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How do I get my 19-month-old and my 3-year-old to go to sleep in a shared bedroom?

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I have two sons: 19 months and 3 1/2 years old. My older son is starting preschool and I don't think he is getting enough sleep. The children must share a room, and we put them both to bed at 8:15 pm. They then talk, giggle, laugh, and the oldest gets in and out of bed for the next hour or longer. How do we get them to settle down sooner and teach them that bedtime is not playtime?


Let's talk about two issues here: sleep and control.

Children—even brothers—need different amounts of sleep. If they're not dozing off during meals or play time, odds are that they're getting enough. So that's probably not the problem.

If you want them to be more tired at bedtime, the simplest thing to do would be to shorten or eliminate their afternoon naps. However, that's probably not a good idea, since they'll be cranky and irritable in the afternoon and evening.

Since they're not falling asleep for another hour, you could always put them to bed an hour later. Of course, by 8:15 in the evening you may need to unwind and have a little private time. So that's probably not a good solution, either.

This leads me to the second issue: control. Many parents I speak with become upset because they confuse what they can control in their children's behavior with what they can't control. Bedtime and sleep are classic examples. You can control when your children go to bed; you can't control when your children go to sleep. If you're trying to control sleep, you're bound to be frustrated. You just can't do it, no matter how hard you try.

The best thing you can do is let go of the issue. After all, they're getting enough sleep. Their nighttime talk and play isn't doing them any harm, and is probably forging a strong bond between them. You're getting some private time in the evening. In fact, one of the best things you can do is to quietly sneak over to the door of their room, listen to them giggle and laugh, and think about how happy they are.


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