Sleep Training Siblings — Navigating Sleep Two at a Time
There’s an old saying every parent hears when they’re expecting a second baby: “One is like none, two is like ten.” Sleep training two kids at the same time sure can feel like ten! If you’re sleep training siblings, you certainly have a bigger job than just getting one baby to bed. With a little flexibility and The Sleep Lady Shuffle, your two will learn to fall asleep on their own.
Sleep Training Siblings in Separate Bedrooms
If your children are in separate bedrooms then you can sleep coach them both using The Shuffle techniques. Simultaneously sleep coaching a baby and a toddler/preschooler, for example, is easier if two caregivers are available at bedtime. One parent puts the baby to sleep and the other parent puts the toddler/preschooler to sleep using the Shuffle techniques outlined in the book, Good Night, Sleep Tight.
When one child wakes the other then you might want to go quickly to the older child first. If you are sleep training a six-month-old, and the baby is waking up your two-year-old, go to the two-year-old first. Reassure her. Tell her that the baby is okay and she should go back to sleep. Then go tend to the six-month-old. If both parents or caregivers are home, then divide and conquer, one of you with each child.
Try not to fall into the trap of soothing one child to keep the other from waking up. If you rush in too quickly to try and quiet one child, you risk reinforcing their sleep crutches.
Remember, whether you coach one at a time or both, you still risk waking one up. You might as well address both children’s sleep habits at the same time.
Want to know more about sleep coaching?
Read: The Sleep Lady Shuffle: How to Gently Sleep Train your Baby
Coaching Siblings Who Share a Room
If your baby and older sibling are going to share a room, sleep coach the baby first. Then move him in to the older sibling’s room. That may mean you modify the Shuffle. Sleep coach your baby in the crib in your room where they may be sleeping already.
Are you sleep training siblings who already share a room? One option is to move the older sibling out of their room temporarily, until the baby is consistently sleeping through the night. This may mean the older child sleeps in a makeshift bed in your room. Explain to your older child that this is just temporary until their baby sibling learns how to put themselves to sleep.
Teach the older child good “sleep manners”. Discourage talking to or playing with the baby when you move them back in to the shared room. Explain how special it is to share a room and how important it is to have good sleep manners.
When you’re sleep training siblings who share a room, you can still sleep coach at the same time and use the Shuffle techniques. Often one parent will sit between the beds or cribs and go over to the individual bedsides as needed to comfort each child. With both parents available, you can each sit by one of your child’s bedside or crib during the first Shuffle position.
If your children are very close in age, you may want to apply some of the strategies for sleep coaching twins.
Sleep Training Siblings with One Parent
The general rule of thumb is to put the youngest one to bed first.
The older sibling may or may not want to be part of the baby’s good night rituals. This depends on age, personality and degree of sibling rivalry.
Develop a soothing bedtime routine for both children. Then provide a quiet activity for the older child while you put the younger one in bed. Make sure the older child isn’t doing something that will keep the younger sibling from their relaxing bedtime.
When you leave the younger child to sleep, you can go through the older one’s bedtime routine, with more age-appropriate stories and songs.
When you are sleep training siblings at the same time, you might need backup! Wait for an evening where both parents can be home at bedtime or recruit some help. One of you would do the Shuffle with the baby and the other with your toddler.
Children with Two Different Bedtimes
If two parents are home in the evening, one may care for the baby while one takes care of the older child or children. Try to alternate some of the time, so each child knows how to go through her bedtime routine with each parent. Make sure both children get a few special good-night moments with both parents. It helps if everyone makes the children’s bedtime a priority for an hour or so. Take care of other household tasks a little later. Dirty dishes don’t bawl in the middle of the night if you neglect them for an hour.
Need more information about bedtimes?
Read: Sample Schedules: Sleep and Naps From 6 Months to Preschool
Sleep Coaching a Younger Sibling
In Good Night, Sleep Tight, I encourage parents sleep training children who are 2 ½ years-old and older to involve them in the decision.
When you’re training a younger sibling, you can involve your older child in much the same way. Have a “family meeting” and let her know you’re about to teach the baby to sleep on his own. Explain to her that she is now sort of a “sleep role-model”. Talk about how the baby is learning new skills, and at first the baby is going to need extra attention. Let your older child feel like your ally. Let her know ahead of time that you’re going to have to leave and check on her little sibling often. Tell her she can really help you by staying in her own space and not disrupting the process. Make your older child feel needed, loved, and important while you are working on getting your younger child to sleep.
Sleep training siblings certainly is harder than coaching them one at a time. If you do find yourself with siblings who need to learn to put themselves to sleep, you can do it! With some planning and flexibility, everyone in the house can be sleeping well soon.