September 10, 2018
Back in the day, sibling room-sharing was a rite of passage. The average new home size in 1973 was 1,000 square feet smaller than in 2014, but families tended to be bigger, meaning the average square footage per person 40 years ago was about half of what it is today. Less living space often meant there was no question that siblings would share a room–there was simply no other option.
Today, whether it’s due to limited space or just family preference, many families are still opting for shared bedrooms. There are plenty of ways to make it work, even if sleep quality is a concern.
For some families, sibling room-sharing is more than just a space saving solution. Spending a lot of time in close quarters often strengthens the family bond. Many parents find that siblings who share a room ultimately get along better because learning to share a sleeping space means developing important social skills, like the art of compromise. Room sharing gives kids concrete lessons in respecting other people’s space, feelings, and preferences. It also alleviates some common childhood anxieties, such as fear of the dark or fear of being alone.
The benefits may even extend well into adulthood: kids who share a room tend to be better prepared for the realities of sharing a small space with others, which they’ll face throughout their adult lives, whether bunking with a college roommate or squeezing into office space with a handful of coworkers.
Recognizing kids’ distinct personalities and giving them some control over their living space can go a long way toward overcoming many of the challenges associated with a shared room. Whether you’re designing the ultimate boys’ room, the perfect girls’ room, or even a boy-girl bedroom, designating specific spaces and special items for each child helps create a sense of privacy and autonomy, even in cozy quarters. Bunk beds or loft beds are a great way to preserve individual sleeping space with a minimal footprint. Separate dressers or storage bins can help kids retain a sense of ownership over their own things. If space allows, curtains or room dividers can give kids the option of having separate retreats when they need some alone time. You can also designate a corner of the room as a “privacy nook” with a tipi or play tent for smaller kids.
One of the biggest concerns parents have about sibling room sharing is sleep quality: will kids stay up all night giggling, talking, and playing? Will the new baby’s erratic sleep schedule disturb the four-year-old’s rest? While these are legitimate concerns, there are workarounds to almost every room-sharing sleep concern.
Children of different ages may have different sleep schedules. For example, you may need to put the baby to bed at 7 p.m. while keeping your school-ager up until 8:30. The Baby Sleep Site offers some excellent advice on how to navigate these waters, including tips on white noise and how to have a back-up plan. Keeping kids in their beds and quiet may require some creativity, from offering incentives to creating a strict routine and rules. But for many families, it may be best to let it work itself out. The novelty will wear off, and kids will eventually figure out that there’s plenty of time to talk and play during daylight hours.
Whether you’re considering room-sharing as a practical solution to a small house or as a way to strengthen the bond between your children, go into it with realistic expectations. It won’t always be pillow forts and hand-holding, but the long-term benefits make handling the challenges a worthwhile endeavor.