How to Create a Bedroom That Siblings Want to Share

/ May 10, 2019

For most of my preteen years, my two brothers and I slept in the same room. Between us, we had a bunk bed (I, being the oldest, naturally called top bunk), a twin bed, and a constantly shifting state of war and truce. Ours was a turbulent arrangement, but I look back on it now with fondness. Although I was relieved when I finally got my own room in later years, the experience of sharing taught me several valuable things: tolerance, patience, forbearance, resilience, forgiveness...did I mention patience?

A history of bedroom sharing

Siblings (and even entire families) sharing rooms is nothing new. In fact, it was the norm for centuries in America, and remains so in many places in the world. In cities like New York, where rents are skyrocketing and space is at a premium, residents still see the idea of separate rooms for siblings as a luxury. The New York Times reports that, in the city, roughly a third of families with two children under age 18 have the kids share a bedroom.

Whether out of necessity, convenience, or a belief in its salutary effects, a significant number of parents choose a shared bedroom for their children. For National Siblings Day, we thought we'd offer some tips on how to create a shared bedroom in which two or more siblings can coexist peacefully, and even thrive.

Create a sense of shared ownership

As members of society, one of the most valuable things we learn early on is a sense of shared ownership: the fact that something is ours doesn't mean it can't also belong to someone else. (In fact, research shows that sharing behavior in young children is associated with a greater understanding of ownership in general.) A shared bedroom is an ideal place to introduce children to this concept.

I still remember vividly how messy our room would get—and how it would stay that way until we all pitched in to clean it together. Sometimes, to turn it into a game, our parents would challenge us to see who could put toys away the fastest. What seems in retrospect like a transparent ploy was, at the time, a fun activity. Think of similar ways to help your kids invest in their shared bedroom as a common space.

Maintain some personal space

Just because children share a bedroom doesn't mean they can't have their own space. As children get older, privacy becomes more and more important, so it's good to plan ahead before it becomes a problem. Designate personal boxes, bins, or drawers for toys, and try to give kids their own beds wherever possible. If space is lacking (as it was for my family), a bunk bed goes a long way toward making a small room seem more personalized—just make sure to find one that's safe. Some families install curtains, screens, or even bookshelves as partitions.

It's important to note that, in any sharing situation, boundaries will be disregarded and conflicts are inevitable. Like it or not, that's part of life, and it's a great way to learn about compromise and negotiation. In the words of child psychologist James Crist, siblings are stuck with each other, so they have to stick together!

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Create a routine

As we've written before, routine is essential for healthy sleep habits, and that's especially true for children. In a shared bedroom, it's sometimes hard to negotiate different sleep schedules, in particular when there's a significant age difference between siblings. Wherever possible, try to enforce a common bedtime and wake time for the room, to minimize disruptions and cut down on conflicts.

If you need to motivate kids to get ready for bed, try collective activities like bedtime stories. You can even assign reading duties to the older child to create a sense of responsibility. Some children have trouble sleeping alone, so routines like this ease anxiety and promote bonding, providing opportunities for pre-sleep chats (so long as you enforce strict “lights-out" limits).

Know when it's time for a change

At a certain point, almost every child will demand his or her own space, and it's important for parents to listen. With the approach of puberty especially, privacy is indispensable. Although I have fond memories of sharing with my brothers, I was desperately happy to finally have my own room. If space and budget allow, try to plan for separate sleeping quarters. Parents can portray it as a reward or mark of responsibility when kids reach a certain age. At the very least, figure out a partitioning solution using some of the suggestions listed above.

Bedroom sharing at a young age can give children a deepened appreciation for common property and even personal autonomy. And who knows? Even if your children stop sharing their room, they might end up as roommates again after all.

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