How to Get Your Kids to Share a Room
If you’ve been bunking with your baby, moving him or her into an older sibling’s room is a milestone you’re probably looking forward to…but also worrying about. Will the older one be able to fall asleep with a new roommate? Will the baby wake your toddler up too early in the morning? And what happens when one of them cries out in the night? We tapped a pediatrician and a baby sleep expert for answers to these questions, as well as their top tips for making it work.
- Written By
- Marnie Schwartz
Lay the groundwork
The big move-in is a lot more likely to go smoothly when you’re starting with two good sleepers, says Erin Flynn-Evans, Ph.D., a sleep scientist and co-founder of Baby Sleep Science. So hold off on starting the process until both kids are capable of sleeping through the night. But even before that happens, you can start preparing your older child by moving some of the baby’s things into that room, like some diapers or stuffed animals, or letting the baby nap in the older sibling’s room, says Dr. Erin Dalton, a mom of two and pediatrician at Brooklyn Bridge Pediatrics. “Kids can be very territorial,” she says. This can help ease them into the idea of sharing their space.
Try to line up their wake times
You might be worried about changes to the bedtime routine, but if your kids are two years apart or less you can try to have the same bedtime for both, which makes things easier on parents, says Dr. Dalton. (With a larger gap, she suggests that the older kid can do their routine in another room and then quietly go into the bedroom.)
More important than bedtime, however, is the time they get up in the morning, says Dr. Flynn-Evans. Sleep tends to be very light in the morning hours, so if your baby regularly wakes up and cries out at 6 a.m. but your toddler sleeps until 7, the baby is going to disrupt his sleep. Consider how many hours of sleep they each need, what time you’d like them both to wake up (be realistic!), and work backwards to set bedtimes. You may actually find that a preschooler who no longer naps during the day needs to go to bed first. By pushing back bedtime for the baby (who may need less nighttime sleep thanks to naps), you can try to get their wake-up times more in sync.
Keep nap times separate
If both of your kids still nap and one takes longer naps, or one of them still takes two naps, you may want to consider splitting them up for nap time, suggests Dr. Dalton. Kids are less tired during the day (and sleep is much lighter than at night), so they’re more likely to be disturbed by a sibling.
Keep it safe
Bunk beds can help save space when you’re fitting two kids in one room, and can help give a sense of privacy when they’re older and crave their own space. But they aren’t safe for very young kids—so hold off until at least age 6, per guidelines by The American Academy of Pediatrics. (Even after that age, make sure to look into bunk bed safety info.) Dr. Dalton also advises keeping hard toys out of the room, and emphasizing to your toddler that the baby’s crib is only for the baby. You don’t want him or her climbing in, which can be dangerous to both kids.
It’s also important to explain to your older child that it’s okay if the baby cries out during the middle of the night, and that he will put himself back to sleep, says Dr. Flynn-Evans. If a well-meaning child tries to soothe the baby, they could wake him up more, or even create a dangerous situation by trying to add stuffed animals or blankets to the crib to “help.”
Use the right tools
A reading light can help with staggered bedtimes, as one child can stay up and read without disturbing the other’s sleep. A “morning cue” for toddlers and preschool-aged children can help them stay quietly in bed until it’s time for both children to get up, says Dr. Flynn-Evans. You could use a clock specifically meant for that purpose, or teach them how to read a digital clock. (I.e. “You can get out of bed when the first number is a seven.”) And a white noise machine in between the two sleep spaces can buffer sound; just make sure it’s a safe distance from each child to protect against hearing damage.
Recognize the benefits!
It may take a bit of time to make the transition, but in the end, sharing a room can be a great experience for kids. “Some families find that it’s a lovely way for siblings to grow close and have a nice bond,” says Dr. Dalton. Plus, it can sometimes free up space in the home for other things, and remove the stress of needing a room for every kid.