Q:Are there benefits to kids sharing a room? My 6-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl are having a hard time separating for sleep time, even though we now have the space for them to do so. They prefer the bunk beds they’ve shared for the past few years to their own spaces.
Whether or not siblings should share a bedroom is a multi-faceted question—if you actually have a choice about it—for which there is no clear-cut answer.
As you must well know, there are many families for whom room-sharing is not a choice, as they just don’t have the space in their home. Each child having her or his own room is a luxury for sure. Then there are places in our world where sleeping in the same bed, let alone, same room is simply what you do.
The desire for children to share a bedroom is heavily influenced by a parent’s own experience. The parent who has fond memories of sharing a bedroom with a sibling during his growing years often wants and expect that his own children will also share.
And the contrary is true, too. For the parent who resented having to share space, the choice is clear. In these cases, it has nothing to do with the needs or the possible consequences for the children—positive or negative. It is all about the parent.
I recall a client I had many years ago who had triplet girls. When the children were around 4 years old, his wife wanted the girls to each have her own room. The father was adamant about their sharing a room, even though they had plenty of space in their sprawling home. His reply to my inquiry about it was, “I just love hearing them talk together at night.”
After much digging, it became clear that keeping his girls in the same room helped him manage the out-of-control feeling he had in raising triplet girls. (I get that!) It had nothing to do with what might be in the girls’ best interest, helping them to grow to be separate individuals, especially as triplets.
Whether the children are the same or opposite gender plays a role in your room sharing decision. The older children get, the more self-conscious they can become, especially about exposing their private bodies.
Even in families where nudity is practiced for everyone, the sibling children can still become self-conscious with one another as they develop. When they reach the age of 7 years, most children want, seek and deserve that privacy.
Room sharing can be done, but it takes some planning and maneuvering by the occupants. In addition, even though it seems harmless at their ages now, likely that will not last. They will need their physical privacy the older they get.
The age spread between the children is a factor to consider, too. When the children are closer in age, their age-related interests are likely to be more compatible.
Of course, this reality may also lead to more fights of a sort. The closer the children are in age, the more likely their schedules will be congruent.
For this reason, it is important to consider not only the now but also the future. From a developmental perspective, teenagers have a driving need for privacy, their own space and independence. Often sharing a room sabotages those needs.
Compatibility beyond regular sibling stuff should also be considered. Each child’s living habits, sleep habits and basic temperamental traits must be considered. When one child is a night owl and the other a morning bird, these differences can lead to problems.
When my children were younger, one was decidedly neater and generally more organized than the others. Sharing a room with this child would have presented more problems than it would have cured, as both siblings were quite different from the one.
There are many positive consequences to sibling room sharing:
- It is a space saver. That’s a given.
- The siblings learn sharing, negotiating and compromise.
- The siblings (have to) learn to respect another person’s privacy.
- The siblings (have to) learn to respects each other’s possessions.
- The siblings find creative ways to play. Their play is often more imaginative.
- The sharing siblings’ sleep is often sounder, as they are comforted by the presence of another person.
- They also learn to sleep through noise that single sleepers may not.
- And finally … usually the roommates develop a close bond in a way that other experiences do not offer. This last positive consequence is the reason that many parents want their children to share a room. Just know that sharing a room is not a guarantee that the close bond will develop or that it will stick. But it often does. But know that a parent cannot force a close relationship.
There can be some negative consequences to sibling room sharing:
- Unless the room is configured to offer distinct areas of ownership, there can be a lot of fighting and complaining.
- Playdates can be problematic when one child wants to play without his sibling in his room.
- If you are a parent who disciplines by sending a child to his room, you’ll need to find a new isolation place.
- Two children in a room can become “partners in crime.” It is much easier to be naughty with a sibling. (But that also adds to their close relationship, which all parents love!)
- It is harder to enforce bed times with two chatters.
- As the children grow up, their social needs, general interests and desires grow apart. Their compatibility lessens. And it becomes tricky to meet the typical developmental needs of each.
- On a practical level, siblings who share a room run a much higher risk of sharing illness.
In deciding whether your children will share a room, there is only one bottom line: If you have a choice about it, it is best to do so for the right reason. That reason is considering what is best for the children and not because of your own past experiences or current desires. And remember this choice is for now and may not be for EVER.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through her website, betsybrownbraun.com.
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