It took us until Harvey was over a year old, but we have finally gotten our kids to successfully share a room! It’s funny because when we started this process last spring, we had a baby and a toddler that we were trying to transition into room sharing. We finally succeeded after our kids had grown into a toddler and a preschooler! Granted, it wasn’t a nonstop year-long process to get them to that point, and we took some breaks along the way. And, to be really frank, it still feels like a work in progress from time to time. From home layout issues, to boundary-pushing, to disturbances in the night, we’ve conquered so many challenges that it feels great to have all the pieces finally fall in place.
So, let’s go over the whole story, with all of its ups and downs. We learned some key lessons along the way that we wanted to share with you so that maybe your room-sharing transition will go a little more smoothly (and a lot faster) than ours. The bottom line is that you have to go all in. Be aware that there will be some rough nights, and not just at the beginning, and that one or both of your children will cry and scream. You’ll just have to tough it out. If you have a baby that you’re trying to transition into an older sibling’s bedroom, there is a very high likelihood for screaming along the way. Discuss the process with your older child and practice what to do if it happens. And, eventually, they will get used to each other and even learn to sleep through each other’s interruptions. But the only way they can adjust to anything is to experience it. Sleep will win in the end because, at some point, they’ll just be too darn tired to fight it. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Keep scrolling and I’ll start our little sleeping adventure from the very beginning.
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Laying the Groundwork
When Maria was pregnant with Harvey, we knew he wouldn’t be ready to move into the nursery with Dessa right away. Babies wake up a lot at night and it would not have been fair to subject Dessa to all the extra noise associated with an infant. There isn’t a spare inch of floor space in our 10′ x 10′ bedroom (it’s literally our bed and two small nightstands) and there isn’t even a quiet corner that we could tuck a bassinet outside of our bedroom door. Given the layout of our house, the living room was the most logical place for Harvey to sleep during the first few months of his life while we waited for him to start sleeping through the night.
Maria and I were big fans of The Happiest Baby on the Block (it was basically our baby sleep bible as parents of a newborn), and we were intrigued as soon as we heard about the SNOO bassinet, which was designed by the Happiest Baby company. Once we decided to put a bassinet in the living room, we rented a SNOO directly from Happiest Baby (they are quite expensive, but a bit more affordable to rent, especially if you only plan to use the SNOO for one child). In case you were wondering why we would spend so much on a bassinet, it’s because the SNOO was developed to provide a safe rocking motion and white noise to promote better sleep for the baby. The white noise is continuous while baby is asleep, but the SNOO has a built-in sensor that detects when a sleeping baby begins to stir. At that point, it triggers the rocking motion to gently lull the baby back to sleep – with no assistance from Mom or Dad. As you might guess, the SNOO didn’t always lull Harvey back to sleep, but it probably cut down the night-time wake-ups by half (which made it well worth the money in my book). Beyond the motion and white noise, it didn’t hurt at all that the SNOO blended so seamlessly into our living room decor.
The living room was the best space we could offer to Harvey while he slept at night, but it was far from ideal. The temperature varies a lot throughout the night for a baby (although it never gets too hot or too cold) and the living room was off-limits for anyone else in the family to use while Harvey slept. Harvey started sleeping through the night when he was two months old, but that was around the time that Dessa began to struggle with consistent nighttime sleep. It took weeks to get her on track and finally, after five long months of Harvey residing in the living room, we knew it was time to say goodbye to the SNOO and get ready for the big transition.
Lesson #1: Give Your Children Lots of Time to Adjust to the Idea and Experience of a Shared Bedroom
Harvey may have spent his nights sleeping in the living room for his first few months, but we prepared him for the eventual transition into the crib right from the get-go. Even though Harvey primarily slept in the SNOO, we would try to lay him in the crib for naps a few times each week so he could get acclimated with the bedroom and the sleeping space. He didn’t nap in the crib every single day, but he spent a few hours in the crib each week, and we gradually built up from there.
Dessa, meanwhile, needed plenty of time to adjust to the idea of Harvey eventually moving into her bedroom. She transitioned into her “big girl bed” (similar here) a few months before Harvey was born. During the pregnancy, we talked a lot with Dessa about how the baby in Maria’s tummy would sleep in the crib one day and how (eventually) the baby would share a room with Dessa. Each time Harvey napped in the crib, we continued the room-sharing conversation hoping to pave the way for a smooth transition. A few times, shockingly, Maria even got Dessa and Harvey to take a nap at the exact same time in the shared room. It was hard to pull that off, though. Every time Dessa knew that Harvey was going to nap with her, she would get really excited, and the excitement ruined a few naps along the way. But it was great practice for them as they prepared for Harvey to finally join Dessa in the bedroom.
Lesson #2: Devise a Plan, but Be Flexible and Willing to Change It
We had a number of ups and downs as we transitioned our baby and toddler into room sharing. Some issues were minor bumps in the road—others required us to separate the kids for days (or weeks) so we could reset and try again when the timing was right.
As I mentioned earlier, we transitioned the kids into a shared bedroom when Harvey was about 5 months old. The truth is that Harvey had been sleeping through the night for a few months at that point. But Dessa had been waking up at night throughout the winter, and we wanted to get her on track before we brought Harvey into the room. The stars eventually aligned and both kids finally seemed ready to share a bedroom.
We staggered the kids’ bedtimes so that Harvey could settle and fall asleep in his crib before we brought Dessa into the nursery to tuck her in. Here’s how the routine looked:
- One of us would read stories to Harvey in the rocker in the nursery and put him in the crib to fall asleep.
- Once Harvey was laying down, we would begin Dessa’s nighttime routine of toothbrushing, stories, prayers, and bedtime songs.
- 30 or minutes later, one of us would help Dessa sneak into the nursery and get tucked into bed.
The hope was that we could sneak into the nursery quietly without disturbing Harvey. We knew it probably wouldn’t go well at first (spoiler: it didn’t), but Harvey gradually improved over the next week or so to where he wouldn’t even budge when we came sneaking in. More on how that worked later.
Getting both kids settled into bed for the night wasn’t our only obstacle to plan for and overcome. Ever since we potty-trained Dessa, we’ve been in the routine of waking her up once at night to go potty. We have a little toilet right next to her bed, along with a book light so she can see what she’s doing. Since we were trying to minimize disturbances for Harvey, we tried to be extra quiet during the nightly potty wake-ups. Maria even put black Washi tape around the book light to make it dimmer, hoping it would bother him less. It sort of worked. For those first few nights, Harvey woke up crying as I helped Dessa go to the bathroom. But just like his bedtime, Harvey quickly settled and learned to ignore the minor nighttime disturbance.
This all went very well for about, oh, a month. And then Dessa realized the power she held in her hands and she began to wield it for her own agenda (AKA, delaying as much as possible so she could stay up late).
What exactly did she realize? That Maria and I were desperate to keep Harvey asleep. Like any self-respecting child determined to push boundaries, Dessa was crafty and strategically used this fact to her advantage. She began to procrastinate just as we would open the nursery door for her silent entry, and if we tried to move things along, she would whine and cry—a few feet from where Harvey was sleeping. As soon as she started whining, we would grab Dessa and pull her far from the bedroom to calm her down so she wouldn’t wake Harvey up. Once she made the connection that her making noises meant she didn’t have to go to bed, she had all the power.
Lesson #3: Be Prepared and Willing to Let Your Children Cry and Scream
In retrospect, we now know that avoiding noises and disturbances at all costs was the absolute worst way to handle the situation with Dessa. We should have just plowed through and let her whine. Yeah, Harvey would have woken up and cried, but they needed to get used to each other’s noises. They eventually would have gotten used to it and fallen back asleep.
I mean, we had actually done this before and forgotten the lesson. The first night we started the room sharing, Harvey woke up as Dessa was sneaking into her bed and cried for about 15 minutes after we tucked her in. We had warned Dessa that Harvey might wake up and cry, but that she just needed to ignore him and try to sleep. She did great. It honestly surprised and impressed both Maria and me. We stared at the monitor in their room and willed Harvey to calm down quickly so both kids could get some rest. Harvey’s crying stints calmed down considerably over a few days’ time. Within a week, he barely whined and after another week, he stirred briefly and proceeded to ignore us. I’m no expert, but it sure seems like little kids have a built-in ability to ignore the crying and screaming of their siblings.
But clearly, we’d forgotten that it had worked out before. Dessa needed to know that her bedtime was nonnegotiable. I cannot emphasize the importance of this lesson enough. Your children will naturally take turns screaming and crying at some point and they need to learn how to cope with each other’s loud nighttime noises. It’s not the kind of thing you can just hope goes well, because at first it probably won’t go well. It’s one of those painful lessons that everyone in the house has to learn, although I’m pretty sure it tortures the parents far more than it bothers the kids.
But back to the story.
Dessa had us over a barrel because she knew she could get away with anything as long as the threat of waking up Harvey bothered us. Things continued to escalate until Maria finally reached her breaking point. It was June 10th. I had a client whose school board meeting went really late, so Maria was all alone with the kids at bedtime (it was a Zoom meeting because, you know, pandemic). Dessa decided that since mom was solo, she was really going to push the boundaries and stay up REALLY late. She absolutely refused to quietly lie down for Maria and would not settle. This went on for two hours. Eventually, when I finished my meeting and it was two parents vs. an exhausted toddler, Dessa caved and we finally got her into that bed at 10 pm. But Maria and I had had enough.
Lesson #4: It’s OK to Stop Sharing if Things Don’t Go Well
The next night, we temporarily moved Harvey into the Pack N Play, but this time we put him in the playroom on our second floor so he would be far away from the screaming fit that we knew was coming our way. And for Dessa, we went back to our sleep training playbook, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Ferber. We pulled out the baby gate we had used to keep Dessa in her bedroom when we successfully sleep trained her in the past and restarted what Dr. Ferber calls the progressive waiting approach to sleep training: you let your kid cry for a bit before you go reassure them that you are there and that you love them. But you only do that for a minute or two before you leave and let them try to go to sleep on their own. If they keep crying, you wait for a longer interval before you go back to reassure them again. You basically just keep repeating the cycle of waiting and reassuring, for longer intervals of time. Trust us, it WORKS.
We coupled the progressive waiting approach with a sticker chart and a daily reward system for making good choices at nighttime. If Dessa made it through the night without issues, she earned a piece of fruit as a treat with her breakfast and a sticker for her chart. Once the sticker chart was full, she got a simple reward: like getting to watch a new movie. The first nights of sleep training were bumpy (as we expected) and she screamed at the gate for a few nights, but it didn’t take long for her to settle into her bed for the night and peace to resume once again.
After our first attempt at the kids sharing a bedroom failed so spectacularly, we weren’t exactly in a hurry to try again. Harvey was sleeping great upstairs in the Pack N Play and even though Dessa got into her bed without a lot of fuss or difficulty, she continued to have persistent difficulties staying settled through the night that lasted several weeks. After two months of separation and several completed sticker charts, Dessa was finally back on track with good nighttime choices and very few nighttime disturbances. On Labor Day weekend, out of the blue, Dessa suddenly begged for Harvey to come back into the nursery. Maria and I looked at each other and thought, what the heck? So we gave it a shot. And it went pretty well … until it didn’t.
Lesson #4 Redux: It’s OK to Stop Sharing if Things Don’t Go Well
This time, Dessa wasn’t the problem; Harvey was. His morning wake time just kept on creeping earlier and earlier. The next thing we knew, he was waking up every day at like 5:15 AM and NO ONE was getting enough sleep. Dessa was still going to bed around 8 PM and ended up only getting about 9 hours of sleep a night (and she is not a good napper, so that was not nearly enough rest for our little girl). Everyone was cranky, Dessa was making a ton of bad choices because she was so overtired, we were all miserable. I know I already discussed Lesson #4, but I’m going to repeat it because it’s a really important one—especially for children that are very young and unpredictable. Taking a break from room sharing to separate the kids and give everyone a chance to reset is not the end of the world. Sometimes, it’s just necessary.
Lesson #5: If you Have to Separate, Make sure the Kids are as Comfortable as Possible with the Temporary Sleeping Conditions
So, within two weeks of moving back into the nursery, we knew things weren’t working. Harvey moved out and went back upstairs. By now, it was early fall and the evening air was getting pretty cold. The playroom temperature also drops considerably at night, and we wanted to make sure Harvey was warm enough to comfortably sleep through the night. So, this time we put the Pack N Play in our walk-in closet upstairs. The enclosed closet is small enough that the vent in there keeps it at a decent temperature. It also helped that we have a Nest thermostat and we bought a remote sensor that we placed in the closet to ensure a comfortable temperature through the night. Each time our Nest thermostat sensed a temperature drop in the closet, the heat kicked on to regulate the temperature in Harvey’s sleeping space.
Moving Harvey back upstairs was the ticket to solving our problems. Everybody started sleeping longer and better and both children’s wake-up times shifted to a more reasonable 6:30 AM to 7:00 AM, sometimes even later.
Harvey stayed upstairs again until just after Halloween. This time, Maria and I made the call to move Harvey back into the nursery with Dessa. By this point, Harvey was consistently sleeping better, Dessa was still sleeping soundly, and we were eager to get everyone sleeping on the same floor again. Maria and I designated Harvey’s return as the reward for Dessa’s most recent sticker chart. Dessa must have really wanted him to come back because she worked HARD to fill that sticker chart up quickly.
Lesson #6: Make Sure Both Children are Getting Enough Sleep at Night
When we moved Harvey back into the nursery, we initially resumed our staggered bedtime routine for the kids, just like we had done before. This worked, but it lead to an entirely different problem: a sleep shortage for Dessa. You see, we would lay Harvey in the crib to sleep around 7:30 each night, but it took him a while to fall asleep. The longer he took to fall asleep, the later Dessa would go to bed and the less sleep she got each night. Regardless of Dessa’s bedtime, a very excited Harvey would always wake her up at 5:30 AM. He would stir in his crib, see his beloved big sister, and be filled with pure joy. Rather than drifting back to sleep (as he had when he was sleeping by himself in the closet), he would stand and excitedly call out “Dedda” (his way of saying “Dessa”) until she woke up.
Maria and I tried sneaking in to take Harvey out of the room, but Dessa always popped up as soon as she saw one of us and wanted to be up for the day. The early wake up was annoying, but not a huge issue for Harvey since he takes two naps a day and can catch up easily. Dessa, however, has always had a difficult time napping, so maximizing her sleep is a priority for us. The way we had been doing things simply wasn’t working, which brings us to Lesson #7.
Lesson #7: Adjust the Routine if Something Isn’t Working
Dessa’s need for extra time to sleep at night made us look at our routine and problem-solve how we could change things to maximize the sleep time for both children. Harvey was well-rested and our daily schedule was working so well for him that it seemed risky to change his sleep times. Since Dessa was the one struggling, we switched from a staggered bedtime schedule and put both kids to bed at the same time.
Even though we were adjusting Dessa’s bedtime, we wanted to keep as many elements of our previous bedtime routine as possible. Harvey and Dessa were already in the habit of changing into pajamas at the same time, and things had evolved to the point of them brushing teeth together as well, which was nice because those were two steps in the routine that we could maintain through the transition. In the end, the most significant difference to the change in routine was timing. Our new schedule looked like this:
- One of us took Harvey into the nursery for his stories, while the other parent read prayers and stories to Dessa in the living room
- Once Dessa finished with her prayers and stories, she joined Harvey in the nursery for bedtime songs and they both got into bed at the same time.
Dessa generally settles pretty quickly. Harvey is often quite excited at first, especially back when we first started this, and would yell a bunch of baby babble. But even he settles quickly once we leave the room. Now it’s gotten to where he wants Maria and I to leave the room. He honestly gets kind of annoyed if we linger, which is every parent’s dream for how bedtime should go.
Lesson #8: Continue to Find Solutions to Problems as they Arise
For the past few months, our family had been enjoying a fairly peaceful and uneventful bedtime routine. The kids are in bed and settled at 7:00 pm every night. We still use the baby gate to keep Dessa in the room. At this point, its become more of a security blanket, but she’s had enough regressions that I’d rather have it there still in case she comes out of her room at night again. As our smooth bedtime routine solidified and became the norm, Dessa gradually lost interest in the sticker chart for nighttime sleeping.
Dessa loves having Harvey in the room to keep her company through the night and I’m pretty sure Harvey feels the same way. It’s funny how much Maria and I worried about one child waking and upsetting the other during the night because both kids are fantastic at ignoring each other. Dessa has woken up screaming in the middle of the night many times and Harvey, like a champ, always sleeps through the chaos of Maria and/or I helping Dessa. On a few occasions, Harvey has been the one to wake up crying during the night and Dessa kept right on sleeping through his crying as well.
It took a lot of trial and error to help our children successfully transition into a shared bedroom, and we really fell into a great little routine. But the thing about kids is that there will always be some kind of new issue to throw you for a loop. Our kids sleep through all kinds of nonsense for most of the night, but something shifts around 5 AM, when they are sleeping more lightly and if one child wakes and causes enough of a ruckus, it’s guaranteed to disturb the other child in a very big way. Lately, Harvey’s teething has kicked into overdrive and he’s got some molars coming out. The poor kid hasn’t been sleeping very well and often gets up at 5:30 AM right now. And once we sneak into the nursery to get him, Dessa pops up and wants to be up for the day.
To convince Dessa to stay in bed, we got her a kiddy sleep training clock that tells her when she’s allowed to get out of bed. It’s a star that glows a soft red all night long. It stays red until whatever time you set as an ok time to wake up (we chose 6:30 AM) when it turns green. So you can easily teach your toddler that she has to stay in bed until the light turns green, even if she wakes up when it is still red. We tried using the little clock with Dessa last winter and it didn’t work for us. Maria pulled the star clock back out in desperation a few weeks ago and it has been working like a charm. The clock has allowed us to sneak in for Harvey and keep Dessa in bed for a little while longer. Sometimes we are even lucky enough to have Dessa fall back asleep while she waits for the star to turn green.
If you happen to be in the market for a sleep training clock, it’s worth noting that we don’t especially love our star clock. Maria bought it because it was the cheapest style of clock that we could find on Amazon, but the clock face glows way too brightly during the night and illuminates their entire bedroom. When we used the clock last year we put two of Harvey’s thick cloth diapers on the clock to dim the light. This time around, Maria set the timer on the clock and Dessa helped her cover the face with electronic light-blocking stickers. We have our eyes on the Hatch Rest Sound Machine – which does the same thing without the ultra-bright clock face and has the added features of a sound machine and the ability to pair with a mobile phone app so you can adjust the brightness, volume, light colors, and settings remotely through the app.
A Baby and Toddler Can Successfully Share a Bedroom
When two kids are room sharing, things will get a little tricky from time to time – especially when they’re babies and toddlers (or more recently for us, toddlers and preschoolers.) But successfully transitioning two young children into a shared sibling bedroom isn’t impossible. It often just involves a plan, a little creativity, flexible consistency, and a willingness to let the siblings experience and adjust to all of their noises and disruptions in the night. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs in helping our kids adjust to sharing a room and I’m sure more challenges await next time Harvey’s teeth give him a run for his money or Dessa urgently needs to use the bathroom at 5:30 AM. Most nights our kids are calmly tucked into bed around 7 PM, and Maria and I get to enjoy a few quiet hours at the end of the day. Both children enjoy the reassurance of having someone they love nearby. And, most importantly, we all get a relatively full night of sleep.