It makes sense to sleep with your child within their first few years of life. Your kids might be scared of the dark — which is a pretty common fear — and they could also be looking for attachment and safety. Yet at a certain point, your kids need to grow up and learn to sleep on their own.
“Children typically are taught to sleep in their own beds between ages 5 and 8 years old. Some parents need education on how to successfully do that, which is why they never teach their children or teach them too late,” licensed marriage and family therapist Katie Ziskind tells SheKnows. “I recommend parents start their child around age 5 in the child's bed to teach their child that their bed is safe,” she says.
Not only will this improve your own quality of sleep (and probably your sex life!), but also, it’ll create a sense of independence for your child and help them learn to feel comfortable on their own.
If you’re struggling to say no — which can be hard when your kids are so darn cute — consider these pros and cons of letting older kids share your bed.
Pro: It fosters closeness
Co-sleeping does provide that bonding experience between parent and child — on both ends. Kids feel safe throughout the night. If a kid starts in the parents’ bed, the child will consider that bed to be theirs all the time. So, if a nightmare happens, the child can spend the whole night in the parent's bed and feel protected, Ziskind explains.
If the kids start in their own beds but have a nightmare in the middle of the night, letting them join you could be the only way to mitigate their anxiety. “Kids need comfort. If your child wakes up crying, absolutely offer comfort, soothing and support by bringing them from their own room into your bedroom and into your bed for some cuddles,” she says.
Likewise, sometimes parents need some extra comfort. “For instance, if a parent has recently lost their spouse, they may want their child or teen to sleep with them for their own comfort, but this may not be in the best interest of the child,” says Ziskind.
Con: It also fosters dependence
It’s OK for your kids to feel dependent on you when they're young; however, once they reach a certain age, it’s time to learn to take care of themselves. This isn’t to say they should be thrown on a subway or start walking home alone — they’re still young! — but learning how to clean up after themselves and withstand a night of darkness and potential terrors would be beneficial for both parents and child.
“Children need to learn independence and that they can be OK on their own and in the dark,” Ziskind says.
Con: It wreaks havoc on your sex life
Womp-womp. If you’re wondering why sexy-time has diminished, you can look to your co-sleeping habits with your children. “When kids sleep with parents, the parents lose out on intimate time. Children can weave their way into a marriage and cause parents to miss out on important alone time as adults,” she says.
Parents need to have firm boundaries about their bed being theirs and theirs alone. “If parents are struggling and are in conflict in their marriage, I often see one parent be passive-aggressive by bringing a child into the parent's bed to block intimacy,” Ziskind adds. This will only exacerbate the sexual drought and cause tension in the relationship.
Con: It causes you to skimp on sleep
Co-sleeping can also mess with your shut-eye and prevent you from getting those 7 to 8 hours of sleep you need each night to wake up feeling restored. (And as busy parents, you really need those!)
Kids can be noisy, take up room on the bed to limit space for parents and be needy when scared. These distractions can make bedtime hard for parents, explains Ziskind. What’s more, since you’re missing out on regular sex, you’re not able to active feel-good hormones, such as oxytocin, the love hormone, to help you snooze faster and soundly throughout the night.
The takeaway? If your kid is really struggling at a young age, it’s OK to bend the rules. However, once kids turn 5, it’s smart to create some rules, educating kids on sleeping alone and prioritizing alone time for your and your S.O.