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Parenting--Toddlers/Infants/Pre-Schoolers/1 year old and nearly 3 year old sharing a room


I'd really appreciate some advice regarding my children's sleep habits as it seems to be getting worse.

We live in a two bedroom flat and my daughters began sharing a room when my youngest turned 1 (she is now 14 months old). It was ok at first - we would put the youngest down to sleep first and then the older one would go down later.

Recently they have been playing for hours instead of sleeping and as a result they are tired and cranky during the day. When we put the youngest to bed first she often wakes up or my eldest wakes her when we leave the room. They then start to laugh and play which is sweet as they often fight during the day but they are not getting sufficient sleep!

Every night I say "the sleep rules" with my eldest which is: be very quiet, stay very still, go to sleep until you see the sun. She recites these with me but of course doesn't follow them. She has a Gro clock beside her bed-when there is a star it's sleep time, when there's a sun she can get up. This worked at first but not lately.

We have tried removing the eldest from the room and putting her in our bed but both scream their heads off and my eldest really won't go to sleep anywhere but her bed. I've tried taking the eldest one's favourite toys away and tell her she will get them back when she goes to bed on time but that doesn't work.

We've tried a rewards system in the past but that didn't seem to work in the long run and I don't really believe she needs a treat for something she needs to do anyway.

Eventually the eldest one does go to sleep after repeated visits from us and the youngest one babbles to herself for another half hour or longer.

Also, my eldest daughter used to be a really good sleeper but in the last year she has been waking nearly every night, crying for me - either for her water bottle or her toy - usually just for a hug and she goes back to sleep. On bad nights she does this up to three times. I wouldnt mind if this didn't happen all the time and she didnt wake her sister too.

I should also mention my youngest awakens between 5 and 6 am without fail and my eldest does too so they do have early bedtimes to ensure they get sufficient sleep: usually between 6pm and 7pm.

Any advice to get them both to sleep on time?

Hello Shona,

Despite your objections to a reward system, I believe it can work if put into place properly and then phased out in the right way.
Actually, I think you have the basics going on now; it just needs to be tweaked a little bit.
Here is what I suggest:
1. Continue putting your youngest in bed first and giving her a chance to go to sleep.
2. When your eldest is ready for bed, review the rules with her, but change things slightly:
   A. Say: "I expect you to go to bed quietly without waking your sister. And I expect you to go to sleep quickly and sleep until you see the sun."
   B. Then say: "What do I expect of you?" She should repeat the expectations faithfully. Then you say: "That's right" and then you repeat your expectation.
   C. Then you add: "If you live up to these expectations, tomorrow you will get to (and then name a special treat or privilege that she would enjoy -- going with you to a special place, a trip to the park, etc.). If you don't follow the rules, then there will be no special... Do you understand? Tell me what will happen if you follow the rules...And what will happen if you don't follow the rules?"
   D. If she repeats the consequences indicating her understanding, then say, "Yes! Exactly right! You have a great memory! And I know you want to enjoy our special trip (or whatever)."
   E. Finally, you have to follow through that next day. If she lives up to the expectation, give her much verbal praise ("I'm so proud of you!" etc.); if she fails to live up to the expectation say: "I'm sorry you did not follow all the rules. We'll try again tonight."

  Now, what happens if she awakens her sister and they engage in the usual play? If you need to go to them and quiet them down, do so. But don't threaten or bring up the expectation. Do not get angry. Do not remind her of the agreement. Save it for the next morning when you will say what I have suggested above.
  Finally, do not expect this to be instantly successful. It make take a week or more before she gets it right. When she does, there should be lots of verbal praise. Always use verbal praise wen she succeeds at any level or part of this. Ultimately, you are going to stop giving special treats or privileges and only use verbal praise. In the long run, that can be discontinued, too. I would guess this will take four to eight weeks to establish a new pattern of behavior.
Any questions?

James Windell  


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James Windell


I can answer questions related to normal child development, disturbed behavior and how to provide appropriate guidance and discipline.


I've been a clinical psychologist in a juvenile court, worked in school settings, been a child psychotherapist in a private psychiatric clinic and consulted with schools, courts, hospitals and daycare centers.

American Psychological Association
Michigan Psychological Association

I have been a columnist with the Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI) for 21 years writing a weekly column called Coping With Kids, which is also published weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been a mental health columnist with the Detroit Free Press and a columnist for Working Mother Magazine. In addition, I have published articles in professional journals. I have published 16 books, among them are "8 Weeks to a Well-Behaved Child" (IDG Books), "Discipline: A Sourcebook of 50 Failsafe Techniques for Parents" (IDG Books); "Children Who Say No When You Want Them to Say Yes" (IDG Books), "What You Need to Know About Ritalin" (Bantam Books) "6 Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers" (John Wiley & Sons), "The Fatherstyle Advantage" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) and "Defusing High Conflict Divorce" (Impact Publishers). My latest parenting book (2012) is "The Everything Child Psychology and Development Book." Articles about my work with parents has appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. My website at includes more information about me, my books and includes many columns I've written.

B.A. in Psychology from Wayne State University
M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University

Awards and Honors
Best Educational Program by Juvenile and Family Court Judges Association (National award for the development of a parent training program for parents of delinquent teenagers. Beth Clark Service Award from the Michigan Psychological Association.

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