Sharing the family bed – also known as “co-sleeping” or “sleep sharing” – remains popular with some families. But when should you stop co-sleeping with your child?
Parents who adopt this practice of having their child sleep in their bed, instead of putting the child into her own bed in her own room, frequently comment on the benefits, such as better sleeping patterns for everyone and more intense parent-baby bonding.
In most instances, children move into their own beds before the age of two years, although there are some who continue to sleep with mum and dad until the age of five or six years.
Despite popular belief, there is no research evidence to support the view that children who sleep in the same bed as their parents up to the age of six years go on to develop psychological problems later on.
The practice appears to have no adverse developmental effects whatsoever. But if you do practise co-sleeping in your family, you may well decide that it’s time for your child to have her own bed now that she is five or six because, for example:
- She’s grown tall and takes up too much space
- She asks you if she can have a bed of her own
- You disturb her when you go to bed for the night
- You would like greater marital privacy in your bedroom
- She’s a very restless sleeper who moves around a lot
It really does come down to personal and lifestyle choices. There is no right or wrong with whatever sleeping arrangement you have. Choose what you think is the best for you and your child.
When you finally make up your mind that it’s time for your child to stop co-sleeping and have her own room, here are some suggestions:
1. Advance planning
Don’t make an impulsive switch from one sleeping arrangement to another. Chat things over with your child in order to ensure that she is content with the move. If the suggestion has come solely from you, expect some resistance to the idea as she may be stunned by it. Address any concerns she has about the move.
(Also read: My child refuses to sleep in his own bed: what to do)
2. Designing the bedroom
Get your child involved in designing and planning her new bedroom and choosing her own bed. She can help select the duvet cover and pillow cases, night lights, and also the wallpaper and curtains if you plan to redecorate her room. Making these decisions with her strengthens her emotional connection with her new bed.
3. Gradual move
Encourage your child to play in her bedroom before she actually sleeps there. Move her toys, games and clothes from your room into hers. She can play there during the day even though she continues to sleep in your family bed. Then pick a night where she will sleep on her own in her new bed.
4. Settling-in phase
As she has never had her own bed, the chances are she will feel strange sleeping alone at first. Expect the patter of small feet during the night, especially at the start, as she climbs back in with you. This settling-in phase might last up to two weeks, so be patient with her.
(Also read: 5 common sleep problems in children)
5. Determination to succeed
Depending on your child’s personality, she may try to persuade you to rethink the whole arrangement so that she can return to the family bed to co-sleep. That would be a retrograde step if you have already made up your mind about her sleeping on her own. Stick to your plans. Don’t give in to her protests. Have confidence in your decision to stop co-sleeping.