At What Age Should a Child Sleep in Their Own Bed?

By Dr. Sheryl Grassie

Should your child sleep in bed with you and for how long? The answer to this question is as personal as a given family. Some kids are ready at 18 months, others not until 7 or 8 years old. There is not a definitive right or wrong when it comes to the correct age.

The concept of co-sleeping, bed sharing, or a family bed is very common in many parts of the world and has existed for a long time. Just how common it is, how well accepted, and up to what age, is mostly based on culture.

In the East, it is more common for families to sleep together. In Western cultures it is less supported and there is more focus on safety. Wherever you land on the question of children sleeping with their parents, and for what duration, there are experts to back you up. If you are co-sleeping, there may come a time when you need to need to move your child to their own bed.

Why Are Children Sleeping with Their Parents?

Before we tackle the when and how of moving your child to their own bed, it helps to have an idea of why your child is sleeping with you in the first place. Aside from space issues, which are very real for some families, most children are in bed with their parents for one of two reasons: by choice or by default.

If you planned to have your child sleep in your bed, discussed it ahead of time, read up on the subject of a family bed, and are enjoying the process, then good for you. Many families experience a very significant bond from co-sleeping and feel their child is better nurtured. But just because it was an intentional choice, does not mean you want it to go on forever. You will have to decide what age is no longer appropriate for co-sleeping or address it for a host of other reasons. You may have a slightly different process with different considerations compared to parents who didn’t want a child sleeping with them in the first place.

Surprisingly, many parents report they never intended to have their child sleep with them. They may have been influenced by a pediatrician who was following the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children sleep in the room with their parents, but not in the same bed. However, before they knew it, they were lifting their baby out of the bassinet and falling asleep with them.

Other parents just planned to have their child sleep separately. They got a crib, set up a separate room, but they fell into a pattern when the baby was nursing all night, or when they were overly tired, or they just found they liked it. Before they had given it any conscious consideration, the pattern was established, and their child was sleeping with them by default. These parents may have a somewhat more conflicted relationship with co-sleeping and may be more motivated to move their child to their own bed sooner rather than later.

Another form of default co-sleeping is when your child gets up in the middle of the night and then climbs into bed with you. No one plans for their child to only sleep part of the night in their own room, and very few tell their child that if they wake, they can come and get in bed with mommy and daddy. But some do, and it does happen. Parents report children well into the elementary years getting up during the night and getting into bed with them.

At What Age Should a Child Sleep in Their Own Bed?

As you might guess, there is no exact science in determining when a child should be sleeping independently. The question is, when is it right for you and your child to sleep separately?

A few questions to ask yourself when considering timing are…

  • Is everyone getting enough sleep?
  • Is there is any detriment to your child’s self-esteem sleeping with mom and dad?
  • Is your child showing signs of wanting an independent sleeping arrangement?
  • Is it straining the marital relationship?

Let’s look a little closer at each of these.

Is Everyone Getting Enough Sleep?

Sleep is a very crucial element in maintaining good health. Sleeping with other people can be disruptive and children in particular can go through phases of highly dysregulated sleep that keeps other awake.

If your child is tossing and turning, inadvertently kicking or bumping you awake, if your child doesn’t seem to be sleeping well in your bed, or if the bed is just too crowded, you may need to assess priorities in terms of getting enough sleep. A prolonged pattern of disrupted sleep should be addressed and not allowed to continue for everyone’s sake. This is a good indicator that it might be time to move your child to their own bed.

Is It Detrimental to Your Child’s Self-Esteem? 

Interestingly, and especially in Western cultures, independence is connected to a good sense of self. The ability to do things on your own, dress, engage in basic hygiene tasks, sleep by yourself, are all important developmental achievements that build self-esteem in children. Sleeping in bed with mom and dad as a child grows older can be perceived as overly dependent and can interfere with building a good sense of self.

Sometimes, when a child is in school, their peer group may ridicule them for still sleeping with their parents. Older siblings, even grandparents and friends, can be critical of the arrangement, and it can affect a child’s self-esteem to think they are somehow doing something wrong.

Is Your Child Showing Signs of Wanting an Independent Bed? 

Often, we are too busy or too tired to notice subtle cures. Pay attention to your child’s language, if they start talking about the family bed being too crowded, the sheets being too itchy, or the room being too hot, they may actually be trying to communicate that they are ready for their own bed.

In the same vein, they may talk about wanting their own space by being envious of another child’s bed or room, or even directly telling you they want to sleep alone. Take them seriously, and don’t just assume sleeping with you is the better option.

Is it Straining the Marital Relationship? 

Having children in bed with you can leave little time for intimacy. If you have managed to find a way to continue your adult connecting, great, but don’t just let the weeks start slipping by. Physical closeness in a marriage needs to be a priority, even if it means moving kids to their own room.

Benefits of Children Sleeping Alone

Although it can be difficult to move a child out of your bed, and many parents have anxiety about isolating their child is a separate room, there are actually many benefits to children having their own bed in their own room. Some of the positives may include the following:

  • Everyone gets more sleep: All indicators are that both parents and children get more sleep when in separate rooms.
  • It teaches independence: Learning to do things all on their own, is a very critical part of the developmental process and builds self-esteem in children. The process of learning to sleep in their own bed, learning to go to sleep without a parent present, and learning to get up at night and go back to bed independently, all offer opportunities for your child to feel capable of independent action.
  • Increases other bonding activities: Families find that when they don’t have the time of closeness falling asleep and sleeping together, they naturally find other activities to maintain this bond, like playing games together, giving a massage before bed, reading cuddled up on the couch, or any number of pleasurable rituals. This can open up all kinds of new ways of connecting and create healthy growth in your family relationships.
  • Allows for good modeling of adult relationships: Children need to see and understand that the couple relationship is a special and private bond. Children form images of how relationships work at a very young age and go on to replicate them when they are having their own as adults. Showing them that you and your partner need time alone together, and sleep alone as part of that special bond, helps your child in the formation of a healthy couples’ relationship down the road.
  • They learn to self-sooth: The ability to feel secure, to handle fears, and to put themselves back to sleep on their own is a very important developmental task. This allows a child to go out in the world, to sleep at a friend’s house, to be comfortable in a strange bed when traveling, and to enjoy more freedom. Helping your child learn to self-sooth is really a gift.

Tips for Helping Your Child Move to Their Own Bed

  • Make the decision to do it: Talk with your partner and talk with your child if he or she is old enough. Agree to make the move. Don’t wait until you haven’t slept and are crabby and rushed to do it, like when you are at the end of your rope.
  • Decide on when: Pick a date and stay firm. Don’t equivocate. Going back and forth can make the process much harder.
  • Have a plan: Will you sleep with your child in his or her new room to facilitate the transition? Put a mattress on the floor next to their bed for a couple of weeks? Sit in a chair until they fall asleep? How will you handle it if they wake up and get in bed with you during the night? Talk with your partner and have a plan that includes how you will handle the contingencies.
  • Prepare by getting another bed and room ready: Involve your child in the process of getting a bed, bedding, and things ready for the change. Let them personalize the bed and room and help them get excited about the move.
  • Stick to routines: Children thrive on consistency, and anything you can do to maintain an old bedtime routine will help smooth the transition. Read the same books, do things in the same order, have the same level of lighting, all help your child feel safe and smooth out the move.

Summary

Sleeping with your child is a personal preference that can be very bonding. At some point all families that co-sleep will need to address a child sleeping on their own. There are many benefits to independent sleeping for both you and your child. Pick the timing that works best, and make it a positive experience.


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