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

by | Sep 4, 2014 | Babies, How We Roll, Mailbag, Parenting | 17 comments

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.


  1. Amelia Bentrup

    Okay for some reason it makes me feel so much better you have have only 2 kids rooms for all your kids (because we have only 1 kid room with about half the same number of kids…youngest still co-sleeps) and that they aren't separated by boy/girl. I always wonder if we are doing some sort of damage by having girls/boy share a room, because when I was growing up that was unheard of. My parents would have never dreamed of having me share a room with either of my brothers..not ever, but such are the perils of a small house.

    As far as getting a baby and a toddler to sleep together in the same room….well we've done BUT this probably isn't the answer your reader wants to hear. Because we've done it in the context of co-sleeping so mom also sleeps in the same room AND we "parent' our kids to sleep until they are around 3-4 (nurse or rock or someone lies down with them until they fall asleep.) so that does work, but it takes more parental involvement.

    • Adrie Little

      Eh, my husband and his sister shared a room for many years (until he was about ten, she was eleven). I credit the room sharing with him being very in-tune with "girl feelings." And he's a darn good spider killer. They have a close relationship now- they can talk about anything, and really enjoy one another's company.

  2. Anonymous

    My 3 year old and one and a half year old have been sleeping together for about a year. We have a very small condo, and we tried other sleeping arrangements, but putting them in together ended up working the best, oddly enough. They both go to bed at 7 :30, and spend time talking to each other and laughing until they fall asleep. Unless it gets really loud, we just let them hang out together. In the beginning, when we first started doing this, my son would cry and wake up his older sister. After a few days though, she learned to sleep through it. Now they both sleep through each other's wake ups (they really don't wake up much). Basically, we made it work because there was no other choice! I actually think that it helped my son become a better sleeper, my daughter was always a good sleeper. If we had had another choice, I'm not sure we would've stuck with it, but it's turned out well!

  3. Anonymous

    I think if your kids are naturally pretty good sleepers, don't worry about it too much. Take the leap. Our first two are 15 months apart and we put them together at night when the younger was six months old. I was so worried it would be awful, but it ended up working out fine. We'd put them down at different times and wait until the first was in a deep enough sleep to put down the second. Once the younger turned two, we switched to putting both down at the same time and that worked fine too. They were ready. Good luck!

  4. Amanda

    I don't have trouble putting my babies and toddlers together, but since no one is super tired when they go to bed, they all talk and laugh until they sleep. Heads on pillows is the rule, and no yelling or being rude (or no talking at all), and my almost 3 year old always wants to sleep in the boys' room on the floor because sibling time is fun. The baby wants to play with the toddler, but they always end up asleep too and figuring anything else out is too much work. 🙂

  5. Annaleah

    We have never had a choice but to have our kids sleep together. Currently we have four kids (5, 4, 3, and 1) in the same bedroom. There might be a bit of adjustment in the beginning, but we've never really had a problem with it. I find that they learn to sleep through a lot of noise. My older kids aren't allowed to talk/make noise once they are in bed, and we have found that taking away toys they love has been the best solution to dealing with any talking that does happen. However, if a toddler or baby is throwing a fit because they have to go to bed, I just ignore it, and they all go to sleep eventually. Occasionally, of course, they do wake each other up, and unfortunately that is just one of the cons that goes with kids sharing bedrooms. Right now, my kids are allowed to get up at 7 am, but my oldest usually wakes up around 6 to use the bathroom, and he always wakes up the one year old. Since I'm already up, I go ahead and get the baby up, but as he gets closer to two, I'll start putting him back down and teaching him that it's not wake-up time until the clock is yellow (we have a light-changing kids' clock – it works wonders!) I expect that there will be crying and he'll wake up the rest of the kids, but then after a couple of days, he'll get used to it and go back to sleep and it won't be a problem. My best advice is to just do it, and you'll figure out what works for you!

  6. Amanda

    Our boys have shared a room since Tobias was 2 and 3/4 years and Peter was 4 months. Tobias begged for it so we allowed it even though we had plenty of bedrooms and it went surprisingly well and they've shared a room ever since.

    The way I do it is I use a white noise machine and stagger bedtimes with the youngest/quicker to fall asleep first. I stagger by at least 30 minutes and will stretch it later if Peter still hasn't fallen asleep. We also do bedtime stories in the living room generally, which helps with the shared bedroom thing. Anyway, when Peter was a baby it was never a problem. We had a little trouble when he was 2 and being…well….2. But now he's almost 4 and we're back to the golden years of room-sharing. So like "" I say go for it, it'll probably work out better than you think! They get used to each others' little noises and such. Now my boys keep begging for their sister to join their room-sharing-party but for now I'm sticking to our original plan of a boys' room, a girls' room, and a teen room (since we foster our teen she needs her own bedroom to sleep better).

    Sarah, I like the nursery and "bunk room" set up! I think if we weren't fostering and I was designing my own house I'd have a nursery attached to the master bedroom for the youngest baby/toddler and then a girls' room and a boy's room with as many beds as needed in each whether that's 1 or 4 or whatever. And yes, I think it's so silly that kids are expected to have their own bedrooms but not adults? Huh?! I think I had an easier time getting married and sharing a room because I shared with my sister for 12 years, and I think I'd have had an even easier time if we'd continued sharing through our teen years. I cringe when I see couples on House Hunters showing how they *need* two bathroom sinks or two closets because otherwise how on earth would they get ready in the morning without fighting!? Don't get me wrong, space is nice when it's available, but I'll happily take a larger shared space than smaller separate space any day.

  7. Rosie

    We put our first two together when they were 2.5 and 1. They were previously light sleepers but started sleeping more heavily when they started sharing a room. Blackout curtains & white noise machine helped tons! Then we started our twins sharing a room when they were around 15 months old and the same thing worked – they almost never wake each other! Heck, we even had all four in one room for a few nights on vacation and aside from a little too much singing before everyone fell asleep, they didn't wake each other. I think you just have to DO it and it'll be fine!

  8. cat

    I'm with the "if there is no other option they will learn to sleep through it" camp. We have a 15 month old and an 8 month old, and everyone (including my husband and I) sleeps in 1 bedroom… because we only have 1 bedroom. In the country we live in most people only have 1 or 2 bedrooms max, so it's fairly normal for many people to share a room. We've learned what will and won't wake the babies. They sleep through my husband getting up and getting ready in the mornings, but if the younger starts crying I get up quickly with her cause she will wake the older. We also will often put the older to sleep first in the room and allow the younger to fall asleep in a playpen, then move her to the crib. It might be a bit painful for you at first as everyone adjusts, but it can be done 🙂

  9. Kristen

    We have three toddlers in the same room and we started it when they were 3, 2, and 1. It took about a week of being strict, but they adjusted quite well. I know others have suggested staggering, but we like putting them all down at the same time. If you already have a consistent night-time routine, this is pretty easy. Our youngest cried a little at the beginning, but the older siblings would tell her it was ok and even sing to her. At this point, everyone goes to sleep easily and even if one is up fussing (even screaming!), the others will fall asleep without problems. Also, we have a sound machine to help muffle some of their noises.

  10. Lizzie

    Our two oldest have always shared a room (when the baby wasn't in our bed). At first it was not a problem at all, until #2 turned 2 or so. Then we took turns sitting/lying down with them till they fell alseep. At 4 and six they didn't meed that anymore.

  11. Mary

    We pray them to sleep! We tuck them in bed, then sit in their room and pray the Rosary. Most of the time they are out by the end. If not they are usually not far from drifting off. I don't know if this counts as a "family Rosary" or what, but it works for us! And it's a pretty good way to fall asleep vs. a white noise machine.

    For naptimes, I put the toddler down first and then when she's asleep the older one goes in for his "rest time" which means a nap about 50% of the time.

  12. Tia

    Oh man, I was so wishing you had a solution!! We live in a small 2-bedroom apartment in San Francisco and there's no extra closet space or what have you, so our baby is sleeping in our bedroom while our 2+ year old has his own room. If/when the next one comes along we joke well have to put the baby on the staircase landing. We are dying to get our personal bedroom space back, but just can't figure out how to make it work. If anyone has any tips, please do post!!

  13. Heather

    I never figured that one out either. My babies all slept with me until the next baby came along and then the last baby slept with me until he was 9. Yes, NINE! Ugh! But in my defense… he is mildly autistic and was (and still is) an insomniac who literally canNOT get to sleep at night. He was so prone to get into things if I didn't watch him carefully (ketchup all over the cabinets, escaping to the neighbor's house, etc) so I slept with my arms around him and let him watch tv until he fell asleep. If he moved, I knew it. It was the only way for me to get any sleep at all – and I was working, sometimes a full time and a part-time job so I desperately needed sleep. My oldest two had separate bedrooms but insisted on sleeping in the same room until they were adults.

  14. Jennifer Denten

    Our kids share, except for the baby, but that's only because now the "big" kids are upstairs…an I don't like doing stairs in the night I I can help it. When there were only 3 kids, they all "always" slept together. As soon as baby is 6-8 weeks old, we moved him/her in to the kid room. We also "parent" to sleep and still sit while the divine mercy chaplet helps us pray ten to sleepy town. Very rarely are there issues; and they are begging for baby to move in… But stairs an nighttime wakings are not a good combo!

  15. Lina

    once the baby is old enough – little over a year – he/she goes to cosleep with his big brother (or eventually sister). for us, its been the key to night weaning/bed weaning b/c there is still someone to cuddle with who ISNT ME and its a space saver b/c we have yet to live somewhere with enough rooms for everyone (one day, when kids are old enough to matter, there will be a boy/girl room). brothers and sister all sleep together – 6yr old now in top bunk that St. Nicholas brought which is lofted over a queen that has the 4yr old and 2yr old (a bro and sis in same bed)

    I think its great for sibling togetherness 🙂

    we have always laid with the young one until around 2-2.5 after they stop nursing to sleep. we dont own a crib, so they've only ever been in a bed and its just worked for us to lay with them until they're asleep. around 2.5 or so we just start leaving them after stories/prayers. once they're old enough to know DEATH WILL OCCUR if they get out of bed lol, i dont care how much talking/chatting/goofing goes on in there until people fall asleep as long as noone gets out of bed. and if there is an infant elsewhere, its not loud enough to wake them.

    and oldest is allowed to read with booklight after littles have fallen asleep too

    it works great for us 🙂

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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