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Girl Talk: When Kids Share a Room

Q. I have a toddler and an 8-month-old. They share a room and often wake each other up at night. What's the secret to making this setup work?

My guess is that parents have always had the problem you're having  -- only they were too busy churning butter to leave a written record. (Oral histories of kids driving their parents mad do survive, however, and are usually recounted at Thanksgiving right before the pie.)

The point is, you're not alone  -- nor are you necessarily lacking parenting skills. The simple fact is that some kids sleep well, and some kids don't. My own boys were positively nocturnal until they were toddlers, and no matter how much food I shoved at them or how many miles they logged running around the house, they never failed to pop up in the middle of the night like Dracula searching for a meal. At one point I actually hoped that someone would catch a cold so I could reach for the Benadryl. What can I say? I was desperate.

After a few years of my boys sharing a room, however, I finally picked up a few tricks that didn't involve sedatives. Since there's no way to muffle every whimper or cough during the night, I started drowning them out. An air purifier makes a nice whirring noise, as does a fan, or you could pick up an ambient noise machine. I also find it helpful to keep the room as dark as possible. Heavy curtains block the sunrise until a decent hour. I've even plastered foil against the window to ensure darkness. Like I said: I was desperate.

Finally, since cribs are mobile and babies don't care about having their own "room," you might consider moving the 8-month-old out for a time and create an ad-hoc nursery in an office or other quiet room. (My mother made one in her walk-in closet by taking the door off and stationing a crib there for our overnight visits. It's dark and quiet, and my baby wakes up smelling like a sachet.)

To recap: white noise, black room, or a trial separation should work. If not, someone's bound to get a cold.