A version of this article originally appeared on Learnvest.com.
Would you—or do you—have your children share a room? Sometimes room-sharing is a choice, and other times, it’s a necessity. After all, not every home has one bedroom per kid.
But whether by choice or necessity, similar issues may arise when you set up roommates of the non-rent-paying variety. How can kids get alone time? What if they have different bedtimes? What if they fight over toys or space?
We spoke to two parenting experts (who also happen to be parents themselves) to figure out what having a sibling as a roommate means for your child, and how you can make sharing a bedroom a great experience for everyone.
Why Sharing a Room Can Be A Good Thing
Jessica McMaken, founder of parenting consulting site Razbelly and mom of three, has found that her two older children, ages 4 and 7, like sharing a room. “When the baby gets older, they’ll probably all three share a room,” she predicts.
Dr. Susan Bartell, child psychologist, mom of three, and author of The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask, ($11, amazon.com) explains that the reason most kids like to share rooms is because, for many kids, sharing is about inclusion rather than space–parents expect that kids want space (and when they reach a certain age, they probably do), but many children just want to be together.
That doesn’t mean it’s always smooth sailing. The following issues are common with children who share rooms. Find out why they happen, and how you can solve them.
The Problem: If your children are different ages, you shouldn’t force the older child to go to bed at the same time as her younger sibling, says Dr. Bartell. She adds that children should be allowed to go to bed when it’s developmentally appropriate. “Otherwise, older children will become resentful.”
The Solution: McMaken explains that when her children first shared a room, the problem with a shared bedtime was that they were constantly talking and playing instead of sleeping. She got around this barrier by giving the children different bedtimes: While she and her husband put one of the younger children to sleep, her son has “by himself” time until his own bedtime, when he reads a story with his dad in the living room and then heads to bed across the room from his sleeping sister.
2. Personal Space
The Problem: While many kids like to share space, they don’t always want to share all their stuff. Dr. Bartell points out that when there aren’t doors to define a child’s own space and possessions, things can get tricky.
The Solution: “Each child should have a little space of his or her own within the larger room,” Dr. Bartell recommends. This can be as small as a shelf or drawer, or as big as separate dressers and night tables. She adds that one of the biggest private areas is a child’s bed. “I would recommend having children ask permission to sit on each other’s beds to give them control over their own space. It’s just like asking before entering a room.”
But what if one of the sharers is too young to understand about asking for permission? In that case, Dr. Bartell says it’s the parent’s job to help the older child figure out a solution: Build shelves up high where the baby can’t reach, or offer the child space in another room to store his precious things. If it’s really a problem, help the older child pack away his breakables to be unpacked when the baby is old enough to understand boundaries. “He’ll understand that he’s being respected, and that you’re doing what you can to help him,” she explains.