Room Sharing with Parents or Siblings
Family life is ever-evolving; sometimes, you find yourself with more kids than bedrooms available in your house… Time for your kids to become roommates? Let’s talk about how to easily navigate this transition and keep their sleep (and yours) stable and consistent.
When our surprise 3rd baby made his presence known last year, we realized our house had run out of bedrooms… My first thought was, there’s no way these kids are ready to share a room - it will be total chaos! But after raking over every other option available to us and standing firm that I would NOT surrender our 4th bedroom/my home office, we knew it was time for our two and four-year-old to become roommates.
Here lies the challenge: our two-year-old was an incredibly sensitive sleeper with high sleep needs and a love for his super dark sleep cave. Our four-year-old loathed bedtime and enjoyed scream-singing the full frozen soundtrack instead of peacefully falling asleep and HATED sleeping in the dark.
How to begin the transition?
Don’t make it a surprise! Before making the move, sit down as a family and talk through the why/how/when of this big change to family sleep. This is a big change for little ones, and even if your kids are in the toddler stage, get on their level and talk them through the process in a way they can understand and get on board with.
Tips for success for your family meeting:
- Avoid having your meeting right before bedtime and allow a couple of days between your talk and the big move
- Together, draw a family sleep poster detailing each stage of your bedtime routine
- Choose your family sleep rules:
- Finish our water for the day before bedtime
- Our voices must be quiet so that we can sleep
- We need to keep our bodies in our beds
- Bedtime is for sleeping, not playing
- Focus on the benefits of sleep
- When we sleep well, we can run faster and jump higher!
- When we do not sleep well, our body is too tired for fun play, we feel grumpy and have a hard time concentrating
- After a great week of sleep, we can plan a family adventure on Saturday, like a trip to the park or swimming pool!
Do rewards work?
Yes, but keep them manageable and consistent! Stickers will only incentivize them for a short period of time. Huge toys set a standard, and will also become desensitized to them. Keep the reward energy-based to link directly to the benefit of sleeping well. An activity at the end of the week that uses high energy, such as swimming or the trampoline park, serves as an exciting reward and a way to teach your little ones how great it is to use all of your energy from sleeping well!
At your meeting, create a “sleep point chart” and decide on your weekly goal, say 10 points; but they have to earn them as a team. Each morning, move your placemark up by one number after a great night, or stay the same. If they cannot follow the rules and remind them, they can always try again tonight and earn more points!
Can you make the transition at any age?
Yes! The key here is to empower the older sibling. Kids LOVE to feel in charge and competent. Encourage them to talk to their younger sibling, remind them of what is expected at bedtime, and follow your family sleep rules (even if the youngest is very little). Kids are boundary pushers by nature, but by giving them the sense of responsibility that comes with being the older kid, they can become your greatest ally. “Remember you’re in charge, buddy; help your brother to remember our sleep rules and show him how you lay in bed calmly and quietly. You are such a good example; he loves learning from you!”
If your youngest is a baby, tend to night wakings as quietly and calmly as possible, with the lights off, and keep white noise close to your eldest’s bed.
Can they go to bed at the same time?
If close in age, plan their bedtime according to the needs of the youngest or more sensitive sleeper and keep bedtime on the earlier side. If there is a bigger age gap, put the youngest to bed first and try to wait until they’re asleep before the eldest joins the room. Continually reinforce the importance of caring for each other with a gentle body and quiet voice when entering the bedroom not to wake the younger sibling and make them tired.
What tools do we need in our arsenal?
- The SlumberPod!
- If your little ones are between 4 months and five years, the SlumberPod is the BEST way to offer them a dark, consistent sleep environment with greatly reduced stimulation. It can fit over a mini crib, play yard, or inflatable toddler mattress.
- Their white noise machine can sit either just outside or inside their pod, and with this amazing tool, they will even feel like they still have their own “room.”
- White noise all the way - one each if you have sensitive little sleepers!
- Blackout blinds
- Boredom - make their room as boring as possible! As much as you reasonably can, keep their room for sleep, not play, and keep all toys in their closet or elsewhere in the house. Without toys, you minimize distractions and reduce their options: not much else to do but sleep!
- Realistic expectations
- They will make noise; they will be excited by each other!
- Healthy boundaries
- Chatting for 10-20 minutes at bedtime is okay; yelling, screaming, and jumping around the room is not.
- If they’re in there causing mayhem, visit once to calmly but firmly remind them of the rules. Don’t get drawn into a back-and-forth; keep your visit for 1 minute or less.
If bedtime is crazy, don’t make a game of it! We cannot convince them to follow the rules; we can only coach them. If they follow the rules, great! In the morning, they earn a sleep point, and if we reach our goal, we can go on our family adventure at the weekend! Was bedtime a nightmare? Remind them of the rules the following morning, and if the chaos continues the next night, follow through on your expectations - no energy-filled adventure this weekend. We need to kindly but firmly stand behind the healthy expectation that we are establishing, our bodies need healthy sleep, and without it, we can’t enjoy fun activities!
What about room sharing in our room?
The SlumberPod will be your greatest tool here! There’s nothing worse than waking your baby by tripping over the foot of the bed… Or not being able to read or watch your shows before sleep! By creating their own “pod,” your little one (4 months to 5 years) will enjoy their own space without being woken by lights and sounds, and you won’t need to tiptoe around in your room.
With time and consistency, any room-sharing setup will quickly become your new normal, and everyone can enjoy a Jolly Good Night’s Sleep!
About the Author:
Lindsay Sinopoli- Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Lactation Counselor, and Newborn Care Specialist
As a formerly lost and worn out Mummy of 3 little ones, Lindsay knows exactly how it feels to have exhausted every effort to soothe your baby or get your children to sleep and still feel like you're treading water, desperate for a peaceful night. Lindsay supports families 1:1 with virtual consultations and is educated and certified in numerous infant soothing and child sleep techniques, as well as lactation health, and her customized sleep training support is centered on connected, evidence-based solutions for newborns all the way up to school-aged children.