Should your children bunk together? There are benefits to room-sharing with siblings, but there can also be drawbacks.
Putting siblings in the same room makes a lot of sense. You can save space, and they won’t be lonely. But should your children be roommates? If room-sharing is something you’re debating, we’ve explored the pros and cons with family therapist Megan Costello and parenting expert Laurie Wolk.
Saving space is perhaps the biggest motivation for shared bedrooms. If you’re low on bedrooms, having your kids share a space is helpful. My preschool-aged children share, and our third bedroom is now a handy guest room/playroom hybrid. Whether to put kids together may not even be a choice, depending on how many bedrooms (and children) you have.
Costello notes lack of privacy is a downside to rooming with a sibling. One thing that can help is establishing rules regarding privacy and nudity (around age 5 or 6), Costello says.
If someone is approaching puberty, that may be a good time to move them to their own rooms. “I would definitely say during those hormonal puberty years, there is a natural need for space and individuation,” notes Wolk. “It’s a time when they will need to explore themselves, their space and their body.” If independent living spaces aren’t a practical reality, Wolk advises parents to set up a system that still allows each child their privacy, for instance scheduling time in the room alone.
“Kids who share a room often develop very close friendships with their roommate,” says Costello. My kids (ages 4 and 2) love to chat with each other before bed, and I feel better knowing they aren’t alone overnight. Another person’s presence can be a real comfort at nighttime.
More opportunities for unsupervised time with siblings means more opportunities for conflict and arguments, notes Costello. “Parents may find their kids insist they love sharing a room but they’re constantly bickering and arguing about whose stuff is where, etc.,” she says. In turn, parents need to spend more of their time navigating these conflicts. “This is stressful for parents and kids.”
Even though there may be more opportunities to bicker, all that negotiation can turn into something positive. Improved skills with sharing are a behavioral benefit gained from sharing a room, says Costello. “Sharing a room can help kids develop conflict-negotiation skills and help them to develop perspective-taking skills.”
Wolk agrees, noting that sharing a room is a “real-life opportunity for the siblings to learn how to negotiate, speak up for what they want, ask for what they need and share. It teaches getting along with others in a safe environment.”
Sharing builds character. “Even if families have enough money for each child to have their own room, it can be helpful to start children in the same room and let them graduate into having their own space,” says Wolk. “This allows children to learn the value of their own space as something they’re earned and a privilege, not a right.”
For children with special needs or sensitivities, room-sharing might be challenging. “I recommend separate bedrooms for kids who have impulse-control deficits, are sensitive sleepers (easily woken, difficulty falling asleep, night wakening) or have social skills deficits,” Costello says. “Generally, children who are struggling with emotional regulation need a private, separate space they can retreat to when family and social situations become overwhelming.”
Being in close quarters means siblings will naturally communicate more. “Whatever issues come up, it’s a chance to practice labeling how they feel and asking for what they need,” says Wolk. “Whether it’s speaking up that they want the top bunk or determining a level of organization, each discovery is an opportunity for your child to grow.”
“Sharing a room with a sibling will allow more familial influences to surround your children,” says Wolk, author of the upcoming book Girls Just Want to Have Likes, a guide to parenting in the time of social media. “There was a time when this was the norm, and generations of family members were living together. Parents had more control over the influences in their children’s lives. Sharing a room brings a piece of that back into the home.”
If you’ve decided to go ahead a take the leap into room-sharing, Costello has a few tips for the transition. “Creating a space that is equally for both children is helpful to ease the transition,” she says. “If you are moving one child into another child's previously private room, redecorating can help both kids view the space as shared. If they are old enough to participate and contribute, working together helps build team spirit.” As much as possible, redo the room’s decor and furniture setup so it feels like a new space for both kids to feel at home in.
And Wolk urges parents to be open about the change. “Information is power. Explain why they’re sharing a room,” she says. Even if the room change is due to something negative, such as loss of employment, be honest about the situation.
“Make sure to express the positive things about sharing a space as well as the negatives,” Wolk adds. “Let them know you will work together to make it as fair, comfortable and fun as possible.”
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