Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #9

November 17th, 2010 by Dionna | 39 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Ensure Safe Sleep, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

Today’s post is a gentle parenting QUESTION (aka “suggestions”) post – please read to the end and give this mama some feedback on how you have handled siblings and sleep issues in a gentle way.


I have a parenting challenge, and I need help.

My issue is that I have two boys who are 3 and 5. They share a room. At this point, either my husband or I have sat in their bedroom at night when they were falling asleep. With only an occasional issue, things went pretty well until about 3 months ago. Since then, there are fairly regular nights when they do anything to keep themselves and each other from falling asleep. They kick their covers, laugh, throw things, etc. They seem to get riled up by each other, and on those nights it just gets harder and harder for them to fall asleep.

I should mention that about 6 weeks ago we moved into a new house, and about 3 1/2 weeks ago I had a baby. While I realize that both of these are contributing factors, and both of those events probably led to much of this behavior, I still feel like I need help dealing with the resulting behaviors.

I’m not interested in using any sort of threat or removal of my presence as a way to get them to go to sleep, so I try not to say things like, “If you’re going to play around, I am going to leave.” I admit that sometimes I have said that in the past on nights when I felt particularly frustrated, and then I feel bad about that in addition to being frustrated.

It’s really not an option in our house for them to have separate rooms. Our other bedroom is on another floor, and both of the boys are too young to be in the other room alone.

We use a white noise machine, which they tend to be indifferent towards. We’ve used music in the distant past as a way to help them relax. We have also tried talking to them about ways to calm and relax their bodies when they are in the room and in bed. I’m open to trying any or all of those things again. I just feel like I need a plan before I start trying, trying, trying new things.

Also, I should add that I don’t mind sitting with them. While I do think that at some point it would be nice to be done sitting with them, I don’t feel like it has to be NOW. Right now, my main concern is their lack of sleep and the results it has on their moods the next day(s).

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I look forward to any sort of suggestions that may result.

Photo Credit: AKPhotos


There are two resources that have been the most helpful to me in my own gentle parenting journey. First, reading about others’ experiences: real-life examples of challenges met with respect and compassion can be both educational and inspirational. Second, when I face a challenge of my own, I have always been able to turn to my local AP group for a fresh perspective and creative ideas.

I’d like to provide a resource like that here at Code Name: Mama, so I’ve introduced a series that will feature your stories and questions. In particular, I’d love to feature stories that build on consensual living principles or the techniques and ideas discussed in books like Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids; Playful Parenting; Unconditional Parenting; and Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

I am not looking for stories about parenting techniques such as time-outs, negative consequences, coercion, or punishment.

If you have a gentle parenting success story or a question on how to gently handle a challenging situation with your toddler or preschooler, please read the contributor guidelines and contact me. Let’s not go through this journey alone!

39 Responses to:
"Gentle Parenting Success Stories and Suggestions #9"

  1. Natalie   babywearingitup

    I’m interested to read any suggestions, since we have our 18 month old and 2 1/2 year old in one room and right now I nurse the 18 month old to sleep in another room and then come in their room and put her down asleep, usually after her older brother is asleep (or almost) as well. My husband stays with him and reads books as he drops off to sleep.

    We’re having a baby in May, so I’m trying to think ahead to what that will mean and it looks like they’ll be falling asleep (hopefully?) in the same room.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      I hope that you get some good suggestions, too! I’ve never had a baby who nursed to sleep on a regular basis. Even our new (5.5 weeks) baby doesn’t nurse to sleep on a regular basis. I think that if I could, I would embrace that tool heartily! :)

      • krysten

        neither of mine ever really nursed to sleep after the first month or so, and i’m on the opposite side–i didn’t want them to get in that habit! but there are times I wish it would work!

  2. Sarah

    I have three children all sleeping in the same room ages 3 (twins) and 20 months who nurses to sleep. what we do is family quiet time and we watch a cooking show. By the time it is over at least two are down. So third one is then laid down with till fallen asleep and then the others are moved to their beds. On days where this doesn’t work we tell them they have to stay on the bes then we ignore them reading a book or something similar until they fall asleep. The only thing we enforce us them staying on the bed. Hope that helps.


    • Casey   CBerbs

      I think that we need to revamp our bedtime routine for sure. We clean up toys, put on PJs, brush teeth, get water in sippy cups, and do books. Then, they lay down. It’s definitely not as relaxing as what I’d like. I’m just not sure how to go about introducing a new more relaxing element to it. Thanks for sharing your routine.

      • krysten

        we try to avoid anything but soft toys or books from dinner to bed time…we do the toy clean up before dinner (or the next morning if it’s too crazy). so that after dinner it’s talking, reading, hanging out, sometimes a short show/movie clip, etc. or a family activity (but that’s hard at 3.5 and 14 mos). Baths can help some kids relax too, mostly it gets my 2 boys wound up–especially taking one together.

      • Casey, I was thinking about this further while I was settling my two to bed tonight (and, to follow up the comment I made before – tonight I got both of them to fall asleep in the same room WITHOUT having to take my daughter out for even a few minutes! Yay! You see – it will eventually happen for you too!) and I realised that a key part of what I was doing was to turn the lights right down to the lowest level on the dimmer switch after finishing my son’s stories, and reading my daughter’s stories to her very quietly so that my son could drift off to sleep (I gave him a book to look at while I was reading to my daughter, and he fell asleep reading it). The period of time with talking very quietly and reduced levels of light were key to getting them both calmed down. I know that just reading stories and then switching off the light and expecting both of them to switch off just as quickly wouldn’t have worked.

      • Casey   CBerbs

        Thanks for sharing your experience. We’re heading to the library tomorrow, and I think that we might look for some books on cd for the after dark time.

  3. krysten

    I have a 14 month old and an almost 3.5 year old sharing a room. One is in a crib, the older is in a regular bed-so perhaps both being able to get out of bed on their own creates a different set of problems. I actually find that sometimes me NOT being in the room results in them talking less, throwing things less, getting up less, etc. My 3 year old has slept alone since 7 months but my 14 month old still comes in our bed at least once per night for snuggles or nursing. For us, mostly ignoring the up and down and silliness means it goes away faster. If I stay, they talk to me and my 14 month old wants to get out of the crib. We do stories, music on, prayer and I kiss them and slip out the door. We also have a nightlight. I figure they’ll fall asleep eventually and it never escalates to anything serious, and maybe it will make them sleep better if they’re worn out? ;)

    We also moved to a new house a few months ago and it was really “bad” for the first 6 weeks, then it settled down. Another thing is that if someone has taken a later nap and might not be tired yet, I will do the entire bedtime routine but then take that one into my room for some extra reading or light play, or calm show for another 30-60 mins until they are tired. That allows one to get to bed, same routine, etc.

    For my 3 yr old we always tell him “rules” or expectations really (whether it’s going to a museum, someone’s house, or normal daily things) so that he’s aware of what we expect, what he can and can’t do, and what the steps will be. Perhaps talking about it throughout the day, making a chart/picture of steps to getting to bed/falling asleep could help? I’m one for natural consequences, like “if you and johnny keep each other awake so much at night you will be too tired to do x tomorrow, and i know you really like to do x, so let’s get rest so we can..” sort of thing. So it’s not necessarily imposed by you, or threatening, but just a matter of fact. And I verbalize those to my son the next day too “wow you seem pretty tired, I bet staying up late has made you be kind of upset and crabby today”. etc.

    My other trick? Books on cd. they tend to focus on that while drifting off. good luck!

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for the suggestions. My kids are both old enough to understand the verbalization that you suggested. Unfortunately, it seems as if they don’t care. They are both fairly impulsive, so it’s a pretty big jump for them to make the connection at the time they are being silly that they might miss a fun activity (which has happened). The books on cd are a good idea, and I’m looking forward to trying it.

  4. I have 2.5 year old twins, and know SO many others (with twins sharing a room) that have had big struggles with this. Its hard! So far we’ve done okay, but my husband and I both have noted it could go south at any moment.

    For us, the biggest thing that has worked has been talking up the expectations — not just at bedtime but at other moments when they are calm and receptive — and making them simple and clear. For us, there are three main rules”: you must stay in your bed when the “moon” is on (more on this later), do NOT wake your sister, and you can get out of bed and come find us when the “sun” comes on. I’d love a “no talking”rule at bedtime as well and I do sometimes tell them that but it doesn’t really work — its just not possible for them!

    The sun/moon thing is a “Good Night Lite” they have, which is a nightlight on a time with a visual cue to signal when its time to get up. Its not a miracle fix, but I do think the visual cue helps them.

    We also do white noise and lullaby music. My oldest really responded well to books on CD, especially if they are favorites from stories she already knows. I might try this soon with my twins soon, especially if we continue to have long chatty bedtimes.

    For us, leaving after hugs and kisses works, but with my oldest I used to stay in the room with my laptop, disengaged but still present. With my twins, it doesn’t seem to matter much (they don’t need us to stay, and do, knock on wood, stay in their beds right now) and I feel like it delays the inevitable chatty period until we leave – they just have to get their conversation/silliness out but will wait until we are gone.

    I have been known to separate them, especially during naptime when they are really goofing off or loud, by putting one down in our bed in another room. If it were at bedtime we’d then transfer her when we came to bed.

    Good luck! This stuff is really challenging, for sure!

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for the input. I’ve thought about books on cd before and you’re not the only one to mention it. I think that’s a sign I need to pursue it. :) Thanks again!

  5. I’d echo the question about the nap: does either of them nap? My son finally gave up the nap at almost 4 when I realised he *can* always fall asleep in the afternoon, but if he does, bedtime goes on forever. If I don’t make him nap (and it was getting harder and later), he goes to sleep willingly at 7.30. So it might be time to cut out the 3 year old’s nap, if you can bear to do that.

    My only other suggestion is to put them down in separate rooms and then move the heavier sleeper into his own bed when they’re both out. But that requires two people in two places, and with a new baby you may not have that many hands. And it’s not really a long-term solution, but it might get you over a hump if you can manage it. Good luck.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      The 3 year old does nap, and some days so does the 5 year old. I’ve gotten to the point where I know that my oldest son no longer needs a nap, but our 3 yo definitely needs one. He seems to have a tougher time when he doesn’t nap, because he gets so over tired.

      Thanks for the suggestions! I’ve considered having them fall asleep in separate rooms, but I’ve never done it. It may be worth a shot though.

  6. We have two kids that share a room. One that sleeps well and one that doesn’t. We use calms forte to help my oldest relax and be able to go to sleep. It is a homeopathic tablet and works wonders.

    The other thing we do is bedroom time. If they are quiet and read/play with a quiet toy and stay in their room, they can stay up. I know that sometimes I have a hard time shutting down my brain, I expect my kids to be no different. It is tricky the first week because you can’t let them have a nap during the day, you have to fight through the crabbies. Once they get their bodies regulated, they learn to recognized when they are tired and go to sleep at night without all the fooling around.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for the suggestion. Because of your suggestion, I did let them pick a book to look at in bed both last night and tonight. It seemed to be helpful in focusing them.

  7. kelly @kellynaturally   kellynaturally

    My 3.5 year old & 6 year old also share a room. Most night they fall asleep within a “reasonable” amount of time, while I lie in there with them (reasonable, in my mind, all things considered, is <=30min When I say all things considered, I mean, I don't expect less than 30 minutes when its the 4th of July and/or they've been travelling and/or had a birthday party that day, etc.). SOME nights, however, they are talkers. Like talk, talk, talk, talk, talk…. particularly my 3 yo who is still napping. On days when he doesn't nap, he falls asleep in about 10 minutes.

    I'd be sure YOU are calm before going in – that you are positively exuding calmness – not worrying about *IF* this will be the night they act up. Dim all the lights 1/2 hour before bed. Have a very predictable routine from which you don't vary – you can vary from it in the future, but while they're still getting used to all the other changes, a more strict routine is helpful. Ours is like this: baths, storytime with Dad, Dad says goodnight, & turns out lights, I ask them each what their favorite & least favorite part of the day was, I sing one song, we practice deep cleansing breaths, then decide what we will dream about. Then – silence. I let them know (if they are still awake at that point) after 15 minutes that I am going to go downstairs & will be back up to check on them in X amount of time (they get to choose the amt of time – that too is part of the routine). They usually fall asleep within a few minutes of my leaving. If they are in the talk talk talk mode while I'm lying there, I remind them that we are in breathing mode, then dream-crafting mode, not talking mode. Repeat ad nauseum. :) You don't need to use threats of removal of your presence, but reminders of the routine, I find, are helpful.

    I imagine once the new baby becomes more a part of your family landscape, bedtime will ease. 3 weeks isn't enough time yet to feel "normal" for them, yk? ((hugs))

    • Casey   CBerbs

      “I let them know (if they are still awake at that point) after 15 minutes that I am going to go downstairs & will be back up to check on them in X amount of time”

      That’s a good idea. I also think that you pointed out something else that is important. Be calm. Some nights I get so frustrated that I am not calm. :) I can’t be invested in their decision to sleep since I have such a small part in it.


  8. TopHat   TopHat8855

    I don’t have kids that age, but I remember running into this as a babysitter: kids just laugh and giggle and won’t sleep for a babysitter. And of course, you can’t use punishment as a babysitter, so you get creative. What I did for one family (2 boys, bunkbeds) was to have two different bed times. I put one kid to bed and waited until he was asleep before putting the other to bed.

    For another family, I just sat outside the door for a long time until they fell asleep (they kept running out of the room and rough housing in the hallway).

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for the suggestions. Although my kids are about 1 1/2 years apart in age they consider themselves to be essentially the same age, so I’m not sure how having different bedtimes would work with them. I do think that putting them to sleep in separate rooms is a good option to keep in mind though.

  9. We had exactly this problem with my two, and we JUST (as in, past few days!) seem to have got to the point where we’re about over it – and, even now, I’m still taking DD to another room for her stories so DS can settle to sleep before she comes in. But at least I can now bring her in after stories without worrying she’ll wake him up straight away.

    The only thing that ever worked for us was getting them separated until one of them had fallen well asleep. Since DS was much faster at falling asleep, this meant taking DD into another room – either letting her play downstairs, or putting her to bed in the cot in our room temporarily and then shifting her later. (We tried either at different times.) If they were together, they’d keep setting each other off. End of story.

    Of course, the big drawback here is that, unless you have a willing partner, you won’t be able to do this without leaving one of them alone, or leaving both of them alone for short periods of time while they go back and forth. Up to you how you feel about this, but… for me, that would be logical consequences. I would take the attitude that they need sleep for the sake of their health and if the only way of getting them to sleep is to separate them that that’s what needs to be done, and I would let them both know that they have the option of calming down and having Mummy stay there until they’re asleep or not calming down and being separated so that they can do so, which would mean Mummy having to leave each in turn alone for a few minutes while going back and forth. Not stated in a threatening way, obviously, but just letting them know that those are the available options. I’d be OK with that – don’t know how you feel on that one.

    • Oooops, should have been ‘…leaving them alone for short periods of time while *you* go back and forth’. I really should go back to proofreading before posting.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for the suggestion. I do have a willing partner. He’s probably a better bedtime manager than I am in fact. :) I know what you mean about stating it in a matter of fact way vs. a threat or punishment way. I think that usually by the time I’m to that point I have a harder time making it a matter of fact statement since I’m usually not very pleased by that point. Also, no matter how it’s said, I think they interpret it as a punishment. I do agree with you though that it is necessary and a matter of health that they get the sleep they need. It’s definitely an option.

  10. Cassie

    I don’t have two that share a room yet, but I have babysat and I’m dealing with a 3yo who sometimes has a hard time going to sleep.

    One thing I did when babysitting and plan on doing for my kids is to read a kids novel book like the Narnia books or Peter Pan from my chair with a booklight while each kiddo lays in his/her own bed listening.

    Right now with my 3.5yo, she’s in the process of being done with naps. If she has one, then she has a really difficult time going to bed and we need to adjust bedtime otherwise it’s just to frustrating all around. We just want her to go to sleep and she tries, but just isn’t tired enough. On the days she naps, we either delay bedtime or after “lights out” she can read in her bed with a booklight.

    Also, sometimes are physical presence is contributing to her “wakefulness” so we judge it day by day as whether or not to stay with her.

    Good luck. Hopefully things will settle down as it sounds as if there has been a lot of change and adjustment.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks! We have been through quite a bit of change lately. The timing of it all didn’t go exactly how we’d hoped. :)

      I think that your idea of reading a book is a good one. I bought my husband the complete Chronicles of Narnia a few years ago, and the first thing he said is, “I can’t wait until the boys are old enough that I can read this with them.”

  11. Tammy

    I am due with my second but girlfriend has been going through this. She just had her third and had to put her 6 and 3.5 year old in the same room. What she did was put the younger one down first and let her fall asleep and then the older one would be put down. I also agree with previous posts on talking about expected behavior throughout the day and before you go into to the bedtime routine and continue to talk about it. I don’t know if you do reward’s or not. But a reward system might work too. If they followed the rules so many nights in a row they would get to go do something special or get something that they have been wanting. Best of Luck in your search.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for the reply. For the most part we don’t do rewards unless it’s a very rare situation. I don’t think I’m quite ready to implement them for this, but I’ll keep it in mind.

  12. daisy   TooTooDaisy

    We have an only, which is clearly much easier, but eliminating his nap (he’s 3) made a miraculous difference in his ability to fall asleep. Hard to expect anybody to fall asleep when he’s just not tired! Also, turns out he doesn’t mind if we aren’t in his room so long as he knows we’re “around” peeking in now and then until he’s asleep. Hope some of this helps.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      My 3 year old has never been a great sleeper, so I actually wonder if part of the problem is he is overtired. I think he may be running on a chronic sleep depravation. We’ve recently started doing the peek in during nap time. I’m hoping to be able to try it at some point with bedtime, too.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  13. Marcy   mightymarce

    My son is not yet 3, so I don’t have personal experience to base this on… but it sounds like, at 3 and 5 yrs old, your boys may be old enough to try sitting down with them and talk this out. I think “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk” I believe has an explanation of how to do this, how to sit down with your kids, state the problem (“I’m concerned by how you two are taking a longer time to go to sleep, which means you’re then tired the next day” etc). Then everyone brainstorms solutions for how to deal with this issue. IT might not get you anywhere… or it might just give you insights into what’s going on, and how to get past this.

    Good luck!

    • Good suggestion! (I am so looking forward to being able to do this sort of discussion with my children about issues, but DD is just a tad too young and DS is autistic and has problems with this sort of communication.)

      But just wanted to stress one thing: When you’re doing this, do *not* start with stating the problem from your perspective. Instead, start with saying how *they* see the problem, and empathising with it. “I’ve been noticing that it’s taking you two a long time to settle down and go to sleep. Looks like it’s great fun for you to talk together like that! I can see how tough it must be to have to stop talking till the next day until you can get to sleep!” Make them feel their point of view on the matter is understood and appreciated. Maybe try a technique called ‘giving a child in fantasy what you can’t give him/her in reality’ – “Wouldn’t it be great if you could stay up talking all night long?” and get silly about it so you can laugh about it together – “Or all *week* long! What if you could stay up talking all year? Maybe for a thousand years! A million years!” Finding a way to laugh about it will help you connect. But whether or not you do that, *do* start with the step of stating their viewpoint and empathising it. When we show other people we’re taking their views into account, it comes easier to them to take our views into account.

      Anyway, I agree – ‘How To Talk…’ is great for describing this technique. So is ‘The Explosive Child’, by Ross Greene, which covers it a little differently and kind of complements the way the ‘How To Talk…’ book describes it (though, if you can only get one, I’d definitely recommend the ‘How To Talk…’ book).

      • Casey   CBerbs

        Thanks for the suggestions, Sarah and Marcy. I do like the book “How to talk.” We do use that technique in other situations, but I’m not sure we’ve discussed it in this situation. We’ll have to see how they respond when we bring it up.

  14. Stephanie

    I just have one daughter right now so I haven’t run into this. I just wanted to sympathize with the sleep changes that come with moving. My daughter became a co-sleeper for the first few months after we moved (and she was young– just 8 months). She had always preferred the crib, but it wasn’t happening for her in this new place. Just sounds to me like your boys are soothing themselves with their behavior, like you said. I can see how it leaves them wrecked the next day. I was trying to brainstorm what might help and I wondered if they are tired enough at bedtime? Could some more daytime physical activities just end up naturally cutting that bedtime mischief down? I also wondered what goes on before bedtime…is there a way to incorporate more “pillow fights” and such into the family evening time. Could they get more of the goofiness out of their system that way?

    • Casey   CBerbs

      Thanks for your suggestions! I was just telling my husband that I think we need to do something to get them more physical activity during the day. I live in North Dakota, so it’s hardest in the winter, but I find that my 5 year old in particular needs a HUGE amount of physical activity. In the summer, we spend 2 hours in the morning and another 1.5-2 hours in the afternoon at various parks or outside running around. Bedtime during that time of year seems to go pretty smoothly for hte most part. However, when we have to cut down on our outside time due to weather (and now having a baby), things can get tougher.

  15. Rebekah C   RCThoughtfulMom

    I’ve struggled with this issue myself. I have three children and they all share a room. They are 6, 3 and 15mo old. The only thing I’ve found to be totally effective is to stagger their bedtimes. Ethan goes down first (he’s the youngest). Once he’s well asleep, I lay down with the 3yo (she still suckles to sleep most nights). Once she’s out, the 6yo goes to bed. It’s not a perfect system but having that routine in place has really helped our family. Everyone gets one on one time this way, nobody feels left out and I can “sit” (or lay) with all of them in a way that meets each of their needs.

    It also meets MY needs as they aren’t up until all hours and I get a little time to myself before I go to bed, too.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      A few people have suggested a staggered bedtime, and I have considered it. I’m not sure how it would go over though. My kids although they are 1.5 years apart in age consider themselves to be the same for most other milestones. I’m not sure how it would go to separate that part of their routine. It’s definitely worth some thought though. Thanks!

  16. Ellie

    Why enforce such an early bedtime? I mean this as an honest question. Is it so that you get adult alone time? It can’t be for actual child sleep needs if they regularly stay up later than that.

    In my family, bedtime is between 8 and 9. After bedtime (jammies, story, song, lights out), the parents go downstairs. We maintain a fiction of sleeping: as long as the kids stay upstairs and there’s no loud thumping, we pretend that they are in bed asleep. At parental bedtime, we turn off all the lights (again), tuck in the sleepers (now minus jammies), and go to bed ourselves. When they are tired, they fall asleep early. When they are not, they fall asleep late.

    Trusting the kids be smart about their bodies — teaching them to pay attention to bodily signals — was ultimately much easier than fighting bedtime every night. We started this program after weaning (age 3), so your kids should be old enough.

    • Casey   CBerbs

      There are a couple reasons for the bedtime we have. First, my 5 year old needs lots of sleep, and he has a very small window between getting tired and overtired. If he gets overtired bedtime becomes very difficult for him. The other reason is that they regularly seem tired and I’ve heard (and experienced when they were younger) that getting more sleep helps children get better sleep.

      I feel like we’ve gotten into a cycle where they are out of sync with their bodies, and they need some help getting back into sync. If we have days when they get up later in the morning or seem like they are still going strong in the evening (before getting into bed) we do adjust our times and try to respond to their signals. It just seems like so many days we’re having the mid-day meltdowns. Some days they will even say to us that they are tired.

      I do think that you have a very good point though that kids are trustworthy and know their own bodies. Perhaps I’ve gotten a bit to focused on the behaviors and need to look at the overall picture again. Thanks for the reminder. :)

  17. Christie - Childhood 101   childhood101

    When I worked in a child care centre we used to use a little game with the three-five year olds to help them relax on their beds. We would suggest that they get comfortable and then lie as still as statues whilst we counted slowly to 10 or 20 or even 50 (we started with a small number and built it up over time). It was like a little competition with lots of encouragement to be still and it seemed to work well.

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