Getting your firstborn to sleep better at night can be rough. But sleep training a second baby who shares a room with their big sister or brother adds a whole other bleary-eyed wrinkle: when your baby wakes up and cries in the middle of the night, you may find yourself with a wide-awake, crying toddler or preschooler on your hands, too. Which isn’t much fun for anyone.
Luckily, there are some simple things you can to do to minimize the miserable-sibling (and miserable-you) factor while you’re sleep training your baby.
1. Temporarily move the older sibling if possible.
If you can move your older child to a spare room or home office or even into your bedroom while you’re sleep training your baby, go for it! Once the baby has the hang of sleeping longer stretches, you can move the older sibling back into his or her bed. (And along the way, be sure to heap plenty of praise on them for being such great helpers.) If this isn’t possible for your family for whatever reason, keep on reading.
2. Start by explaining what’s going on to the older sibling.
How you do this will vary depending on the sibling’s age. But the basic idea is to tell your older child that their baby sister or brother needs to learn how to sleep better—just like they did when they were little. Explain that when the baby cries, it doesn’t mean that they’re hurt or in trouble. Reassure them that you’ll come and take care of the baby, and meanwhile they should just try to go back to sleep.
3. Get your younger child to be your “helper.”
Older toddlers and preschoolers love being given jobs to do. Let your older child know that as a big brother/sister they can set an example for the baby by being calm and cooperative during the bedtime routine, staying in their bed, and not calling for you in the middle of the night. Be sure to mention that being a good helper also means not singing or talking to the baby when they cry to help them feel better. Mom (or dad) will take care of it.
4. Put the baby down first, then your older child.
If you can, keep your older child occupied with a quiet activity or with your partner or spouse while you’re putting the baby down to sleep. Then, once your baby is headed off to dreamland, you can tuck your older child quietly into bed.
5. Work that white noise magic!
A strategically placed white noise machine or app, a fan, or even soft music can mask noise and work wonders to keep your baby from waking their sibling up, or vice versa. If you're using a phone or tablet to do this, ensure the screen brightness is turned right down or the screen is flipped over.
6. If both siblings wake up, comfort the older one first.
It’s OK to let your baby cry a little bit longer while you reassure and calm your older child if they’re crying or upset. Once big brother or sister has gotten a little love from you, then tend to your baby.
7. Stay the course.
Once you’ve started working toward a sleep training goal, try to stick with the process or technique you’re following instead of changing gears to try to keep your older child from waking up. Habit and repetition are key to making sleep training work and that should be your first priority, even though it may mean some tears and crankiness from your older child. In the long run, you’ll be glad you toughed it out.
8. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
We can’t make any promises, but many parents find that sleep training their baby in the same room as their older sibling isn’t actually as bad as they feared it would be. That’s because most toddlers, preschoolers and older kids are tough to wake up when they’re in deep sleep. You’d be amazed what they’ll sleep through!
One more thing:
It helps to have a little guidance and encouragement along the way when it comes to sleep training, especially when you’ve got an added challenge like an older sibling roomie for your newborn. See how Nod can help. Good luck!