My husband and I have had to downscale and will be moving to a two-bedroom apartment. Our 6- and 8-year-old girls always had their own rooms, but now they will have to share. They are very unhappy about it and I feel terrible. Do you have any tips for making a tough situation not so bad?
Many studies suggest that sharing a room benefits children in numerous ways. They may develop better relationship skills, learning to establish and respect healthy boundaries. Kids who share a bedroom are often better able to resolve squabbles without parental intervention. And most importantly, they can develop deep and lasting bond with their siblings as a result of spending night after night together.
Keep in mind that it is only very recent in history that humans have slept apart from one another. In fact, in many parts of the world, mothers are disbelieving when they hear that children in foreign lands sleep apart from their siblings or parents. There is something deeply comforting about drifting off to sleep in the presence of beloved family members.
Much of what determines whether a situation will be a positive or negative experience hinges on our attitude going in. While it is certainly possible that your children will have some initial challenges adjusting to sharing a room, one of the key ingredients for developing lifelong resilience is learning to adapt to life's twists and turns.
Here are some tips for making this situation a positive one.
• Establish a feeling of personal space. Designate separate sides of the room to provide your children with boundaries and a place to call their own. While you may still hear complaints that "She touched my teddy bear!", each child deserves physical boundaries, however minimal they may be.
• Put their creative side on display. Allow each child to choose her own bedding and and artwork for their side of the room. Letting them put an individual stamp on their space will make it feel more their own.
• Create clear bedtime guidelines. One family might have their children go to bed 30 minutes before lights out so they can giggle and play, while another may decide that the room goes quiet as soon as the lights are shut off. I tend to lean toward favoring time for kids to unwind together, but if your ritual is that you read to your kids to until they're about to fall asleep, it may be wise for you to establish that when the lights are turned out, playtime is over.
• Respect each child's bedtime. Right now your girls may go to bed at the same time, but if it becomes necessary to adjust bedtimes in the future, don't force your older child to go to sleep when the younger one does. Doing so will simply generate resentment and frustration and a whole lot of, "It's not fair!"
• Bring in a white noise machine. Many people swear by the quiet hum that a white noise machine generates, canceling out random noises, coughs or snoring. If you have a child who is a sensitive sleeper, it may make sense to have a sound machine in the room to avoid arguments about how sister makes too much noise to sleep.
Allow your daughters to express their feelings about the new arrangement. While some kids adjust to sharing a room without a fuss, others struggle to adapt to new situations, regardless of how hard we try to make things good for them. The goal isn't to shield our kids from change, but rather to support them as they find their way toward adaptation.