Living near Washington, DC, I am well versed in space limitations and the necessity of your children sharing a room. If you are planning to have your children share a room, understanding the how and when can be overwhelming because there is so much to consider.
First things first
Do you remember your college roommate? You probably remember their sleeping habits, especially if they were pretty different than yours. This is very similar to what your children will experience if they are going to share a room. So, first things first, is that it is imperative that both/all your kiddos are independent sleepers, meaning they can fall asleep on their own and can sleep through the night (within reason and based on age). This is a worthwhile step in making the transition to room sharing as smooth as possible.
If your child(ren) is not yet an independent sleeper, contact me and let’s talk about how we can get y’all there.
Another thing to consider is that the AAP’s (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends that infants under 12 months room share with a parent. This is a parental decision on when/if you adhere to this, but I do strongly recommend that you get your little one (both of them) sleeping independently before making the transition to room sharing.
When should you make the transition?
Once both kiddos are rockstar sleepers, then you can move her into your older child’s room. Because it’s a change to the routine (and routine for kids is SO SO important) it will likely make bedtime a little harder for your little ones, but this discomfort is temporary! Most babies (especially those under 15 months) adjust easily.
How to prepare
Preparing everyone for the change can be the lengthiest part of the whole process. I recommend you plan for a week and take or leave as much time as you need to do it right.
The Room - First, let's talk about the actual room environment as things will likely need to change a bit to welcome a baby.
Where will the baby’s crib go? Do you need to move the furniture around to accommodate it? If your eldest is old enough, involve him/her on where the furniture should go (but be careful not to give over creative control!!).
Be sure that baby’s crib is away from curtains, blinds strings, or anything hanging.
Identify places for the white noise machine (if your older child is not sleeping with one yet, I suggest you begin practicing with them!) and any other items the baby might need (changing table, etc.) as well as the video monitor (if you don’t already have one set up)
Be sure to comb through the room for non-baby safe toys. Perhaps get a special box where your eldest can put these toys and make sure they understand that box is NOT for baby. And, of course, you can remove such things as well.
I actually recommend not having toys in a bedroom at all, other than stuffed animals and books. If it is not already, begin treating the kid’s bedroom as a quiet only space. Move the toys to the playroom and begin setting the expectation that quiet play (such as reading, pretend play with stuffies, perhaps drawing, happen in the kid’s bedroom.
Talking to your eldest about the change: As you begin to rearrange the physical space/room, you will need to mentally and emotionally prepare your eldest for this change. Follow these tips to make it as smooth as possible:
Take the time to explain to your eldest what’s going on and prepare them for the change. Ask them how they feel about the change – validate their feelings and do not be defensive if they refuse or are upset. Change is hard – if your child is old enough and you are able to give them an example of when you had to make a similar change, tell them that story! I recommend taking a few days lead time to prepare them. Let them know what to expect and answer any questions they might have honestly.
Explain what happens if the baby cries during the night. Tell them that you will be in shortly to take care of things and that they are not to get out of their own bed to help. The more they understand what’s going on, the less they’ll be agitated by their new roommate situation.
Also discuss roommate etiquette and behavior. Express to them how important it is to be quiet when baby is sleeping. Your children will likely be going to bed at different times, so you will need to prepare your child for how bedtime and wake-up may be different. Perhaps, you practice sneaking into the bedroom for bedtime and/or creeping out of the room in the morning. Make it a game but reinforce the need for quiet during the real deal.
If possible, create a special space either in the room or in the house just for your eldest child. This can be a special safe space they go when needing alone time, especially since their room is no longer an option 100% of the time any more. Ideas include: a closet, under a table, or simply the corner of the living room. Give your child ground rules of the space, but offering a space that is theirs can go a long way for some kiddos.
Other things to consider
Staggering bedtimes: It is likely that your children will have different bedtimes and I definitely recommend this. Put the baby to bed first and then put your eldest to bed after. This allows your baby to get settled and fall into deep REM sleep. This also will give your eldest some special “just me!” time which so many older siblings crave! Treat it as such and enjoy the time with your big kid.
Welcome Gifts: Kids love presents – who doesn’t! And a gift can go a long way. You can have your baby give their older brother or sister a “Thank you for sharing with me!” gift. Likewise, older kids often enjoy making tings for their little sibling too – they can make a “Welcome to our room!” sign for their door.
Does gender matter? It is recommended that siblings of opposite gender stop room sharing when the oldest reaches 8-10 years old. This is the time when some children begin experiencing feelings about their body and privacy, not to mention puberty may begin around then.
Three Tips for the Actual Transition
Plan this transition for a weekend or a week when you’re not facing a lot of other obligations (starting preschool, birthday parties, trips, visitors, etc.). As you can see, the prep time for the change can take some time so take a look at your calendar and get ready.
As for naps, I recommend you keep your little ones separated (if they are on completely different schedules, than keep them in their regular space). Put one in the bedroom and put the other in a Pack n’ Play in another room. Naps can be the toughest part of the program, and you’re probably better off just making an accommodation in this situation in order to ensure they both get the sleep they need if their naps occur at the same time.
Finally, don’t do it until everyone is ready.
Every child makes this transition differently. Once you begin the transition, though, follow through. And, as long as you have followed the tips above, everyone will be on board and ready, perhaps even excited, for the change. Above all, be patient and everything will adjust in a few days or weeks.
And, for you, parents who are moving your pint-sized roommate out of the master bedroom: Enjoy your new, old room! You have finally reclaimed your bedroom – YIPPEE! Congratulations! Sleep well!