!)
Our family has absolutely loved room-sharing for our little ones now that we’ve experienced it. We are all even counting the days until our third child can join the other two in their room. Here are a few tips for making the transition to shared rooms, for those who may be interested in the how-tos.
1. Accept the reality of a small amount of sleep loss
Let’s get the hardest one out of the way right now: once in a while, you might lose a little sleep over this room sharing business. Now, breathe. Everything’s going to be OK, and here’s why. If you haven’t heard this from someone else already, most times, kids tend to actually sleep through whatever nighttime disturbance their sibling raises, be it feedings, night terrors, you name it. It’s quite amazing, and you have to experience it to believe it!
Somehow, it seems like our little peoples’ natures find sleeping with siblings and their various disruptions to be a very natural nighttime habitat, much more so than we adults would with that level of noise. You may think, “Not my kid!” But give it a try for a couple nights and see, and you’ll likely be surprised.
When the exception happens once in a while and a sibling is actually awoken in the night, the impact is usually pretty quick and minimal. In my experience, it’s not nighttime where a child might have their sleep impacted by room sharing; it’s more so the getting-to-sleep and the naps.
2. Stagger bedtimes
Often, it can be helpful to stagger the bedtimes of the children who share a room, if they have trouble calming down and going to sleep with their playmate in the room. I have done this as needed, at various stages with my children, and it is a great way to structure bedtimes with a shared space!
For example, you can put a toddler to sleep first, and then 30 minutes later, feed the baby and put the baby to sleep in the quiet, dark room where your toddler is already asleep. Or vice-versa.
3. Separate them for naps
Naps/rest time seem to be an area where room sharing breaks down, at least for our family. It seems harder for children to fall asleep for daytime sleep and also harder to stay asleep if there are any disturbances.
For that reason, I have always separated my children for naptime. One child uses the bedroom for nap, and the other can use the master bedroom, a guest bedroom, the couch—whatever quiet space works in your home and for their age.
However you creatively structure this, it’s key to keep it consistent regarding where each child is for daily rest time. If you need or want your children to share a bedroom, simply using separate spaces for daytime naps is a great way to do it and still get peaceful, consistent naps.
4. Be firm, yet flexible
If we could sum up parenting in one maxim, it could be this, right?
The key to room-sharing being a success is teaching your children what you expect and how to do it, and then understanding that there will be a learning curve to some degree, depending on your kids’ personalities. Firm boundaries will help your kids understand how to share a room with another person (life skill, right there!).
For example, we don’t allow our kids to get into their sibling’s bed, purposefully wake one another up in the morning, etc. Having a few simple ground rules, and then consistently backing those up, will train your kids in no time how to do this well. A little effort and consistency up-front will pay off here.
That being said, it’s important to be flexible. Just like literally everything else with our kids, their needs and abilities and issues are ever-changing, so it’s important to understand that their sleep and room sharing needs are going to be included in that. If you need to go back to staggering bedtimes after having shared bedtimes for a while, do that. If you need to start a different system for waking up in the morning, give whatever that is a try.
You’re already having to constantly adjust and fine-tune your system in every other area of parenting, so this is not a new skill—you’ve got this one already!
5. Allow for bonding
This is the part that is really fun. Hearing your little ones make each other laugh all on their own behind closed doors, telling their own jokes, discussing the day’s adventures from their perspective—all of this is priceless for developing those bonds between siblings that we all want our children to share, apart from their relationship with us as their parents.
Figure out ways to allow for this bonding time, while still maintaining your roommate rules. Currently, we allow our kids to talk as long as they want to at night, while staying in their own beds. Usually, it isn’t all that long before they can’t keep their eyes open any longer, but the deposit that this time makes in their relationship bank is huge. Or maybe you allow them to play together in their room in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up.
Whatever it is, figure out when and how you’re going to let all the roommate fun happen … and then stand on the other side of the door listening in if you must, but don’t forget to muffle your laughter!