In my last blog, I extolled the virtues of having kids share a room. But making that transition can be a struggle at times. Based on lots of input from friends who had been through the process and advice from our pediatrician, here’s what we found worked. All kids are different, though, and it may take some experimenting and several rough nights before your family figures it out.
When to bunk in: When you bring your second baby home as a newborn, he can sleep anywhere – in his carseat, in a bassinet, in a pack-n-play, in a crib, in your arms. You can put him in the corner of a bright room or in a noisy restaurant and he’ll likely sleep if he’s ready. He’s a pretty accommodating sleeper for several months. But he wakes up every two to three hours around the clock. We found that waiting until the little one is at least three to four months and sleeping a long stretch at night is the best time to start. Developmentally, this is the time when babies need to be sleeping in a dark room with no motion during nap time and at night. Babies this age will still wake typically one to two times per night for a feed, so be prepared for that. If you prefer, you can wait until you are no longer doing night feeds to introduce the baby into his sibling’s room.
Handling bedtime: Handling bedtime with kids two different ages can be tricky. It’s likely that the kids have different bedtimes, and if you are the sole parent home at bedtime, it can feel like juggling! If you are dealing with a 3-4 month old and an older sibling, you can put the baby in a bouncy seat, swing, or a carrier/sling and try to focus on the older child’s bedtime routine first. Once you get the older one down, you can turn back to the baby for that evening feed and his bedtime routine. You will have to find another dark, quiet place in which to get the baby ready for bed since you won’t want to be messing about in the kids’ room. I used to keep a caddy of diapers and changing gear, as well as pajamas, in my room so I wouldn’t need anything from the kids room to get the baby ready. As soon as the baby is ready for bed and very drowsy, tiptoe in and place him in his crib or bassinet or pack-n-play and quietly leave the room.
When the baby is older and is going to bed earlier that his older sibling, it gets little easier. At the baby’s bedtime, find a quiet activity in another room for your older one – it can be anything independent, just no screens if it’s within one hour of her bedtime. A doctor friend of mine, and fabulous mother of three, told me that she used books on tape to keep her older ones occupied while she put the little one to bed. Once you get the baby settled down, spend time with the older child helping with her bedtime routine and do all your bedtime stories in another room. Then when it’s time, she can tiptoe quietly into her bed.
Once you find what works for your family, make it your official routine and be consistent!
Kids chatting at bedtime: We all know that kids don’t always go to bed as easily as we’d like. When they are sharing a room, it can make things more difficult. My rule of thumb is to leave the kids alone to sort things out – often one child will quiet the other down – and if the ruckus escalates or they aren’t quiet in ten minutes, I will go in to intervene. If only one child is the problem, calmly and quietly escort that one out of the room and deal with the issue in another location. If troublesome behavior persists around bedtime, you may want to use a reward system to reinforce good behavior.
Crying during the night: I think the biggest concern that parents have about room sharing is, “Won’t they wake each other up if they cry during the night?” This is of particular concern with a baby who is feeding during the night. The answer is usually, “No.” Studies show that young children spend more time in deep sleep than adults do, which may explain why kids can often sleep through anything once they are really asleep. But of course, there are times when one crying child wakes his roommate. If two parents are available, you can each take a child and try to calm them down and address their needs. I recommend taking the original cryer out of the room. If there is only one parent, it can be tricky. I think it’s easiest to get the child who was awoken settled down first, then take the original cryer out of the room and tend to his needs until he calms back down and you can put him back in his bed or crib.