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Room-Sharing Woes

Apr08

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Dear Amy,

I know from reading pretty much everything you write that your boys sleep in the same room. How did you do it? I have a 4.5 year old, a newly 2 year old and a baby on the way. Until 2 weeks ago, the 4 year old slept in his own room on the top bunk and the 2 year old slept on a toddler bed in the nursery.

The 4 year old always has been a terrible sleeper and takes a while to fall asleep. Usually he’ll read books in his bed somewhat quietly. The 2 year old is an OK sleeper. He will usually fall asleep within 5 minutes of laying down.

The problem is that 2 weeks ago we put them in the same room, the 4 year old on the top bunk and the 2 year old on the bottom. We bribe … err I mean incentivize them, by promising a special treat if they stay in their beds and not talk. We threaten them that if they get out of bed or talk then they have to sleep in another room. Usually if they get too loud I’ll go up and tell them that they lost their treat, if I have to go up again then they go to their separate rooms. When I leave the room we all say 1, 2, 3, Shhhh and they aren’t suppose to talk after that.

It’s just not working. Most nights (like at least 75%) they end up in separate rooms which brings on tantrums. I’d like to say I’m a nice and patient mom … and up until around 7 pm, I am … but when bedtime rolls around I want to do nothing more than grab a snack and turn off my brain. I don’t have the patience to put up with their tantrums and they can sense it and then everything just escalates and the fussing lasts for hours and includes banging their feet on the walls or floor and and and Grrrr.

How did you get them to sleep in the same room? What is your normal bedtime routine? Do they go to bed at different times? How long did it take to get to a good routine. Help!

Excellent question. We moved our older boys into the same room when they were five and two years old, so not that far off from yours. And like yours, my five year old liked to take his sweet time before actually settling down to sleep. Lots of books and singing and full-body rocking. (And at the time, it hadn’t yet dawned on us to NOT let him take additional toys to bed so he’d be up for hours quietly acting out epic storylines with action figures and Legos. Now he’s only allowed to take toys to bed on weekends, since I always hope that if he stays up late he’ll sleep in past 7 a.m. Alas and alack, it rarely works.)

Also like yours, my two year old was better about getting in bed and going to sleep within a more reasonable time frame. I was concerned about Noah’s extended pre-sleep routine disturbing Ezra when we moved them into the same room, but he’s always managed to tune his brother out most nights.

Note that I said MOST nights. Sometimes, yeah, they are both too amped up and stay up for awhile talking and reading and hurling stuffed animals around. Repeated trips out for water and potty. Creeping attempts to get down the stairs without us noticing and ordering them back to bed. BUT MOMMY I JUST WANTED ANOTHER HUG AND KISS. AND A LENGTHY DISCUSSION ABOUT THE LATEST EPISODE OF NINJAGO.

Here’s what I do about it: Nothing.

No bribes, no incentives, no getting up off the couch to go remind/nag/scold/yell. Just a gentle nudge back to bed if they come out of the room. Because once that bedroom door closes, I have done my job for the night. I can get them washed and brushed and jammied and read to. I cannot make them sleep. I cannot forbid them from talking to each other. I cannot be an all-seeing eye ready to swoop in the second someone’s feet touch the floor.

I mean, I guess I COULD, if I installed a baby monitor and felt like making a half-dozen trips up to their room to yell at them, but I don’t WANT to do that. Especially since, as you’ve seen, it doesn’t really help all that much. Or at all. It just makes you crazy and snappish, which is no way to end a long day of otherwise good-enough decent-ish parenting. Not to mention that you’re falling for the oldest trick in the book: I don’t want to go to bed, I want Mommy to come give me attention. I will accept any and all attention from her, even if it is of the negative variety. Even if it comes at the price of a special treat. (A treat that I assume they get the next day? So possibly too far in the future for a 2yo and a 4yo to really grasp the whole cause/effect aspect of? Especially since even while they’re tantrumming their heads off about the lost treat, Mommy still comes and gives them attention. PRESCHOOLER LOGIC WIN.)

So I guess my advice would be to stop…well, CARING so much about what goes on after you close the bedroom door. Obviously there are safety rules that you must enforce — the 2yo cannot go on the top bunk; the 4yo cannot be jumping off the top bunk; no beatings or wrestling on either bed, etc. But beyond that, try to give less of a crap about the talking and the playing. Is anyone getting hurt? No? Meh. If they get out of bed to grab another book or stuffed animal? Also meh. If one of them wants to “read” a story to the other or talk about their day? That’s actually pretty adorable, if you think about it.

It’s really not that different from babyhood: You still can’t MAKE them sleep. Think of it as another division of responsibility thing. It is your responsibility to create and stick to a bedtime routine. It is your responsibility to get them into bed at a reasonable time. It is your responsibility to give them a safe space to sleep. The rest is up to them. When they are tired, they will sleep.

You’re only two weeks into the new digs, so of course right now it’s EXCITING. And DISTRACTING. And it’s probably not helping that they sense the staying up and talking is a THING that is FORBIDDEN, but…they are two and four. That’s a really, really hard rule to follow, because kids that age just want to talk all the time! About all the things! Every thought that pops into their heads must be expressed the moment it occurs to them!

Hell, imagine being told that you and your partner aren’t allowed to talk to each other in your bedroom after the lights go out. Or you’re forbidden from staying up and reading for awhile, or will get yelled at the minute you decide to use the bathroom one last time, or will lose privileges if you have an attack of mild insomnia and need to toss and turn or pace your room for a bit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t expect a reasonable amount of say-so in your small children’s bedtime behavior, but I think this is one of those times to loosen the reins and lower expectations a bit.

You obviously want them to get enough sleep so they can function the next day. You also obviously don’t want to be losing your temper at them every night. But I think the “no talking” expectation is a bit too much, and by constantly trying to enforce that, the room-sharing experience is just becoming miserable for everybody and your frequent trips to remind/scold/threaten are basically sabotaging both of your ultimate goals: Everything escalates and drags on for longer than it probably would if you just stayed downstairs and let them Thunderdome it out for 20 minutes, and also you get driven up the wall because SLEEP DAMMIT. SLEEEEEEP. Classic preschooler power struggle. Disengage. Disengage! You cannot win this one.

And if they are going to bed at 7 pm, that’s actually pretty early. They might be growing into a naturally later bedtime, like 8 pm. If that’s the case, an hour of chatting and quiet playing isn’t that unreasonable. We start the bedtime routine at 7:30 and aim for lights out at 8, with an ultimate goal of both boys being asleep by 8:30. (We do send each boy upstairs to put pajamas on and brush his teeth separately, because THAT was the point in our routine where things went off the rails and they wouldn’t stop distracting and bugging each other.) Noah wakes up at 7 no matter what; Ezra sleeps until 8 on weekdays and longer on the weekends, so I’m satisfied that they are getting enough hours dedicated to sleep. But I admit I don’t really time it down to the minute or obsessively check to see if someone is still awake at 9. If they seem particularly tired and cranky during the day, we’ll start bedtime at 7. Meh.

Try ignoring them for a few nights. Drop the rules and the treats. Go downstairs and turn up the TV volume and ignore the little voices upstairs. (And the little voice of mommy-control-freak in your head, which I know is probably the hardest thing to ignore.) The first night or two might be worse as they’ll naturally try to test these new limits to the breaking points. (How do we get Mommy to come back and give us attention NOW? Will she come if we kick the walls? If we kick each other?) Think of it as sleep-training, of sorts. As long as no one is getting hurt or breaking a safety rule, stay out of the room. In a couple nights, the novelty of it all should wear off — and the need for a full night of sleep will catch up with them too.

My boys are 7.5 and 4.5 now. They fight like cats and dogs during the day. Just nonstop baiting and bugging and escalating. Drives me up the wall and I’m STILL trying to figure that problem out. But at night, all that stops. They somehow manage to exist in the same small space without fighting. And I like to think that the nights they spend in the privacy of their room together — talking, singing, reading to each other — are laying a foundation for a lifelong bond, or at least giving them a lot of GOOD memories of growing up together, even if they don’t end up that close as adults. Which is another thing we as parents cannot control.

Some nights they both go to sleep within minutes. Some nights one goes to sleep and the other stays up talking to himself for awhile. Some nights…well, I couldn’t even tell you what goes on in there some nights. But I do know that at some point, every night, without fail, they both eventually fall asleep. How they get there is their own business.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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16 Responses to “Room-Sharing Woes”

  1. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Apr 08 at 1:57 pm Reply Reply

    i love Amy’s advice for ignoring the behavior and not giving negative attention to the situation. she’s right my experience with “active ignoring” is that the negative behavior increases and then falls off a cliff. many parents give-in right before the cliff-fall.

    I would add, that if you’re going to practice “active ignoring” then you need to compensate it with praise of corresponding good behavior. In this case, I would seek out to praise the boys if they are following house/car rules and/or seated quietly together even if it’s in a car or at religious services or something, with “wow, you’re really following our house rules.” or, “i like the way you know when to sit together quietly when needed.” Then, of course, when they do go to sleep following your house rules, the next day, praise them with something like “wow, i really like how you were both quiet during bedtime or [fill in the blank].” I would recommend being specific.

    Good luck and tell us how it goes!

  2. Jessica Apr 08 at 3:11 pm Reply Reply

    Amazing timing on this question. I was about to write an email with the same situation. My boys are 2 and 4 (no third baby in the way). When the two year old started climbing out of the crib we moved him to a toddler bed in his brother’s room so we can turn the nursery into a playroom/ guest room. The toddler goes to bed at 7 and plays for 45 minutes to an hour before going to sleep. The four year old gets extra parenting time before bed at 8. Putting them both to bed at the same time was a nightmare. A 2-3 hour long jumping, screaming, swinging from the curtains nightmare. My patience was not cut out for it. I’m hoping to try it again six months when the newness of freedom wears off for the younger one and the newness if room sharing wears off for both.

  3. E's Mommy Apr 08 at 3:25 pm Reply Reply

    Our boys were similar ages and had similar sleeping patterns when we moved them into the same room in bunk beds. Reading to them before bed it part of their bedtime routine. Our 2 year old would pick a picture book which we’d all read together, then they’d both get in bed and we’d read for 10-20 minutes from an easy chapter book (like Magic Treehouse) that the 4 year old picked. By that time the 2 year old would be asleep and the 4 year old would do whatever quietly in his bed until he fell asleep.

    That being said, I think Amy gave awesome advice that probably works better as a long term solution. My boys are 6 and 8 now and the youngest doesn’t fall asleep during reading anymore. There is a lot of talking and messing around before they fall asleep.

  4. alexa Apr 08 at 3:40 pm Reply Reply

    I do pretty much the same thing. My 4 year old and 21 month old have shared a room for about a year now. They go to bed at the same time, and they both eventually go to sleep. They both tend to talk and sing to themselves and occasionally to each other.

    The little one is now in a toddler bed so she generally wanders out a few times before staying put and the oldest one will occasionally have a late night and sneak out of her room a few times. But we just put them back in bed, and eventually they stay put. Usually that only takes a few times occasionally it takes 5 times.

    You’re setting down a new routine, but everyone should get the hang of it soon. I’m with Amy though, once they are in bed, I don’t really care what they’re doing as long as they’re reasonably quiet and eventually go to sleep. It’s pretty dark in there, so they can’t get to crazy.

  5. Jimmy Apr 08 at 3:58 pm Reply Reply

    We’ll be going down this road sooner than later.  The oldest is 2.5 y/o, the youngest is 9 months.  Once the little one is reliably sleeping through the night (she still wakes up 2 or 3 times), then they will share a room.

    My guess is that it will be incredibly frustrating for a while, and then all of the sudden and for no apparent reason, everything will just sort of work out.  Parenting!

    • IrishCream Apr 09 at 7:46 pm Reply Reply

      Jimmy, that’s exactly how old my two girls are. We moved them in together…three months ago? Four? I have been amazed by how soundly my toddler sleeps through baby wake-ups. We’ve even done some CIO with the baby, and big sis was dead to the world. I don’t know if my daughter is an exceptionally sound sleeper, but hopefully it will be as easy for you when you’re ready as it was for us.

  6. Ally Apr 08 at 8:06 pm Reply Reply

    We moved our boys in together when we moved houses and I think it made all the difference. It was a new environment with a lot of changes. They were 4 and 1 at the time. They do very well together, but we have also had the policy of not going into their rooms after we tuck them in. My daughter will sing for a long time, but I just let it go. 

    • Hillary Apr 10 at 3:49 pm Reply Reply

      Ha. I have a 3yo and an 8mo and if that baby wakes up and fusses for more than a minute, the 3yo SCREAMS at the top of her lungs that we need to get in there and take care of the baby. Like Amy suggests, we’re powering through. I feel like a winner because they both go to bed in the same room really well. Some nights they both sleep through the night! 2 steps forward, 1 step back.

  7. KG Apr 08 at 9:38 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for the advice. I realize now they are totally playing me. No interference will start tonight.

  8. Janet Dubac Apr 09 at 12:44 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story and for the advice. I agree with Amy on this. Back then, there was a lot of story telling and messing around with my kids before they sleep which really takes a lot from me. I can say that this is really an effective method because I used it before with my 2 little boys. 

  9. MR Apr 09 at 1:01 pm Reply Reply

    Exactly what Amy said! My girls are about the same ages, and we have always done the same thing – ignore it. The only exception is if they are being really loud, I may tell them to quiet down, or if they are doing something where it seems like someone is going to get hurt, then I of course go in there. But, mostly I just listen because I think it is adorable the way they sing songs together or the way big sis reads to little sis, or rearranges the blankets so little sis can sleep on the floor (because that child hasn’t slept a night in a bed since we converted her to a toddler bed lol). I honestly don’t care if they are sleeping or not. They will go to sleep when they are ready, and in the meantime, I have the quiet time, which is what I need. And they WILL go to sleep when they are tired. Last night, my younger dd was out probably within two minutes of me leaving the room. Meanwhile, my older dd sang, read books out loud, and just generally played for an additional hour. And my youngest slept through it all. :)

  10. Greta Jul 17 at 10:23 am Reply Reply

    I have been having the same trouble as the original letter writer. It makes me both frantic and upset. By 8 p.m. I am so over anything and then I feel so guilty because I yell and bedtimes are such a nightmare.

    I googled this and came across your response. Amazing. It starts tonight. You are right. I need to recognize my duties and let them do their part. I can’t make them sleep but I can get them to bed at eight. Thanks!

  11. Allison Sep 12 at 10:50 am Reply Reply

    Okay… here’s my problem.  I have two boys (almost 6 and almost 7) who share a room.  My youngest rolls around, yells, and plays with his blankets and pillows.  My oldest lays there desperately trying to go to sleep while his brother thrashes around for 2 hours.  He will even (bless his little heart) sometimes get up and come out to the living room with a sweet little plea for me to get his brother to knock it off because he “can’t sleep.”  I feel for him because I can hear his brother on the other end of the house.  Ideas?

  12. Tiffini Dec 11 at 2:50 pm Reply Reply

    I must have epically challenging children, because I’ve already tried this. Our son sleeps in his room and our twins in the loft. If we ignore them, his door magically comes open, play time ensues, and they MIGHT be asleep by 10:30. Getting up by 7am for school is then a struggle and the twins will spend the morning being grouchy and my son has an issue at school with behavior because he’s tired. We’ve just accepted our lot in life – one of use sits on the couch in the loft and gives the twins nonstop shushing for an hour or so. Just sucks.

  13. erin Jan 07 at 12:43 am Reply Reply

    Wow. I needed this tonight. Its 10:34 and my almost 3 year old and 20 month old are still up banging around in their room. My husband is out of town for 5 days and I have a 9 week old baby. I can’t spend an hour in their room getting them to fall asleep like we usually do when the hubs is home. So here I sit reading this realizing that if they dont fall asleep for another hour it will be ok. They will get tired eventually and they will (in a couple days ) start falling asleep when I put them down at 9 because theyre so stinking tired. So I will sit here and watch The Office while I wait for them to stop beating on the walls. Wherever they fall I will cover them up with a blanket and all is well. Theyre safe so whats the harm. Thank you. I needed this.

  14. Staci Sep 13 at 5:43 pm Reply Reply

    Came across this last night as I was frantically googling “boys sharing room won’t sleep.”  We have 4 year old twin boys who share a room and, lately, the talking loudly, sitting on bed, playing with stuffed animals has gotten worse.  I confess to having a video monitor and trying to enforce a “you must stay on your bed and can only talk in quiet voices” rule.  This has resulted in myself and my husband going in there countless numbers of times to tell them to get back on their beds or quiet down, threatening them with taking away toys or privileges (and often doing it, to no avail) or putting one of them in a time-out.  Generally, it has made bedtimes very unpleasant for all of is  Last night, one of them was still awake at 10:30 and I finally surrendered.  I took this advice and told him he could look at a book or draw at his art desk….that he just needed to be quiet so the rest of us could sleep (his brother had finally fallen asleep).  I turned off the baby monitor.  And, eventually, he did fall asleep.  Tonight, I’m just going to put them to bed a bit earlier and see if they tire themselves out.  I think I have been trying to control something that is not really within my control.   Thanks for the well written advice!  

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