Co-sleeping with Children

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

When should my child be sleeping in his own bed?

Children often sleep alongside parents or siblings as they are growing up. This practice is termed “co-sleeping”, and typically, it occurs on a nightly basis for an extended period of time: weeks, months, or in some cases, years. Many families find co-sleeping a good way spend time together and bond as a family, or to reduce their child’s stress around falling asleep or waking during the night. It is also popular among breastfeeding mothers during their child’s infancy.

While sharing a bed might ease pressures on families while children are very young, the habit of co-sleeping can pose problems as children mature. By the time their children are 2 – 2 1/2 years old, most parents will be eager to have them sleep easily through the night in their own beds.

Why should my child learn to sleep alone?

Encouraging independent sleep in children as they mature is important for several reasons:

  • Extended co-sleeping can discourage children from achieving what’s known as “night time independence”. Children with night time independence are confident that they can fall asleep on their own, and know how to comfort themselves if they are stressed or anxious around sleep – key steps in healthy emotional development.
  • Frequently, pre-school and school-aged children have fitful sleep cycles. Having a child kicking, tossing and turning in their bed can interrupt parents’ sleep, leading to exhaustion and stress throughout the day.
  • Parental intimacy is often compromised when their children sleep with them. This can have a detrimental effect on a couple’s relationship, affecting communication and physical closeness.

How do I break the cycle of co-sleeping with my school-aged child?

If your child refuses to sleep alone, or wakes up crying during the night, and only stops when you are near, he might be experiencing separation anxiety at night. This pattern is also known as “night-time separation anxiety”. Night-time separation anxiety is common among children up to 3 years old, but older children can experience it as well.

Here are some things you can do to ease night time separation anxiety and help your child sleep alone:

  • Develop a regular daily routine. The same waking, nap time, and bedtimes will help your child feel secure, which can help them fall asleep more easily. Have a bedtime routine – for example, bath followed by story time and a brief cuddle. Consistency and clear communication is key.
  • Keep lights dim in the evening and expose your child’s room to light, preferably natural, as he wakes. These light patterns stimulate healthy sleep-wake cycles.
  • Avoid putting your child to sleep with too many toys in his bed, which can distract him from sleeping. One or two “transitional objects”, like a favourite blanket or toy, however, can help a child get to sleep more easily.
  • Don’t use bedtime as a threat. Model healthy sleep behaviour for your child, and communicate that sleep is an enjoyable and healthy part of life.
  • Avoid stimulants like chocolate, sweet drinks, TV and computer use before bed time. Children ideally need to relax and “wind down” for at least 1 hour before bed time.

Some other strategies to reduce your child’s dependence on co-sleeping include:

  • Wean your child from your bed over time. For example, you might plan to spend part of the night on a mattress on the floor of your child’s bedroom or sleep with him for a few hours in his bed before returning to your own.
  • Use a baby monitor to help a child who wakes at night communicate with you or your partner. This will also reduce the likelihood of him walking to your bedroom. If your child communicates to you through the monitor, visit him in his bed to reduce disturbance.
  • Use rewards, such as The Quirky Kid Tickets to measure improvements in your child’s independent sleeping. For example, a partial night spent in his own bed will earn him a yellow ticket, while a full night sleeping alone will get him a red one. The child might collect tickets to exchange them for a prize.

We offer a range of services, workshops and individualised consultations to support children with sleeping difficulties. Please contact us for more information.

 

Recommended Resources:

Sources:

University of Michigan Health System (2011). Sleep problems. Retrieved September 23, 2011 from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/sleep.htm

Brazelton, T. Berry and Joshua D. Sparrow (2003). Sleep: The Brazelton Way. Perseus Books.

Kimberley O’Brien (2011). Interview on Co-Sleeping with children and strategies for parents.

Keller, M. A. and Goldberg, W. A. (2004), Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children’s independence?. Infant and Child Development, 13: 369–388.

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20 Responses to “Co-sleeping with Children”

November 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm, Angela said:

I have co slept with my son since birth. He is now 3 years old and I have been told by his daycare that he is one of the most independent intelligent children they have. I breastfed for 27months. He has never really experienced separation anxiety either. He is incredibly social and happy. I have friends who co sleep and also never had issues. I have friends who do not co sleep and do have issues and visa versa.

I have 1 more subject to finish my undergraduate psyc degree and looking at honors.

I intend to keep co sleeping also.

I am wondering how you came up with your conclusions and what empirical evidence can you provide to back up your opinions.

I am also wondering, if you have considered that in many other parts of the world, co sleeping is the norm. Have you considered that you may be imposing a relatively new Western model on families?

Are you suggesting that the millions upon millions
(if not billions) of families who choose to live this way are indeed creating anxious sleepers?

What research has been done on cultures other than the west? Or is this just another theory created by western society suggesting a normal way of living for countless families around the world is indeed creating abnormal sleep anxieties?

I have read through a lot of your resources and do indeed like many of them. But, do not agree with this. Sorry.

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August 29, 2016 at 6:00 am, Shawna said:

There’s a big difference between co-sleeping but being able to sleep alone, and having anxiety to where the child is unable to sleep alone. My stepdaughter is the latter. She’s 9 and her mother has never given her the option to sleep alone–she’s never had her own bed, room, and is forced to sleep with her mom every night. She’s told that she’ll be too afraid to sleep alone and due to her anger issues my stepdaugher buys into it. Her mother doesn’t have/allow men to play a significant role in her life, so my stepdaughter is unhealthily used to fill that role. Through encouragement she has slept alone at our house but once her mother found out she got in trouble and now is back to being afraid. We were denied overnight visits for years because she would be “too afraid”. I’m not saying your situation is anything like that, but in some cases co-sleeping needs to be discouraged. If we were able to have her more than 4 days/month I know she would be a normal, confident, happy girl.

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December 15, 2011 at 4:16 am, Tania said:

With regard to Angela’s response, the mere fact you read this article means that you were obviously questioning your decision.
As a mother of four, there are no definites in raising children; however, a child that can not easily and comfortably retreat to his own bed and securely – by using his own tools – fall asleep may feel anxiety. Putting a child in a situation that they only depend on a parent to sleep can be extremely stressful for a child…what happens when that child needs to sleep at another persons home?
What others may do or not do in other parts of the world is not relevant…what is best for that child is usually best administered by that parent – by what I feel are their own natural intuitive responses… years ago, before we had all this research, books, media…all we had to base our parenting skills on was what we knew instinctively and what we learned from our parents.
I co-slept with a couple of my children until they were 1 or 2 and a couple, not at all… what I learned (which seems to be forgotten in all these discussions) is this – we as parents need our own privacy as well. We need to be able to have sex when we want…we need to be able to thrash around the bed during sleep if we want…we should be able to turn the lights off when we want…and when we have children sleeping in our beds …all that is gone. It is difficult enough in this world to keep a marriage together or have any intimacy … I think its extremely important that the parents needs also need to be addressed. If the parents are not happy the children are not… its a domino effect. Are we so afraid to be judged as selfish or a “bad parent” to admit that we need our children to ALSO learn to sleep alone for our own sake??? And since, there are no facts to prove an older child 3+ shouldn’t sleep alone… why wouldn’t you want them to do so?

I am not a psychologist or counselor …just a simple mother of four – married, divorced, single, child with bi-polar, child with PDD, girls, boys…

There is truly no need to defend yourself and how you parent…just do what you feel is best… and stop trying to prove its correct…because only you should care…

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December 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm, Angela said:

@Tania. Thank you for your response. I certainly agree that it is indeed imperative for individual families make choices based on what is best for their own needs and circumstances. It is also important to understand the difference between parents who feel guilty and co sleep because are motivated by guilt, and also parents who choose to co sleep because they choose to and feel it is best for their child.

Your statement claiming that what happens in other places in the world is irrelevant is not only incorrect, but really dismissive of what may indeed be right for other families. For instance, co sleeping works for millions of people, but it does not work for you or other families. Does that mean it does or does not work?

You are speaking from a personal perspective which to me is really important and valid for you. However, it seems as though you have misunderstood my point entirely.

Let me see if I can explain it better. Western psychology has been based on research primarily done on white middle class citizen. This has its merits, as we may be able to make some generalizations from those studies. But, those generalizations are indeed incredibly;y limited. For example, the psychologist in question has stated point blank that parents must not co sleep, that research proves it will cause sleep disorders. This may be relative to the sample of that study. It may not however be relative to a much wider sample of people. That is why, I asked the questions I did, as it is critical for this kind of disclosure when professionals make some sweeping claims.

On the contrary, there is research suggesting that co sleeping is more beneficial. But again, I am reluctant to make any sweeping generalizations purely from the samples used.

I am more inclined to agree with you on the point that it is important for families to make choices based on their own individual needs and wants. I will add that regardless of what we believe, we need to be flexible with those beliefs and not hold on to them too tightly. As such, we will be better equipped to make changes when things no longer work for us

I know many families who make the choice to co sleep and the consequences are positive. However, I also know families who co sleep out of guilt and obligation and that can be tiresome. I also know many families who do not co sleep and it is fine too.

The point of my post was that such sweeping generalizations in a profession setting like this need to be substantiated. The research the author is referring to may well be valid and reliable,- therefore the claims can be generalized. However, I need to do a critical analysis of it before I will accept it. .

p.s. I have always co slept with my son and he happily sleeps at his grandmothers and his fathers. I am his primary carer. I think the important point in sleep overs especially when children are young is that they have a secure attachment to you, so that they know and trust you enough that you will be there for them the next day. They also depending on the age, MUST have a secure attachment with them also. I think it would be awful for a 2 year old to be with someone who they have no attachment too. That would be scary for them. But for a 10 year old, it is not so important.. I do not believe it is appropriate for a baby to be away from their primary caregiver at all unless they are securely attached to the other person involved.

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February 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm, Rebecca Ridding said:

My son is 4 and co sleep with me every night. We do not do this because he has trouble sleeping, We have a bedtime routine and he always falls asleep after I have left the room. I have been told that he should be sleeping alone as is the norm in my social group, which is why I read this article, however I do not see why it is deemed acceptable for adult couples to choose to sleep together (for love and companionship) and not for a parent and a child especially if it is not disrupting an intimate adult relationship e.g. in the case of single parents. My son is independent and strong minded (as am I) and has no problem playing or interacting with children and adults. He is not afraid of the dark, has never had nightmares and I ask him regularly if he wishes to sleep in his own bed. He is very aware that he is sleeping in my bed, and I am confident that when he decides that he wants to sleep in his own he will do so. Until then, we will continue to co sleep.

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April 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm, Michelle said:

Hi,

I know this is an old topic but I’m looking for guidance on this issue. My son is 8 and still sleeps in bed with me. I thought he would grow out of it in his own time but it’s not working out that way. As he has gotten older there have been periods where he was happy to sleep by himself for a few weeks/months but he always prefers to sleep with me and finds a way to sneak in during the night until it has become a habit again. I’m starting to feel like he’s too old for this, but if it’s causing anxiety for him to sleep alone should I make an issue of it? I’m a single parent so it’s only me in the big bed otherwise. Any advice?
Michelle

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February 11, 2013 at 5:12 am, Lissie said:

I believe a child needs their own space to call their own, to make it their own to support the in being responsible and feeing secure within themselves. tks.

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February 11, 2013 at 6:12 am, Lissie said:

Please think about it: the effects of sleeping with your child when over 3 yrs. of age may cause a man to be dependent on his mother for emotional love and support, even when married with children. Since now separated from his wife, his child is sleeping with his mom, just as he did as a boy and now he shows attachment issues not just at night but anytime he’s with his mom. The teacher has begged that he have his own room (he has since the age of 7, he’s now 8) and nothing has changed. He’s stuck to mother like valcor.
From my experience, and trying to find help, I found this site and read it closely. I absolutely now believe that any mother sleeping with her child over 3 is doing it for her own lack of love in her life, ( I’m a grandma – I know I was there but didn’t know this till my own children were grown) her love for her child to replace what’s missing. Good luck when he’s older.

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March 11, 2013 at 1:39 am, Nadine said:

I am in my mid thirties, and I co-sleep with my daughter who is 8 1/2 years old, she does sleep in her bed for weeks at a time, but she too finds her way back into my bed, but I do not mind sleeping with her … I try to encourage her to sleep in her bed, but I don’t force her… I know It will be a few more years before she will want to sleep on her own. I want to mention that in terms of confidence …she is one of the most confident in her class … Best oral presentations, most sociable and liked in her class … The only problem we have is that she likes to talk too much and disrupts others … But other than that, every teacher she has had told me that her marks are not a true reflection her true intelligence (she is class average) What I want to tell others, is what an amazing psychologist has once told me ….you do what feels right …and no 2 people will be the same. example breastfeeding …I did not know when to stop …and this person told me …you will know as a mother …the moment you no longer feel at peace doing it and when it is affecting you as a person, then you will stop by choice… And that is exactly what happened …23 months later and I no longer wanted her at my breast and I stopped it since it no longer wanted her at my nipples … I want to tell everyone …you are doctors of your own children, no one knows them more then you do, do what feels right and stop listening to society … I recall as a child wanting to sleep next my mother but my dad would not let me …and still today I ask myself …what was so bad if I did sleep with her! Years later and i am still hurt by it. My message to everyone .. If you feel guilt doing something then don’t do it, if you feel tired of doing something then don’t do it, if you don’t have peace at night, don’t do it. so in whatever you decide … Remember, whatever you feel, your kids will feel the same

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March 15, 2014 at 3:24 am, Chicago_Lady said:

This is really interesting. I don’t have children myself but a very good friend of mine co-slept with her son until he was around five years old. She didn’t exactly advertise it, but when people found out they were usually pretty harsh/horrified. He eventually grew out of it and he’s a pretty normal kid (he’s like 16 now).

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April 03, 2014 at 10:14 am, Liz said:

My 4yo have always been co-sleeping with us since born. Recently we moved her into her new bedroom. For the whole month since the move, she has have bad nights. Wakes up several times during the night and cries for my accompany. I initally thought it is a transition/adjustment period that she needs to go through. But it’s been a month by now, both my husband and I, and particularly her – all 3 of us are having poor sleeps ever since. Does it mean that she is not ready to sleep by herself? Shall I move her back to our bed and wait until she is ready to sleep independently? So far I don’t see any benefit out from sleeping by herself. When should I give in?

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July 09, 2014 at 3:22 am, Kimberley O'Brien said:

Hello Kimberley, I’ve just read your thoughts on co sleeping and a few of your followers. I co sleep with my 2 year old. It started when he was 7 months old. I brought him to bed in the middle of the night to breast feed, fell back to sleep and here it is 19 months later and we still sleep together. I cherish the time, but as you mentioned there are times when it is very difficult. He is restless which concerns me and it wakes me often. As a result I am very tired. I know I need to get him into his one bed soon.
What would you suggest? My laying with him in his own room and quietly leaving, etc.?

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July 12, 2014 at 11:55 pm, Stephanie said:

I have three daughters ranging in ages from 22-10. I have co-slept with my eldest daughter until she was about 12. She is a happy, well adjusted 22 year old. I would lay down with her in her bed, when she falls asleep, I would return to my bed, occasionally she would wake up in the middle of the night, and she would come into my bed. After 12, not really at all. As a single mother, this was perfectly fine with me.

My 11 and 10 year old both co-sleep alternately with my husband and I. One night I lay with one daughter in her room until she goes to sleep, then we switch. Occasionally the younger daughter comes into our room in the middle of the night. 11 year old, rarely. Both girls are extremely independent. 11 year old traveled to Australia last summer by herself with a group of other children. 10 year old is in the gifted program, and is looking forward to her trip on her own this summer.
I find that we have a stronger bond as a family, we are all happy. There is no guilt, just something we love to do with our children and feel close. We say prayers, have a giggle, and go to sleep happy. We take out cues from our children, when they are ready to go to bed on their own. All three children have been sleeping at friends houses on their own for years, with no problems. In fact, the other parents have always reported that they are the first ones asleep.
I believe that is because we have kept the same routine and timeline to go to sleep all the time, when they go over someone’s house, they want to go to bed at the same time.
I was not born in this country, and even though I am an American citizen, I do not feel that societies norms, are what I need to do. I have always and will continue to feel that I will do what I feel is in the best interest of my children. I am a well educated person, who researches many points of view, but then I make my decision based on all the evidence. I hope you do too.

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October 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm, Doug said:

My son is 10 and my wife is Vietnamese – she wants to sleep in the same bed w/ my 10 year old son 1 night a week… Actually, they wanted to sleep every night but, I finally forbid it when he hit 10. So, now I am going to let them sleep together 1 night a week and hopefully it does not hurt his development. I will research it more but, right now I’m going to let them have their way 1 night a week… we’ve had arguments over this as I feared it could possibly have a negative effect on my son… but, I do think many in other cultures and countries do oftentimes co-sleep… we’ll see…

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October 21, 2014 at 7:33 am, Amelia said:

Hello,

I have some questions on Co-sleeping, I know a mother who Co sleeps with her daughter who is now 8 years old. I have made some suggestions to the mother that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start having the child start sleeping on her own. I know some of the importance of the child being able to cope with sleeping alone. I honestly don’t think the mother will stop Co sleeping until the child says something. What are your thoughts on this.

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November 01, 2015 at 4:05 pm, Wayne Bumbalough said:

I am dating a single mother of three sons. From conversation I found out that her sons slept with her a lot. I believe that is ok up to the age of puberty maybe.

29 years later her youngest son is so dependent upon her that he still asks her if he can sleep in the bed with her . Not to mention he has no ideal of what it means to depend on himself or even take care of his kids and support them. He actually believes that his Mother has to do it

I still did not read anything about how old is too old.

To the Moms that sleep with them all the time. When they get older past 15 tell me how he becomes a man and how sleeping with his Mother up to lets say 18.

I use to be an Army Drill Instructtor and I could always tell who was the Mamas boy. Then they would be the hardest ones to train to be independant and work as part of a team.

Real life is the real lesson. Put them in their own bed in your room by two then their own room by at least five.

Otherwise when they get married they will not have a clue as to their function as a man not to mention the poor woman who sees her husband get out of their bed and go sleep with his Mom in the middle of the night. It effects everyone different so I believe I will stick with experience and what Lizzie said about emotional love and support…

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April 03, 2016 at 6:46 am, Tanya said:

Sorry but I have to reply to your comments my husband is a complete mummy’s boy who never coz slept with his mum how do you know the people your referring to as mummy boys all co slept with there mum? Have you got reference to what you wrote to prove your theory? I co slept with my parents until I was 12 I am the most independent person as yet. I don’t rely on my parents help, I’m a mother of two and have worked with a stable marriage and home. What I don’t understand is why people cannot just do what’s best for there own needs without the judgement, because at the end of the day what works for some may not for others so be it! If you ain’t a fan don’t come up with your own theory because it doesn’t seem right for you.

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December 06, 2015 at 6:29 pm, danielle said:

My daughter Isabella she is 11 years or age and she is still sleeping with me we have tried everything and I have tried sleeping with her In her bed and leave during the night at about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning she would get up and come in my bed. And she claims that she had dreams that were scaring her and if she sleeps on her own something is going to happen. And I am a single mother and I honestly don’t know what to do. And she has anxiety when I even tell her its time for you to sleep in your bed tonight. Even when she has sleepovers at her friends house she gets so scared because she doesn’t feel comfortable. She feels she wants to try then when it come to night she says no mum please maybe another night. But she gets petrified.
Thx Danielle

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October 23, 2016 at 12:26 am, Joe said:

I agree with everyone who believes doing whats best for the child is best,but at the end of the day you can’t prove because you made the decision to let them stay in the bed helped them or vice versa,some things lie dormant in a person for years and/or children never tell parents or admit to a flaw they might have. I will say this I dont believe God intended for us as parents to allow our children to become dependent on parents to the point the bedroom which is suppose to be sacred place between husband and wife as constantly divided for years,I believe that every child is different which mean every transition to independent sleeping process should be different. At the end of the day a spiritual relationship with God provides wisdom to every situation,so I feel thats whats missing in our society. Husband leaves his mother and father and becomes one flesh,I think God left out separating from kids as being self explanatory.

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April 02, 2017 at 10:20 am, Brian said:

Bed-sharing (or lack thereof) is a consequence of customs, environmental conditions, cultural values and affluence.

Americans are in the minority. Around the world, sleeping together privately in marriage isn’t normal and sleeping away from one’s children is considered weird.

Dr. Carolyn Schwarz, a professor of anthropology at Goucher College, was completing her fieldwork in Northern Australia when a Western movie came on the television screen. The scene depicted a mother tucking her child into bed, and then retreating to her own room. Schwarz’s Aboriginal host mother commented, “The poor child has to sleep by himself!”

Globally speaking, the woman’s reaction wasn’t unusual. Many of the world’s mothers wouldn’t dream of placing a baby or young child in his own separate bed. The Western concept of sleep as a highly private affair simply isn’t universal. In fact, industrialized Western societies stand out amongst almost all cultures worldwide when it comes to family beds.

“Sleeping patterns are so tied to the importance of kinship for most cultures,” Dr. Schwarz says. “The idea of a crib or separating children physically to sleep would be considered unimaginable, even neglectful.”

Friends in sub-Saharan Africa, both east and west, live in small homes with one bedroom for the family. Many have no separate room for sleeping.

A narrow worldview is perhaps likely to narrow one’s intellect and preclude some understanding. Of course.

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