Sleep-Training, Room-Sharing & More, Oh My!
We have a 3.5 year old and almost a 2 year old. Both boys. I found your column on Room Sharing Woes insightful. However, we need additional suggestions.
We start the 2 year old’s bed routine at 8pm. Sometimes he’ll cry for a few but will eventually fall asleep.
Our older son also has his bed in the same room. However, he does not sleep in it. My mom lives with us and some nights he sleeps with us and some nights with my mom. He is always roaming back and forth at all hours of the night. It’s after midnight and my oldest, G, is still up. He is very very high strung and hyper, getting wilder at night.
We know we need to break this habit. We quit awhile ago because he would not stop screaming and we were just so tired, so we caved and gave up.
How do we transition G into his bed and enforce a bedtime? And, how do we ensure the 2-year-old “baby” still gets his sleep? The baby is a light sleeper and G is a disruptor.
Should we go back to the cry-it-out stage and just know that eventually, they will both fall asleep?
Okay, so you already know that G’s antics are completely unacceptable and he CLEARLY needs better, stronger boundaries at night. He has to stay in his own room. He cannot roam the house at all hours. (He doesn’t even have to actually sleep, as I’ve written before! But he has to be considerate of his brother and other family members — disrupting everybody else’s sleep is not okay, not nice manners, and just…NOT OKAY.) And you have to stay strong, even in the face of worn-down-to-a-nub nerves and exhaustion, and 1,000% stop giving in to screaming and tantrums, both day and night.
All of this sounds both 1) obvious, and yet 2) probably completely overwhelming and borderline impossible, given how clearly G is running the Overnight Show at this point. But sleep-training an older toddler IS possible. It is not fun (and it will not happen magically overnight), but it is possible.
Personally, I’d avoid a Cry-It-Out (CIO) approach, in this particular circumstance.
We want G to learn that screaming and crying all night is disruptive and not courteous of others. We need a dual approach that isn’t just about his sleeping location — it also needs to be about acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior and reducing his emotional wind-up when he’s faced with a reasonable boundary. He’s also proven his willingness (and ability) to keep escalating the screaming and crying for hours and hours, night after night. And unfortunately, you’ve demonstrated that you have a breaking point, and he KNOWS if he keeps it up, you’ll likely hit that point again and go back to letting him sleep wherever and whenever he wants. So I don’t think CIO will successfully break the cycle (and will lightly end up doing more harm to your younger son’s sleep as well, if he’s stuck in a room with a screamer all night, every night.)
Instead, try these 3 approaches to Sleep Training
Here are three smart, gentle approaches to sleep-training an older toddler or young preschooler. Incorporating a little bit from all three would definitely be my vote, since they’re tailored to kids with a similar resistance to sleeping alone and staying in their own room/bed. I like these a lot because 1) they revolve around giving your child positive attention and lots and lots of praise, and also 2) move some of the “work” to the daytime/pre-bedtime hours, when you’ll be less tired and irritated in general. Bonus points because you can work on several of these steps/suggestions when G is at his calmest/most regulated vs. trying to reason with him when he’s already entered that After Midnight, Overtired Yet Hyper circle of hell.
Try temporarily moving your younger toddler
To minimize the impact on your younger son’s sleep, you could consider temporarily moving him out of the shared room and into a pack-n-play for a few nights while you focus solely on G’s routine. Divide and conquer by rotating the “shifts” among all the adults in the house — one night you handle G while your partner handles the baby, then your mom steps in to help with the baby while your partner takes over G’s routine, etc. This is important because 1) everybody can get a night “off” from bedtimes duties to recharge, and 2) you want EVERYONE on the same page, enforcing the same rules and following the same routine for G — there can’t be one person in the house who “gives in” or reveals themselves to be a “soft touch” once they’re tired enough. Consistency will be key.
The baby is probably still a little on the young side to transition out of a crib, but something to consider.
G clearly prefers sleeping with you or Grandma to sleeping alone. Which is understandable, but unfortunately when that preference is indulged, a ton of other unacceptable behaviors appear and other boundaries/rules get broken. (Roaming back and forth between rooms all night and repeatedly disrupting everyone, getting more hyper and demanding as the hours tick by, etc.) Those behaviors absolutely do need to be addressed via a consistent routine and set of rules around bedtime.
Consider sibling co-sleeping instead of bedroom sharing
But when you do think the baby is ready for a toddler bed, consider a co-sleeping arrangement for the boys vs. just sharing the same room. My youngest hated sleeping alone, and we found that letting him share a double-bed with his big brother solved a LOT of his sleeping issues (trouble settling down, frequent complaints of nightmares, wandering around, etc.). And his big brother liked it too! We later switched them to bunk beds, and then finally to separate rooms once they were BOTH ready for more privacy and capable of getting to sleep in their own bed, in their own room. But there were a lot more baby steps to that process than we ever originally anticipated when we first bought our house and immediately gave everyone their own room. Even just two twin beds pushed close together or a trundle bed set-up might give G the same sense of company and comfort that he’s currently seeking from your room and Grandma’s.