Mailbag: Getting Babies and Toddlers to Sleep Successfully, Together (or not)

Mailbag time!


I came across one of your mailbag questions and thought I'd ask you for your advice as well.
In a month or two, we would like to put our two daughters (2 1/2 and 8 months right now) into one room together. By then, the baby will be sleeping through the night just fine, our toddler does generally sleep well at night.

However, I am concerned that the two girls will wake each other up quite a bit, especially when it is time to go to sleep (e.g., toddler does not want to sleep just yet and gets rambunctious)?
We have a rule that I will come in ONCE if something is up but no more. Generally, we adhere to this rule but our toddler will get quite mad about this fact at times..and loud.

What are your thoughts and advice to make the transition and sleeping together in one room a joyful experience for everyone?


Well, I'm sure it's possible, and I know it works for other people, but *I* haven't figured out how to do it. We are fortunate enough to have two kids' bedrooms. I intended them to be a boys' and a girls' room, but that's not how it ended up, our kids jump around between those rooms (and the guest room, too, if we don't have visitors).

I actually think that part has ended up to be really great. The kids get to switch around and sleep with different siblings and in different kinds of beds. Top bunk, bottom bunk, twin size, full size, trundle. I have a couple kids who often pick a sleeping bag on the floor. They have all ended up really flexible sleepers.

But the one constant around here is that the under threes don't sleep together. Ever. In my house, they always wake each other up.

My babies and toddlers are light sleepers. They don't sleep well or long in car seats or strollers. They need dark and quiet and white noise to sleep. But then, around three, something changes. My older kids are really deep sleepers. Really deep. Like I can turn on a light in there and clean out their desks in the middle of the night and they will sleep through it.

Also, over threes can be taught to go to sleep quietly at night and not wake up a sibling who is already asleep in there. And they can be taught to wake up quietly in the morning and look at the clock (or at the edge of the window to see if it's light) and either go back to sleep quietly or get up quietly, depending on what the clock or window tells them. In our house over threes also know to go play quietly in the playroom or get themselves some cereal if they're hungry. Independence!

Buuuuut, in my experience, . . . toddler + baby = tears.

And no one wants that. :*(

We have enough bedrooms that it's not a problem now, but when we first moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and were house hunting from a two bedroom apartment in Glendale, Jack (3) and Betty (2) had the second bedroom, and baby Bobby slept in a pack n play in the walk in closet in the master bedroom. When we are traveling, we put the baby in the hotel bathroom. Whatever it takes to keep them apart.

We tend to stagger bedtimes, and, since someone is probably already asleep in the room, we don't allow chatting between older kids at bedtimes. They are allowed to read in there with their book lights, as long as they don't wake up the baby or the toddler. If the baby or the toddler wakes up, lights have to go out. So, they're pretty careful!

As for the toddler, ours sometimes gets put to bed sad or mad. As long as his sadness or madness is low-level, we're able to mostly just ignore it until he goes to sleep. If he's still awake at bigger kid bedtime, they'll all just bunk in the other room so he doesn't disturb them. But if he's really making a stink, we'll go in there and give him a warning, "If we hear you again, FILL IN THE BLANK will happen." We've had success with threatening to take away a favorite stuffed animal. (Frankie doesn't like a lot of stuff, but he sure likes his Lotso Huggin' Bear.) Then we just mean it. But that wouldn't be possible if the baby was in there, too.

What has worked for us for sleep over many years and in varied locations and circumstances is:

  • Flexibility in where and with whom kids sleep, no one but the baby has his "own" bed
  • Consistent and relatively early but staggered bedtimes (Lulu 6pm, Frankie and Anita 7:30, Gus 8pm, Betty and Bobby 8:30, Jack 9pm)
  • No on talking, yes on reading (for about 30 minutes)
  • Babies and toddlers don't sleep in the same room. No sleeping with the baby until they are over three at least, but ideally more like four. Or five.
And that's . . .

But I guess what I'm actually saying is: You've stumped me. If you figure out how to do what you suggest, please explain it to me. ;0)

But hey, I can crowd-source this for you!

Who has tips on how to get multiple little kids sleeping in the same room?

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.