A young child often needs
his parents during the night. As an infant, he may wake up crying
for them, and as a toddler he may call out for them or get out of
bed to find them. Some parents meet their child’s nighttimes needs
by going to his room and comforting him there. But other parents
find it easier at times to let their child sleep in bed with them.
These parents believe that they and their child sleep better when
they’re all together.
The thought of a child sleeping with his parents shocks some people
who’ve been conditioned by “experts” to believe the experience is
harmful. Many parents who let their child sleep with them at night
are reluctant to discuss the issue because they think their
situation is unique. Actually, many parents have their children
sleep in bed with them at some point, and they find the experience
easy, enjoyable, and beneficial.
Children end up in their parents’ beds for a variety of reasons.
Parents might bring a wakeful infant to bed so they can tend to him
without having to get up during the night. Or they might want him
near so they can be sure he’s safe, and so he can feel emotionally
secure. Parents of a toddler may find their child climbing into bed
with them on his own during the night. While some toddlers sleep
easily in their rooms, others are too frightened or lonely to stay
by themselves and try desperately to sleep with their parents. A
child who’s determined to be with them will climb out of his crib or
bed and go to their room. One child told his parents, “I think of
scary things in my bed, but when I get into your bed they go away.”
If they won’t let him into their bed, he might try to sleep on the
floor next to their bed or in the hall way outside their door.
Parents who do choose to let their child sleep with them still may
express concerns. They wonder if they’re being too responsive to
their infant or toddler, or if he will become too dependent on them.
It’s true that he may develop a habit of sleeping in his parents’
bed, but he won’t be harmed by this. Rather, he’ll benefit from the
reassurance and sense of security he receives from such closeness.
When parents start letting their child sleep with them, they may
wonder if they will ever again have a bed to themselves. Parents of
a nine-month-old can feel overwhelmed by the thought that their
child may be in bed with them for a few years, although actually,
children’s sleeping patterns and needs are hard to predict and
parents’ expectations change as children develop. The amount of time
a child will spend in his parents’ bed varies between families and
within families over time. Some parents have their infant with them
for the first six months to a year. Others let their child fall
asleep in their bed and then move him to his own room each night; he
may spend the whole night there or wake up and come back to his
parents’ room. Some children spend part of every night with their
parents, while others come to their parents’ bed only occasionally.
Ultimately, the parents’ goal is to have their child sleep on his
own, and as he becomes less dependent on their reassurance, he’ll be
ready to spend nights in his own bed. At that point, his parents can
help him get used to sleeping in his room by offering a night light,
music, or back rub.
Parents wonder how their sexual relations will be affected by the
presence of a child in bed. Since sexual relations should always be
private from children, parents should not become intimate when their
child is in bed with them. They can either be together in another
room in the house or carry their sleeping child back to his own
room. To assure privacy, they should close and lock the bedroom door
when they’re having sexual relations. And if the child does surprise
them during an intimate moment, they should try not to overreact to
the intrusion. The chances are good that the sleepy child has not
observed his parents very closely. Although they might feel that the
child who sleeps with them interferes with sexual spontaneity, they
should remember that a child who wakes up crying in his own room
also interrupts his parents’ intimacy.
Aside from effects on sexual relations, there’s another aspect to
having a child in bed that parents are sometimes concerned about—the
quality of sleep. While many parents are happy to avoid getting up
with their children at night, others find that having a child in bed
is not very restful. An infant makes many sounds as he sleeps, and a
toddler may toss and turn, waking his parents. Some pediatricians
recommend that parents buy themselves a queen or king size bed so
they can accommodate their child. Another possibility is for parents
to place a mattress or crib in their room so the child can sleep
Most parents who let their child sleep in bed with then are pleased
with the result. Parents who are away from their child all day enjoy
the chance to be close to him at night, to give a
middle-of-the-night hug and say, “I love you,” and to wake up next
to him in the morning. They often report that he doesn’t have
nightmares and has fewer problems falling asleep when he’s in bed
with them. And families tend to get more sleep when parents don’t
have to wake up and go to a child in another room.
If you’re concerned about having your child in your bed, remember
that there are different ways to meet his needs. If you’re
comfortable going to your child’s room, that’s a good choice for
you. And if you prefer bringing your child back to your own room,
that also is fine. Whichever way you choose to respond, the
important thing is to give him the security that comes with
attention and care.