6 Tips for Teaching Kids to Share a Bedroom

CC BY 2.0. Joe Goldberg

No, you don't need to rush out and buy a bigger house if you've got more family members than bedrooms.

Visitors to my home are often curious about the fact that my kids share a room. “How does it work?” they ask, as if seeing multiple children in the same sleeping space is an anomaly. In some ways, it is. I don’t know many other parents whose children share a room these days. For us, it was necessary. We didn’t have enough bedrooms to go around, but now that we have more space, our kids continue to share because it works so well.

I am perplexed by North American parents’ insistence that children require their own space. This widespread belief serves to justify the purchase of extravagantly expensive and enormous homes, so that kids can have their own rooms. I disagree with this for a number of reasons, not least of all because it seems horribly irresponsible and risky from a financial perspective.

First, it’s important that kids have access to privacy when needed, but this doesn’t have to be a solitary bedroom necessarily. Escape can be found in a fort, hideout, attic, or alcove.

Second, sharing has great benefits. When kids are small, they’re comforted to know someone else is sleeping in the room. As they get older and if they’re the same gender, there’s potential for strong companionship to develop through whispered nighttime conversations. Sharing teaches kids important skills, such as taking responsibility for cleaning, dividing items, using space fairly and efficiently.

So, back to that original question: How do I make it work? I’ll share my well-honed practical tips below. I promise you it isn’t as tough as it seems.

1. Set the sleepy mood.

This applies to any child’s bedroom, but it’s particularly important to signal bedtime when you’ve got multiple little ones sharing a space. Use darkening curtains on the window and a closed door. Get a white noise machine (I use the fan in the adjoining bathroom) to help muffle the sounds of other sleepers.

2. Stick to the schedule.

Regularity is key when putting young kids to bed in the same space. If they’re close in age, do it simultaneously. We put all our children to bed by 7 p.m. If the older ones aren’t sleepy, they whisper and giggle for a while before falling asleep, and that’s OK.

3. Sleep-train elsewhere.

To avoid nighttime screaming that will waken other siblings, it’s preferable to sleep-train infants elsewhere in the house, possibly a crib in the parents’ room. Once an infant is able to sleep well through the night, it’s much easier to move him or her into a room with older siblings.

If your baby has trouble settling at bedtime, you can start the night in another room (in a bassinet or playpen), then move him or her to the shared room later on when you go to bed. That way he or she will get used to the new space but not be kept awake by chattering siblings.

4. Some noise is inevitable.

Kids in a shared room will make noise. They’ll need reminders not to goof off, to stay in bed, to settle down, and go to sleep. This is normal (and healthy, I’d argue, but don’t tell them I said that). Kids do wake up sometimes when babies cry, although I’m always amazed at how much they can sleep through once they’re used to it.

5. Naps are different.

Naps rarely work in a shared space, no matter how strictly your kids adhere to a sleep schedule. I always split kids up at naptime, distributing them among other rooms in the house – our bed, the guest bed, a sofa downstairs. Again, regularity is key to success.

6. Buy the right furniture.

If you know your kids will share for a long time, then invest in good space-saving furniture, like bunk beds or beds with drawers. Keep toys to a minimum to reduce clutter. Try to keep the room dedicated for sleeping, if you can. This will make the room feel less cramped, which – at least for me – makes having multiple kids in the same space feel more manageable.