Fashions and views of “best practice” have changed here many times over the years.
They may also vary by culture too.
What is ‘right’?
In the past, particularly in poorer high-density families and some non-European cultures, children may have shared the parental bed to a fairly advanced age – possibly into their teens. That was out of necessity and having no other choice.
By contrast, some traditional disciplinarian type views suggest children should never be admitted to the parental bed under any circumstances and even as babies.
However, it’s possible to generalise and say that most parents would welcome the opportunity to have a greater degree of privacy but that many children love sneaking into the parents’ bed.
So, how to deal with this?
Set the yardstick
Today, broadly speaking, it’s suggested that even as babies, children shouldn’t be encouraged to think of the parental bed as somewhere they normally sleep.
Ideally, babies should sleep in a separate cot close to the parental bed. At a suitable age, which might vary by each child, they should be moved into their own bedroom.
Note that a child having their own room is NOT the same thing as saying the family bed is out of bounds. There are many reasons why children might wish to sneak back in – usually to do with comfort and reassurance after a nightmare or simply because they feel like it.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all but try to avoid them being allowed to go to sleep in the bed with you. A cuddle and a story are fine but if they start to think they can only get to sleep in your bed, you may find it difficult to get them out.
If they wake up in the night and think your bed is the only place they can doze off, they’ll come right back in if they feel they won’t be able to get back to sleep.
If you do have a child who has become accustomed to sleeping in the parental bed, some of the following tips might help:
- encourage them to think of their bedroom as “their room” and make sure it’s filled with lots of things they like. If they share a room with siblings, make certain that a part of it is clearly ‘theirs’;
- talk about sleeping in their room as being part of becoming “grown-up”. Give them lots of praise when they do so;
- don’t be too ruthless with ‘lights out’ rules. Encourage them to read/draw in bed and show an interest. It’s perhaps better to forbid PC or mobile games after a cut-off time that shouldn’t be too close to the time you want them to sleep. That’s because they can become too energised and will then find sleep to be difficult;
- always make the effort to tuck them into their own beds and give a story if possible;
- stress to your child that the fact they’re in their own room and bed doesn’t mean you and your bed are totally unavailable. Leave doors open to increase their confidence and stress they can come in at any time if they’re feeling poorly or have had a bad dream etc.
Your objective is to persuade your child that their bed and bedrooms are theirs and something to be enjoyed – not a punishment.
Once your child accepts that, the days when they insist on coming into your room will suddenly seem like ancient history!