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Room Sharing {9 Tips}

Brayden and Kaitlyn's bunk beds--designed and built by my husband

Room sharing can be quite nerve-wracking! I think any parent who does Babywise, Babywisperer, or follows Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child has a high value on sleep. We believe sleep is super important for the development and growth of our children. Room sharing has potential to disrupt good sleep, and that makes it scary.

Naturally, whenever parents are about to embark on room sharing, they want to know the good tips! What can you do to make this as successful as possible?!? 

Have the Right Kids Share
My first tip is to have the right children share. This is assuming you have some sort of choice. When we first started room sharing at our house (summer of 2012), we had Kaitlyn and McKenna share. This made sense because they were both girls. Here is the problem. McKenna is not a compatible person for sharing. Things started off fine, but long term they did not go so well. At the time, McKenna spent 20-30 minutes at night singing herself to sleep. No problem when you are alone, but a problem when your sister is two feet away from you. She also is a party girl. Slumber party every night!  There were other problems. McKenna needs more sleep than Kaitlyn, but naturally she would wake in the morning when Kaitlyn woke up, which led to grumpy McKenna. 

With Kaitlyn starting school soon, I didn't want her tired every morning. One morning, she said to me, "Mommy, I am so tired! I just want to sleep but McKennna won't let me." McKenna obviously was not ready to share a room with someone. We moved Kaitlyn in with Brayden. It has been a non-issue since! 

If you have a choice in the matter, make these considerations--these are in order of importance for me:
  • I would recommend you choose two children who are on similar schedules. Brayden and Kaitlyn are both in elementary school, so they both need to be up at the same time. McKenna can sleep in some in the mornings (and does--she sleeps 1-1.5 hours later than they do). Bedtime is not critical because you can stagger bedtime, but morning wake-up time is harder to have different. Now, if you have no choice, you can align morning wake up times to match and just make bedtime earlier for one child if she needs more sleep.
  • Choose your two best listeners. Which two children are better at obeying? This makes all the difference in room sharing. Brayden and Kaitlyn are great at following the rules, so they make easy room sharers. 
  • Choose children who won't play with each other as much. Many people will do the oldest and third share a room or second and fourth. Children who are right by each other in birth order are often good playmates. This can make for "party time" instead of sleep time. Obviously my oldest two do just fine sharing. That is why I list it below the "best listeners" part.
  • Consider gender. This is last on my list, though initially I had it first. Now, at some point--at some age--gender will move up the list of importance. Right now, it is low for us. Even when children get old enough to want to be modest when changing clothes, clothes can be changed in the closet or in the bathroom. 
Prepare them Mentally
I have found such great power in preparing children before changes occur. When I want them to be out of diapers, we make a date on the calendar and count down to it. When I want them to share a room, I let them know ahead of time so they can think about it and we can talk about it. Talk about what that will mean, what rules will be, and what expectations will be. Some children will need that time to prepare themselves for change.

Prepare the Room
As we approached sharing a room, I prepared it to be a shared room. I changed photos to reflect both people. I changed decorations that had one child's name to be for both. I moved clothes and toys around. Seeing these things helped get everyone excited.

Create an Optimal Sleep Environment
A good sleep environment is important no matter if you share or not. A tricky thing with sharing is creating the optimal environment for two different people. And anyone who is married knows that well right! When my girls shared, I had one who liked her room warm and one who liked it cold. I had one who was fine with sun in the morning and one who needed black-out curtains. So figure out how to work the environment for both people. One might need some extra blankets on the bed, and one might need fewer blankets.

Have some white noise! White noise is so great for sharing. Then you don't hear every little noise the other person in the room makes. We use the Graco Sweet Slumber Sound Machine. We like it enough that we own three (one for each bedroom).

Another consideration is what type of bed set-up to do. I highly recommend bunk beds. So highly. When the girls shared, they were on a bed with a trundle. So each morning we were taking everything but sheets off of one bed and stacking them on the other bed and putting the trundle away. I didn't love that. Or like it. Plus I think it made it easy for McKenna to party.

With Brayden and Kaitlyn, we did bunk beds. Yes! That is the way to go. Bunk beds make it harder to see and hear each other. There are down sides--obviously if you have a young one on top, that can be concerning for falling. It can also be annoying if you have a potty-training child on a top bunk and there is an accident. So bunk beds aren't necessarily a perfect situation, but for us, it has been ideal. 

Establish Rules
Have a short list of rules that cover what is expected at bed time. Here are some rules we have:
  1. Never wake a sleeping sibling (morning or night)
  2. Stay in bed (until the designated time)
  3. Use your whisper voice
And we later had to make rules like "no stealing Kaitlyn's blanket." 

Establish Consequences
Along with your rules, you need Consequences. For us, if McKenna didn't obey the rules, she had to sleep in a different room that night. This was devastating to her. And eventually we just moved Kaitlyn out all together. Think of a consequence for your children that will be meaningful to them.

Lights Out
Many people have a "no talking after lights out" type of rule. Some find it works well to have the children go to bed 10-30 minutes before they want the child actually going to sleep. During this time, the children can read and talk quietly, Then they turn lights out and no more talking. Part of the fun of sharing a room is some bonding time through conversation and this is a great way to get the best of both worlds.

Make the Change When Sleep Can Be Lost
Don't make the change in the middle of a school week or work week. Don't make the change right before your family vacation when you want everyone to start out well-rested. We made the change in the summer. You could do a weekend if you were sure things would be relatively smooth. You need to be able to handle the potential issues that arise only focusing on those issues, not stressing out about having to get up for work the next morning or worrying about how this will affect her obedience at great-aunt Martha's house next week.

Stagger Bedtimes
If you find bedtime to be an issue, try staggering bedtimes. Put the child down first who falls asleep the fastest. Then put the other child down. Just be sure the one down first is not a super light sleeper. Brinley is a super light sleeper--just opening her door wakes her up instantly. So when we are vacationing, we can't put her down first. We put McKenna down first since she is a very heavy sleeper. You can yell her name and get not even a stir from her. 

Your Tips!
Do you have tips? And for reader tips given in the past, see this post.


Michael and Yvonne said...

that is interesting that Brayden and Kaitlyn have white noise. My oldest slept in our room when we painted her room and I am a very light sleeper (not DH) but she is an active sleeper and apparently dreaming a lot as she is always twitching and moving and it was driving me bonkers1:) I didn't realize at that age they slept like this still! So are you planning on keeping the white noise indefinitely? I keep toying with the idea if i should start to wean them off as they get older but so far it's been beneficial. so if someone has an issue (sickness,etc) no one is disturbed. But DH thinks they maybe will get so used to it it it might not be good...i can see that but i don't know. i like total silence to sleep so i'm opposite! they want their machines as they are used to it. but i think you could train yourself any which way if needed. Anyways that was interesting as i didn't realize your olders had it. i know some adults sleep with it too. Anyways good post if we ever need to roomshare:)

Renee Cook said...

Thanks for writing.
Just out of curiosity - what would you suggest with a 2 year old and an infant in a 2 bedroom apartment...???
It's a potential as we begin to think about a second baby...

Tyler and Shea Moses said...

If separating at nap time can happen (putting one child in your bed for the daytime nap) I say go for it! My 2 oldest daughters have been sharing a room for 13 months now, they were 18 months and 3.5 years at the time. At night time we put them to bed together 30 minutes earlier than ususal so they could "get the giggles out" and still fall asleep at a decent hour - because they would. Nap time was a different story. The entire nap would be a giggle fest and maybe 30 minutes of a nap would happen for both of them. When I separated for nap, they both went back to falling asleep quickly and having good solid naps. We still do that to this day and they are now 2.5 years and 4.5 years. My youngest, who is almost 14 months old is a SUPER light sleeper like Brinley and just cracking the door wakes her up immediately - so room sharing for her seems like a not so likely idea for the future :)

MeganRuth said...

Very helpful! I am bookmarking this one. Thanks!

Kristy Powers said...

We were lucky to have two boys who valued sharing a room, so they did really well from the get-go. But we do put them in bed (usually) 10-30 minutes before we *really* want it to be bedtime. We tried staggered bedtimes because it would have been more optimal, but our younger son doesn't like that. He says, "I want my brother! I need my brother!" We allow our older son to have a small light in the top bunk so they both go into bed at the same time but he gets more reading-in-bed time.

Kristy Powers said...

Awesome that their dad can design and make their bunk beds!

Valerie Plowman said...

Yvonne I think people have a natural disposition to be light sleepers or not. Yes, you can cause dependency on things, but I don't think white noise/lack of white noise will impact how deep of a sleeper you are or are not.

I don't have a plan for as long to have white noise. When we are somewhere without it, the sleep just fine. So long as they want it, I will do it. I figure I would rather they sleep better with white noise than not as good without it.

Valerie Plowman said...

Renee lots of people do it :) You can definitely make it work.

Valerie Plowman said...

Thanks Kristy and Shea for your added input and ideas!

Michelle said...

Thanks for these tips. We're expecting #3 in 5 weeks and have started moving our 2 and 4 year old together. I've incorporated lots of these tips, where practical, but this is tough. I'm hoping a consistent strategy and patience will pay off and that the novelty of having sleepovers will wear off and things will just miraculously work in a few days or weeks.

Valerie Plowman said...

Michelle congrats on your baby! Things do get better, but I think it can take a long time before they return to their natural sleep habits. My girls moved in together 10 months ago. It probably took 8-9 months before they were back to their sleeping selves. Things were good faster than that, but it has only need recently that they actually will sleep in.

Amy said...

Thanks for this article! We are having our fourth and are out of room. Our 5 year old & 3 year old share a room now. The one year old has his own room. I am not sure if I should move him in with the older 2 or keep him in our room. We have always followed Babywise and had GREAT newborn sleepers as a result. I don't want to rock the boat by keeping the baby in our room.