How to Manage Sibling Relationships in Shared Rooms

siblings bunk bed
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In This Article

The idea that each child must have their own room in a home is a nice one, in theory. But the reality is that for many of us, giving each of our kids their own separate room is not feasible.

Maybe we just don’t have enough bedrooms for each child to have their own room. Certainly the larger our family, the more likely it is we've run out of space for separate rooms. It’s also possible that we prefer to give our children the experience of room sharing—we might have fond memories of doing this ourselves, or we might want to teach our kids how to share and resolve sibling disputes.

Whatever the case is, you should know that there is nothing wrong with being in the position where your children need to share a room. It is more common than you might realize. It’s a wonderful way for your kids to bond (yes, despite the fighting!). It teaches problem solving and grit.

What’s more, sharing space doesn’t mean that your kids will have to be crammed, or feel like they are living on top of each other. There are some simple, easy-to-implement ways to maximize your kids’ shared space and keep it organized and harmonious.

Maximizing Space in Shared Rooms 

More than one child sharing a room means more than one sleeping space, and double—triple, or even quadruple—the amount of toys, clothes, books, and more. Having enough room for everything and ensuring the space doesn’t feel cluttered is one of the challenges of shared sibling spaces. Thankfully, there are several workarounds you can implement to maximize space, even in the smallest of rooms.

Bunk Beds or Trundles

Beds take up a lot of real estate in a room, so creative solutions with beds are a must. Bunk beds work well for many shared rooms.

The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all bunk beds be placed in a corner and against a wall for extra security, that guardrails be used on the top bunk, and that a light be placed near the ladder so kids can go up and down safely in the dark. Only children over the age of six should sleep on the top bunk, and jumping and roughhousing should be discouraged.

Trundle beds are a great alternative to bunk beds. In a trundle bed set-up, a second bed is stored underneath the top mattress to maximize space, but can easily slide out for use at night.

Wall Shelves and Organizers

Utilizing vertical space in shared rooms is a must. You can install wall shelves for out-of-the-way storage of books and toys and to display awards and art. There are also wall organizers you can purchase to keep your space clutter-free. These organizers can store anything from school supplies, laptops, clothing, and more. Closet organizers can turn a messy closet space into a well organized storage area. Maximizing closet storage space will also maximize floor and wall space in the bedroom area.

Under-The-Bed Storage

Utilizing under-bed storage can be very helpful in smaller spaces. You can purchase specially sized under-the-bed storage boxes. Items to consider storing under the bed are things you won’t need on a regular basis, such as hand-me-down clothing or toys, seasonal clothing and gear, and older schoolwork, artwork, and projects.

Staying Organized

One of the biggest challenges in a shared sibling room is staying organized. With multiple children who own multiple items and may have completely different needs and schedules, it’s vital that you stay on top of things and have set plans for how the room will be managed.

Keep a Tight Bedtime Schedule

Ensuring that each of your children gets enough sleep is important because a well-rested child will be able to move through life much easier. Well-rested kids are much less likely to fight with each other too. Getting enough rest means that each child must have an age-appropriate bedtime, one they can stick to most nights.

This can be tricky with more than one kid, especially if they have different sleep needs. But it can be done.

Determine what bedtime each of your children needs. Then, come up with a plan for the hour or so before each bedtime.

If your children need to go to sleep at different times, you can tend to each of their winding-down routines in separate rooms, and then give each child a quiet time to fall asleep in their own bed, without interruption.

Create Two Rooms in One

With a little organization and maximizing of space, most kids can do well sharing one space. But in some cases, it may be clear that each child needs a little more privacy. In some cases, this may be the signal it is time to move one of your children into their own room. But when this is not possible, you can work on dividing a shared bedroom into two spaces.

This can be done with one or two carefully placed bookcases or other large pieces of furniture. You can also look into room dividers, or consider building a temporary wall to separate the space. Tents and bed canopies can also create private spaces for children.

Create Clean-Up Routines To Manage Clutter

Excessive clutter in small spaces can be stressful and create tension and unhappiness in a household. Yet we all know that children are natural mess-makers. You want to give your kids free reign to play and have freedom in their space, but you also want to make sure their space stays as organized and clutter-free as possible, especially if the space is limited.

That’s why it's vital to create daily (or sometimes twice daily) clean-up routines. Kids thrive with routines. For example, if they know that after lunch or before bed everyday they must pick up their rooms, it will not be as difficult to get them to comply.

Live Simply

You can keep on top of clutter all you want, but having too much stuff to begin with can become problematic, no matter how organized you are. Shared rooms means living simply, and with less. That doesn’t mean that children can’t have a sought-after toy or other item, but that choices are made carefully as to which things to purchase, and which to keep around. These sorts of choices can teach children life lessons about valuing what they have, money management, and humility.

Managing Relationships

After all the practical considerations of sibling room sharing, the biggest hurdle to overcome is how to manage sibling relationships. Let’s face it: shared rooms can be breeding grounds for sibling rivalry. There is always the opportunity for one sibling to feel that the other is dominating the space, being annoying in some way, or being given more space privileges than the other.

Although you can expect some conflicts to arise, you should know that siblings fight whether or not they share a room, and the fact is, there are many steps you can take to minimize fighting, as well as teach your children healthy conflict resolutions skills.

Schedule Alone Time for Each Child

It’s natural for children, especially introverts, to crave alone time. You can make this happen for your children even if they share a space. It’s much easier to do, however, if you schedule it in advance. Kicking a sibling out of a room on a whim usually ends badly. So pick certain times of day, or schedule a time in advance, for each time to have alone time in their room. A little alone time can go a long way.

Create Space for Each Child That Is Just Theirs

Even within a shared space, each child can have a piece of the room that is theirs and theirs alone. Let your child color-code their space or design it to their liking, coordinating bedding, furniture color, or wall paint. Have them keep a shelf of their own “precious things” that define their tastes and personality. There are so many ways to personalize a small space and give a child feeling of affirmation and ownership.

Make Use of the Rest of Your Home

Your kids’ shared bedroom can primarily be their place for sleep, getting dressed, and quiet play. There may not be enough room for much more than that. But that shouldn’t limit your children from living a full life in your home. You can turn a corner of your living room into an art center, and bigger toys can be kept in a living room or basement. You can also create spaces in your own bedroom for your children to play alone, read, or unwind.

Set Clear Rules

Having clear expectations about what behavior is expected in a shared bedroom, and what the rights of each child are in terms of space and privacy, is vital. You can have your children collaborate on these rules and sign off on them. It makes sense to tape the rules to the bedroom wall or someplace where they can easily be seen.

Having a set of rules will not stop your children from fighting in every instance. You can expect they will fight from time to time—that’s normal, whether they share a room or not. But having established rules means you will have a place from which to start discussing resolutions to these problems. Periodic family meetings about how to manage room sharing dynamics will often be necessary too.

A Word from Verywell

One of the most difficult things about the decision to have your kids share a room is the judgment and criticism you may receive from others. Friends and family might feel concerned that your children are too crammed in their space or will be apt to fight too much. They may feel that sharing a room—especially when multiple children are involved—isn’t healthy.

The truth is, though, children have been sharing rooms for centuries. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively new societal norm that kids would get their own separate spaces at all.

You can be assured that room sharing has no detrimental effects on your kids, and that there is nothing invalid about the choice, or the need, to have your kids share a room.

While it’s true that certain logistical concerns may arise and that sibling relationship dynamics can be challenging at times, there are so many positive ways to address these things—and so many important lessons to be learned along the way. The fact is, not only can kids survive shared room arrangements, but they can grow and thrive.

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  • Bunk bed safety. Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) website. Updated 2019.