Q: Our almost 3 year-old and 5 year-old have been sharing a room for the past year and we are still having difficulties getting them to go to sleep when we put them down. We’ve separated their bedtime (but the younger one waits up for the older), we’ve taken away their lovies and night light. We’ve even resorted to spanking on a few occasions (which we hated to do but felt helpless). We have a soothe-to-sleep routine every night. HELP!

A: This is undoubtedly exhausting and frustrating. It can be hard to take a bedtime that is wrought with lots of testing and frustration and turn it into a peaceful process, but it can be done. First, you need to think about how to make it a win-win. Since they are sharing a room you will reward (or not) them as a team. Keep it POSITIVE! Children respond best when they know what to expect and have a clear path to get there.

1. TIMING: Make sure their bedtimes are reasonable. If they are overtired, they will act wired and will be more challenging to get to bed. Similarly, if they are not tired enough, they won’t be sleepy enough to drift off to sleep. Assuming they are not napping during the day (though they may be) they should be ready for bed around 7-7:30 p.m.
2. You have a soothing bedtime routine, so that’s great.
3. STAY CALM AND IN CONTROL. Children get frightened and stressed when we lose control. Spanking is an adult temper tantrum and can be dangerous. Plus is teaches children that violence is a solution. I know you don’t want that. Walk away if you are getting to upset.
4. Have a family meeting to clear the air (apologize for spanking, etc). Explain that you have a plan.
5. Give them back their lovies. Soothing items should never be taken from children as a punishment.
6. If they are genuinely afraid of the dark, the night light is ok. If not, it can help to have the room very dark so they aren’t encouraged to engage one another.
7.Create a reward chart that clearly outlines the behaviors you want to work on (throw in a couple gimmes so there is success). Collaborate with them on a complete list. Celebrate their successes, big and small, as you proceed. Communicate utmost confidence that they CAN do this, even when they fall short.
8. Have a reward that they are working toward. Praise alone can go a long way, but if you feel like a bigger reward might be needed, make it an experience (as opposed to a toy) such as a family trip to the zoo, etc. Be clear about how that can be earned and cheer them on along the way.
9. Give them a few tries to get it right. This means, at bedtime, come back and remind them to go to sleep a few times. “Hey kids, it’s bedtime. I know you can do it and earn a sticker toward our family trip to the zoo. Remember you get three tries to get it right tonight. Good night. I love you.”