In the movies, babies always seem to have a picture-perfect nursery with more room than that sweet darling could ever use. In the real world, this just isn’t what life looks like, and sometimes our children outnumber our bedrooms.
Often, siblings DO share a room! What’s a mama to do to help her littles share space without destroying sleep?
(Be sure to see the video at the end of these tips demonstrating exactly how this happens.)
Little ones who struggle to sleep before they share a room can turn into a disaster after they move in together. If your sweet babies are under age two, I have classes and resources that can help you to have great little sleepers. This makes such a huge difference when preparing children to share their sleeping space.
You can’t keep your little ones from ever making a noise, but you can set up the room for the least disturbances possible. Arrange the furniture so that the crib and bed are on opposite sides of the room. That extra space (plus a sound machine next to each one) can keep the tossing and turning of one kiddo from waking the other.
Did you know that 80% of kids sleep through fire alarms? It’s true! Even the ear-piercing sound of a fire alarm doesn’t wake most children between the ages of 2 and 13. Since fire alarms rarely interrupt sleep, your older kiddo will likely sleep right through most sounds from a younger sibling.
Older siblings, especially those over 2 ½ years of age, can comprehend most of what you explain to them about room sharing and the baby.
Here are some really helpful things to include in your conversation:
“Mommy can see the baby.” Show the older sibling that you can see and hear the baby. Even take it a step further and show him the screen of your video monitor. Go into the room with the baby monitor and say “hello” so he can see and hear you. This demonstration can be really impactful.
“If you hear the baby in the night, you can just roll over and go back to sleep. I promise I will hear her too. In the morning, you can tell me all about it.” This coaching is really effective and gives young children clear guidance about what to do during the night if they do awaken.
“Remember, we don’t climb in the crib or put toys or blankets in there.” Explaining this helps a well-meaning sibling understand the rules and keeps the baby safe in the crib.
Bedtime Routines are an important part of healthy sleep. They cue our children’s brains that sleep is coming and help them physically relax prior to falling asleep. A clearly defined bedtime routine doesn’t have to be complicated: just do the same activities in the same order in the same place each night.
Bedtime routines may have to be altered a bit when you move siblings into the same room. This could be as simple as doing part of the bedtime routine out in the living room for your older child. For example, the baby’s bedtime routine takes place in the bedroom, but the older sibling has a bedtime routine out in the living room (with lights dimmed and the television off).
As you are doing your bedtime routine with your older child, help him to anticipate what it will be like to enter a darkened nursery and the need to be quiet.
For example, “Your sister is already asleep in her crib. We have to be really quiet and sneak in like tiny, quiet mice. I’m going to tuck you in, sing to you very quietly, and kiss you goodnight. Can you show me how a mouse quietly sneaks around? C’mon, let’s whisper.” Then walk down the hall together like quiet little mice.
Staggering bedtimes has two big benefits. First, it protects each kiddo’s individual bedtime routine as a special time of cuddles and love. This is great way to prevent frustrations between your older child and the baby.
If you stagger bedtime, you can also allow one child to fall asleep without being disrupted by the other. This may take some coordinating throughout the day to keep your wake windows appropriate for each little one. Check out Nap Schedules: 5 Months to 25 Months for more help with age-appropriate schedules and daytime sleep.
Some children are wonderful at coming up with every excuse to delay bedtime! When you’re in a room with a sleeping baby, these delays can go from little annoyances to big disruptions, so a little forethought and planning will go a long way. Get a drink before you take her to bed. Have her try to go potty one last time. Then before you enter the bedroom, explain that if the baby wakes up while you’re saying goodnight, mom will need to leave right away. That special tucking in, quiet song, or routine in the room depend on whispering and not waking the baby.
You may have some hiccups along the way, so make sure you have a backup plan. Even if you never need to use your backup plan, just having that option will ease your anxiety. A Pack’n Play for baby in the kitchen, office, or even a well-ventilated bathroom works as an emergency fall back if the night doesn’t go well.
Daytime sleep is usually more easily interrupted and disturbed than nighttime sleep. Setting up separate napping spaces can be so helpful. Moving your baby to a Pack’n Play in your room for naptime can usually work well. I recommend moving your baby instead of the toddler or older sibling.
If you are struggling with short naps, you can learn more about how to help.
Practice makes perfect… or at least makes everything easier and easier. Give this transition some time. It can reasonably take a week or two for everyone to really adjust to this new way of doing things. In the meantime, give yourself and your kiddos some grace! You’ve got this mama!
Watch how Prisilla, Taking Cara Babies sleep consultant and mom of eight, effectively implements this with a few of her children. Yes, all eight kids share three bedrooms. It works well for them, and they are all great little sleepers.