Sibling Room Sharing - What to do and How to do it, my Personal Experience
My purpose with this article is to give you a very real and honest account of my experience of the move to having both my babies sleeping in one room. Despite scouring the internet for some practical tips, what I mainly found were accounts on the positives and negatives of room sharing, and whilst I will touch on this, my intention is to recount my experience with the hope that some will find it useful if they are planning to do the same. To make it more digestable, I've sectioned it into key points - as always, if there are any questions or tips please feel free to get in touch, we love hearing directly from you.
1. Understand your intention behind wanting the transition
This is important, as depending on the ages of your children, it may not be the easiest transition, and you'll need to keep your intention behind the move close at heart, for reassurance, if it's harder than you expected. With my eldest at 2 years 11 months, my youngest at 17 months and with a new baby coming along 3 months later, my reason behind wanting to transition my kids in to a sharing room at this particular age, was quite simply to move my 17 month old out of the "baby's" room. But not only that, I believed it was important that the two children got to form a deeper bond and connection before the new baby came along. I was asked several times if I would have done the same thing even if there was not a new baby coming along, and in all honesty, I'm quite sure I would have. Possibly, I would have left it 2-3 months longer, but as someone who grew up sharing a room with my older sister (who was 16 months older than me) I really felt that there is nothing more sacred than this bond, or more comforting knowing that someone is just right by you.
2. There are numerous advantages of room sharing with siblings
I won't go into this too deeply, as you can easily google the advantages of room sharing if it is something you're interested to understand. For many - there is simply no choice other than to have siblings sharing a room, especially if there is a new baby coming along. But for those that do have a choice, I would encourage you to look into the many advantages room sharing has, particularly for children close in age. For me, it came down to the emotional bond that is formed. I also did not realise how much more peace of mind I would have knowing I just needed to check one monitor through the night, instead of juggling two. However, my decision was very much based upon the reasonably small age gap between my two kids, at 17 months. I felt that this would be a challenging transition but ultimately a manageable one given they still had similar nap schedules, sleep schedules and sleep routines. These three things definitely need to be taken into account.
3. Depending on the age of the children who will be sharing, you'll require a different plan
One thing I would highlight is that it is important to wait until both your children are sleeping well through the night, before transitioning to room-sharing. Or else, it will likely create a lot of hassle if you have to keep coming into the room to soothe or pacify your waking baby. This could really de-rail the schedule for your elder child, especially if they are already at nursery or pre-school and need energy for the day.
You need to consider the ages of the children who plan to share a room. A slightly older child and a younger child will have a different plan, versus two children that are of a similar age. As my children had a 17 month gap, they were both on one nap a day, and going to sleep at a similar time, as well as having a similar bed routine. As their schedules were extremely similar and they were both sleeping through the night, I felt it was the opportune time for this transition.
There are definitely challenges for both similar aged children transitioning, and those with a wider age gap, albeit different challenges. With a wider age gap, you are able to explain the transition more clearly to your older child, and the behaviour that is expected (e.g. explain to your child exactly what's going on, and not to wake the younger child up at night). You can also possibly do two separate sleep times with a wider-age gap, putting your baby to sleep first followed by a later sleep time with an older child, if that is what they are used to.
With a smaller age-gap, there are different challenges. As my son was almost three, he did not quite grasp that he should not be waking his sister up when he woke up (which happened very often in the early days, by the way of singing or shrieking). When my 17 month old would wake up in the night, it would not usually wake up my pre-schooler, but if my pre-schooler woke up, as he is much louder, he would usually wake up the baby with the intention of waking her up. It also took over two hours for them to finally go to sleep, with lots of excitement and shouting between cots for the first few days. After the first few days, this quickly became one hour, and now, three weeks into the transition it is around 30 minutes of chatter which I think is now our new normal. I have since drilled it into my pre-schooler as much as I can that he should not wake his younger sister up in the mornings when he wakes up - I think this is very important to do, as even very young children do understand better than we think. He has since made more of an effort to stay quieter in the morning, although not always and I know this is difficult to ask of him, and because of that, this brings me to my next point.
4. Honour nap times even more, in order to make up for the new change
When I moved both kids into the same room, it was undeniable that they got less sleep than before. Previously my son would go down at around 745pm, reading or playing alone quietly in his cot for around 30-45 minutes before drifting off, and then waking up between 630 and 7am the next day. He would be happy to sit silently until someone came to get him - this was not the case after his sister joined him in the room. My 17 month old would sleep at around 8pm, waking up at around 7am the next day but staying silently in her cot usually until 8am. With both now sharing a room - they would sleep closer to 830pm sometimes 9pm (once they had settled into the excitement of sharing a room), and wake up by 630am. This was quite a big change for us, and so I figured in order to make up for the lack of sleep I needed to honour their nap times even more, and for naps I realised it was definitely much easier for them to nap separately given their different requirements. Knowing they both get a good 2 hour nap in daily, makes me less stressed about them getting slightly less sleep at night now that they room share. For me, the long-term benefits of room-sharing out-weight the difference in sleep of this amount - but of course this is a very personal opinion and preference. I do ensure they both nap religiously and will stretch this as much as possible for my pre-schooler, even though he does try to resist some days.
5. Be consistent, it does get easier - at the same time, if it's been 2 months and it's still not working then have a back up plan
In the first two days, I really did not think that this room-sharing situation was sustainable. Both my children were too young to understand that they had to be quiet and not wake the other up. This led to some challenging first days and I was tempted on several occasions to give up and move them back to their separate rooms, where they slept longer. However, what encouraged me was that I know how resilient children are, especially at this very young age, which is why I was keen to do the transition as early as I could believing that ultimately it would be a faster and easier transition if they were younger. It's easy to keep putting this off, thinking that they're too young - but keep in mind, children are more easy to mould when they're younger. They adapt very quickly, and get used to new environments. Of course, if it is still not working after 8 weeks, have a back-up plan in place. For older children, you may need to consider their need for "personal space" and their "personal things". For me, this was not something I needed to consider, but there are many things an older child may be uncomfortable about, when it comes to someone moving into their room.
6. Deploy a similar sleep routine you had with both of them when they were in separate rooms
This is very dependent on the ages of your children. For us, both kids slept at a similar time (it was only not the same time, as we would put one to bed first, followed by the second, when they were in different rooms). Although the routine before bed is definitely louder and messier now that they are both in one room, as they insist on more play time before bedtime, I do try and maintain a similar focus on story time, dim lighting and then placing each in their respective cots. If one had been much older and had a different sleep time, I would have honoured that and put one to sleep first, followed by the second. You have to work around what the child is used to, with reasonable rationale of course, knowing there are some adjustments. But a child who is used to sleeping at 8pm for example will find it much harder to transition to a new 630pm bed routine, if now going into a room with a much smaller child. So make your own life easier, by honouring their sleep schedules as much as is reasonably possible and being adaptable where you can. My youngest was used to lullabies being played when she slept through her SkipHop Owl, this is something that immediately stopped once we moved her into my eldest's room. However, she was instantly adaptable to that - many times it is us as parents that fear change more, forgetting that children are extremely adaptable to their surroundings.
7. Talk about the new room sharing set-up with your elder child
This is a very important thing to do before you move both children into the room, so that they are aware of what is going to happen. Children are incredibly receptive and understand far more than we think. Get them used to the idea and excited about the idea. You could even introduce a new bedtime toy as part of the new transition, in order to get them more excited about it.
8. Definitely have a video monitor in the room and ensure an appropriate distance between cots
This is absolutely crucial, as with any new change or transition there are going to be some teething issues. Your children's safety is of utmost importance, and you'll want to monitor what is going on between the cots. At times, my eldest would try and pass things to my little one, and I realised quite quickly that I had to ensure there was a good distance between the cots to make sure this exchanging of things did not occur - mainly because my eldest was almost falling out of his cot trying to reach to get to his sister. Furthermore, his sister puts everything in her mouth and in the nights I would not be able to monitor what was being sent to her cot if they were close enough to reach into each other's cots. My eldest sleeps with a lot of books, including his sticker books, which he likes to play with before sleeping, and my little one usually chews on his stickers - so this was very important for me to ensure. I'd also like to monitor the time they eventually slept, in order to understand my children's energy levels the next day, and to ensure how much they napped. This is very important to make sure they make up for any lack of sleep that incurs as a result of this new set-up.