According to a recent survey by Better Homes & Gardens, families are prioritizing affordability and energy efficiency over square footage, which means that more children will experience the ups and downs of sharing a bedroom with a sibling.
Bunking up has a bevy of benefits: efficient use of space, a single bedtime routine for multiple children and an irreplaceable sibling bond, to name a few. Kids who share rooms have a leg up when it comes to all-important skills such as negotiation and compromise. But shared bedrooms can also breed sibling squabbles faster than you can say "room divider."
"Whenever two or more people share space, conflict is inevitable," says Laura Brightwood, a family therapist in Chapel Hill. But that doesn't mean families should shy away from shared bedrooms — conflict can actually be a good thing, she says. "Conflict between siblings is a learning tool for all kinds of learning in life."
Whether your bunkmates are toddlers or teenagers, here's how to keep the peace in a shared bedroom.
Ages 0-5: Creative discipline
The toddler and preschool years are a great time to move kids to a shared room: Tots will likely be excited about the switch and adapt quickly. And though many parents worry that children won't sleep well in a shared room, fretting is usually unfounded — some little ones actually sleep better with a sibling nearby. But disciplining young roommates can be tricky. Without the bedroom as a default timeout, cool-down spot, parents have to get creative about discipline, says Brightwood.
"If young kids need a secluded spot to cool down or take a break, it's possible to create private space throughout the house, in the parents' room, a den, even a bathroom."
Ages 6-10: Privacy prizefights
Kids begin demanding more privacy during middle childhood, resulting in shared-space scuffles ("Mom, she's not staying on her side!" "Can't he just leave me alone for a second?") One reason: During the elementary school years, a child's budding sense of modesty about his or her body ramps up self-consciousness, so the same child who once gleefully streaked around the house sans clothes as a tot may balk at dressing and undressing in front of siblings, particularly a sibling of the opposite gender.
Parents can ease fighting over property and privacy by establishing clear policies about who is allowed to touch what and by giving each child a "sacred space" within the bedroom to call his own and to decorate as he pleases, whether it's a bulletin board, a bookshelf or a bed. If communal dressing and undressing is causing problems, kids can change clothes in the bathroom.
Ages 11-18: Sleepover scraps
Tweens and teens are bound to want alone time with their pals during sleepovers and friend visits, and parents are nearly guaranteed to hear a shrill chorus of "It's not fair!" as they tussle over when they get to use the room.
Before investing in earplugs to dull the din, consider this: Parents are children's primary role models when it comes to sharing space.
"Parents who share a bedroom with a spouse can have an opportunity to model compromise and consideration," says Brightwood.
Parents can guide kids through problem-solving by helping each child reframe grievances and define needs using "I" language: "I feel hurt when you exclude me from your sleepover" or "I need an hour uninterrupted to work on a school project." Afterward, children can brainstorm potential solutions together. This negotiation practice will pay off big-time, says Brightwood. In the long term, kids gain skills that give them a leg up in life, along with a stronger sibling bond: all in all, a pretty sweet bunk-bed bundle.