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.Published April 8, 2013. Last updated July 16, 2017.