“I have 2 and 4 year old girls and they sleep in separate rooms. My 2 year old goes to sleep at about 8PM, wakes up about 6:15AM and takes lengthy nap. My 4 year old stays up later in her room at bedtime and when the 2 year old wakes up at 6:15am, her loud talking and/or crying wakes up my 4 year old who really needs to be sleeping still. Today I just brought my 2 year old into my bedroom, which did allow my 4 year old to sleep, but I worry that sends the wrong message.”
— Jessica Brandt
Sleeping arrangements with multiple young children can be tricky. Thankfully you have two separate rooms to work with, even if they are close together and not all together sound proof. I am a firm believer that no one solution is universal and since we are working with two different children, we’ll have to find two solutions (one for each child) to ensure that everyone is getting enough sleep. Here are some suggestions to try:
1) Adjust Sleep Schedules: Cut back the amount of naptime you allow your two year old. Instead of 3 hours, try 1.5 hours. Put her to bed at 8pm like normal and see if this helps her sleep until your goal of 7am. Require your 4 year old to take a little rest in the afternoon along with your 2 year old. Even if she won’t sleep, quiet and independent play is very restful and can help to refresh her making getting a little bit less sleep workable. Whenever you change sleeping schedules, children may become cranky and act up. Give the new system two weeks before deciding it doesn’t work.
2) Survive Instead of Conquer: Sometimes parenting demands that we accept that we can’t change our children’s behavior. They are going to wake up early or stay up late. Genetics can play a hand in deciding how much sleep and when sleep is desired and it can be out of our hands at times. It is OK to accept that you may have to use a less desirable option to help your four year old get enough sleep. Perhaps this means allowing your 2 year old to watch an educational TV show in the early morning while you prepare for work and your four year old sleeps. I like the TAG reader by LeapFrog or the LeapPad because they are more interactive, but still allow very young children to independently entertain themselves quietly when it is not time to be awake.
3) Sound Machine: Try using a sound machine to drown out the sounds of a noisy sibling. Find a good device and crank it all the way up. Give your child 1-2 weeks to get use to the noise of the machine, as at first it will be novel noise and will be stimulating. Eventually, her brain will learn the sounds and it will be come background “white” noise and will hopefully cover the sounds of the noisy sibling. You can also rearrange their beds so that beds are not sharing a wall divider and add an extra rug to the room for sound proofing. It won’t do much, but perhaps just enough to help your girls sleep.
4) Behavioral Modification: Adults know that being quiet when someone is sleeping is important and kind, but young children don’t always understand this rule nor can they always act on this understanding. Unfortunately, a two year old is too young to really be able to control herself first thing in the morning when she is fresh with excitement and energy. The good news is that she is getting closer to the age where she will be able to be more respectful of her sleeping sister. Go ahead and start trying to train her now to be quiet in the morning, while understanding that she won’t be able to do so until about another year, but perhaps she’ll surprise you and learn sooner! Read stories on the importance of letting other’s sleep (or make one up). Kids like Back to Bed Ed by Sebastien Braun. Play games acting out bedtime and allow your girls the chance to be the noisy one keeping everyone up, the person trying to sleep and the mommy trying to keep everyone happy. This helps children build empathy and understand everyone’s interests and feelings.
5) Sleep Clocks: You mentioned that you tried sleep clocks and bribes, but have you tried doing both together? Think of the most exciting thing to your two year old and offer that if your two year old can stay quiet until her sleep clock changes at 7am. I used cookies and milk on my two year. What does your daughter love? Offer the incentive for about two weeks then phase it out slowly. If the incentive doesn’t work, you can tell your girls that sleep clocks are only for big kids and if they won’t follow the sleep clock rules, then you have to take the sleep clock out of their room because that means they’re not ready to use it. If they’re ready, then they get the exciting “incentive” for hard work.
Best of luck to everyone readjusting sleeping routines and arrangements. Sleep is tricky and it keeps changing as your children grow and develop!