Children sharing a bed with their parents is an absolute no-no for some people, while others regard it a special experience and want it to last as long as possible.
All too soon your baby has become a toddler but he still wants to sleep with you. How do you then get children to make the transition to their own bed? And are there any benefits to a so-called family bed? We approached experts for advice.
Own bed or not?
“Research shows there’s a bigger risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids) in children who share their parents’ bed,” says Anne-Marie Rencken, director of training and an accredited mediator with the Institute of Family Mediators in Johannesburg.
“In America and England many paediatric associations disapprove of babies sleeping with their parents,” she adds.
While Rencken doesn’t support the idea of children sharing their parents’ bed, LeeAnn Stretch, a sleep therapist at the counselling service Sleep Matters, says what’s appropriate varies from one family to the next.
“See what works best for your family, provided everyone is happy and gets a good night’s rest,” she suggests. Stretch emphasises that she doesn’t have formal qualifications in the field but draws on eight years’ experience as a sleep therapist and uses tips from Erica Neser’s book, Sleep Guide For Babies And Toddlers.
Often parents initially have the baby sleeping in their room then move them to their own room when they’re a little older, Stretch says. “In some families the mom sleeps in the nursery so the dad can get a good night’s sleep. In other families the children may wander over to their parents’ room in the middle of the night and then the mom or dad moves to another room or bed.”
Up to what age should a child share your bed?
“The risk of Sids makes sharing your bed dangerous for small babies,” Rencken says. “And from the age of six months babies not only develop their own sleeping pattern, but should learn to comfort themselves and not be dependent on external comforters such as dummies, cradling or another person’s breathing.”
Even people who support children sharing their parents’ bed agree it should be over by schoolgoing age, Rencken says. “But the habit becomes very hard to break. Children can throw tantrums and start manipulating you with all kinds of behaviour to get their own way.”
There’s no prescribed age at which a child should start sleeping in their own bed or room, Stretch says. “But the older the child the harder it is to get him out of your bed or room.”
The change should be introduced when both parents and child are ready, she says.
Disadvantages of a family bed
- Babies can die or suffer injuries.
- Children get used to having someone in the bed or room with them until they fall asleep and their separation anxiety could get worse.
- Adults’ sleep is interrupted.
- With a restless or snoring parent in the bed the child can develop poor sleeping patterns.
- Parents sacrifice intimacy and privacy. Partners can feel rejected if one sleeps with the baby and this can cause tension in the relationship.
- The family bed becomes even more problematic when more than one child wants to sleep with the parents.
- It enhances bonding.
- Parents have peace of mind knowing the baby or toddler is with them.
- Children have fewer nightmares and become more self-confident.
- Parents don’t have to get up for a crying child – great for breastfeeding moms!
Tips for moving your child from your bed
- Let the child sleep in their own room during the day so they can feel at home there.
- Establish an evening routine of putting the child to bed in their room and going back to your own room.
- Allow your toddler to sleep on a mattress in your room, then make a fuss about their own room and reassure them they’ll be safe.
- Move into your child’s room so they can get used to the space. When they’re comfortable move back to your own room.
- Let your child fall asleep on their own.