Is it OK to allow a child to sleep with his or her parents? This is a hot-button and controversial topic. Some believe there is nothing wrong with parents sharing a bed with their child as long as the parents set aside time for their own intimacy. Others believe that parents who share a bed with their child are setting themselves and the child up for future frustration and failure when it comes time to transition the child to his or her own bed. When the child knows that the parents want him or her to transition but can’t make it happen, he or she may experience guilt and believe he or she is disappointing the parents. Even parents who have difficulty transitioning a child into his or her own bed sometimes have separation issues.
Some people see the terms “co-sleeping” and “bed sharing” as synonymous. They’re not. Co-sleeping is the act of a child sleeping in the same room as the parents, perhaps in a sleeper that attaches to the bed, while bed sharing is sleeping on the same surface.
As with most things, there are pros and cons. For nursing mothers, bed sharing is often easier and can be done safely. Often, though, there is concern around bed sharing with infants due to the possibility of suffocation.
Some parents struggle with the idea of having an infant sleep apart from them in a separate bed and room. Some believe bed sharing provides the best opportunity for secure attachment. Others disagree.
For parents, the decision to co-sleep or bed-share with a child is a personal one.
There is concern among some that bed sharing does not provide an opportunity for infants to learn how to self-soothe, that it encourages over-reliance on parents when the infant is upset. Another concern is that infants may not learn to fall asleep on their own.
For parents, the decision to co-sleep or bed-share with a child is a personal one. Parents must decide what works best for their family’s needs and structure. Having said that, parents should not have a child sleep with them in order to get their own emotional needs met, or as a solution to an infant’s inability to go to sleep.
Transitioning the Child to His or Her Own Bed
Close connection between parents and their child is crucial to the child’s healthy emotional development. Such a connection helps to facilitate the transition from the family bed to the child’s own. Some suggestions for parents to transition their child back to his or her bed while staying close emotionally include:
- Parents need to remember that weaning a child from the family bed may be upsetting to the child—and that is OK. The child may experience feelings of fear and grief. Parents should help the child work through those feelings. Through the process of providing support and opportunity for the child to express his or her emotions, the child can be expected to become more confident.
- When a child has strong feelings to dissolve, parents can help by allowing him or her to cry or scream. Parents should remind the child that there is no presence of danger. When this happens, the child may be more likely to release his or her feelings and reach a calm state of mind.
- When a child is sad or scared, parents should stay close and listen, which typically helps the child greatly. This allows the parent to stay in close proximity to the child while expressing love and attention as the child expresses his or her feelings. Parents should allow the child to fully engage in the feelings while holding the child close until he or she feels emotionally safe and confident that the parents are watching over him or her.
- Having a bedtime ritual can be helpful for the child in the transition from the family bed to his or her own. It may be helpful if parents can conceptualize the process of the child going from the family bed to his or her own as one with many steps. Each child will need varying amounts of time for this process to come full circle. When parents provide love and caring through this process, the child may slowly release stored feelings of grief and fear. This will allow for the child to cooperate and, eventually, to sleep independently.
- Parents should tell their child they are going to help him or her feel safe enough to sleep in his or her own bed. Saying this shows respect for the child’s intelligence, as children often understand more than parents assume.
When parents help their child feel safe in his or her own bed, at his or her pace, while listening to any feelings expressed along the way, they will typically see the child shed any lingering concerns and successfully transition.
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