I love my children. I love to wrap my arms around them, hold them closely and kiss their soft faces as they sleep at night. But I know that as much as I love them and always want to hold them close, sometimes what a child needs most is his own space. It is for this reason that I feel strongly, as a parent and an early childhood educator that the place for children at night is in their own beds.
I have read the many articles supporting the concept of co-sleeping and I am not convinced. Yes, co-sleeping is often the easiest choice. The easiest way to get a child to go to sleep may be to lie down next to him in your bed and fall asleep together. But does the fact that it is the easiest step make it the best one? Here are my reasons for encouraging parents to stand fast on this issue and insist that their children sleep in their own beds.
Co-Sleeping is Bad for Parents
I love my children. But I also love my husband and value our relationship. In my experience, both personally and professionally, I find that happy parents have an easier time raising happy children. The only time that my husband and I have together to relax, talk, discuss our lives and express our love to each other is at night after our children go to sleep. The time we spend alone in our bedroom is essential for us as a couple. Also, this time is important for me, as an individual. I need to know that after a certain time at night, my evening belongs to me.
Of course, as a parent there are always nights where this is not possible. All children have bad nights where they need extra attention. But this does not have to be every night. I strongly believe that parents, who have time to themselves as well as time with their children, make better parents in the long run.
Co-Sleeping Is Bad For Children
So what if what I said above does not apply to you? Maybe you and your husband have jointly decided that time alone is not a priority right now. I certainly respect and admire this decision.I would still encourage you, however, to consider if co-sleeping is the best choice for your child.
Co-Sleeping for Infants May be Dangerous
In a May 1999 study published in Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that "In 1995, suffocation was the leading cause of injury death for infants younger than age 1." And "...the greatest increase in infant suffocation deaths since 1980 has been in those "overlain" (parent on top of child) while bed-sharing." The researchers "stress that bed-sharing and the use of adult beds for infants should be discouraged."
A more recent study, published in the same journal on March 2000, also reached similar conclusions. "A crib that conforms to the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the ASTM (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) is a desirable sleeping environment for infants... Bed sharing or co-sleeping may be hazardous under certain conditions."
There are many professionals who disagree with the results of these studies and argue that the potential benefits of co-sleeping outweigh any possible risks. While I agree that the evidence presented in these studies can be argued in either direction, as a parent, when it comes to matters of safety and health, I always choose to err on the side of caution. If there is any possibility, however remote, that co-sleeping can be life threatening - why take the risk?
Co-Sleeping Is Bad for Older Children Too
So what about co-sleeping for older children? Clearly there is no risk of suffocation for two or three-year-olds that can sleep in adult beds.
I would suggest that parents who wish to let older children sleep with them, consider the message that they send to their children. Why do children want to sleep with their parents? Children are saying, "I need you for everything. I need you to get me dressed, to feed me, to take me places and to....sleep." The parent, by saying yes, says to the child, "That's right, you do. You can't do it alone. You will always need me to help you, even during the night. Twenty-four hours a day, I will be there."
As parents, we want to always be there for our children. But in real life we can't be. By giving our children the message that they always need a parent, we set up a cycle that a parent cannot and should not live up to. One of the things we must teach our children is not just how to do things, but how to do things on their own. A young child does need his parents for eating, for clothing, for transportation and all basic needs. The one thing he does not need his parents for is sleeping. By allowing children to sleep on their own from a young age, we teach children something that is essential for growth - you are an individual - there are things you can do without a parent.
Instead, I would encourage parents to do the following. Show your children love with hugs, kisses and warmth throughout the day. Hold them close. Allow them to cuddle up in your arms as you put them to sleep and run into your room in the morning for a good morning hug in your arms (and bed.) But let them know that because you love them, they need to learn to sleep alone.
All Rules Have Exceptions
Now I know that I have come down strongly against co-sleeping and I want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding. Every rule is meant to be broken. If there is a night that your child needs extra attention, then make an exception. Every now and then, for a special treat and encouragement, a turn in Mommy or Daddy's bed is acceptable.
But you cannot make so many exceptions that your child will no longer remember the rule. If every other night is an exception, then you set yourself up for a fight every night. In my home there are two exceptions to this rule:
1. When one of my children is sick. (Sick being defined as actual fever or serious injury.)
2. When my husband is away on a business trip. This allows my children to get extra attention while a parent is absent and does not interfere with my relationship with my husband.
Of course, each parent needs to determine which rules and exceptions belong in their home. These exceptions work for my family. Your family may be different.
I would encourage parents who are considering co-sleeping to think about the issues that I discuss in this article and make an informed choice. Insisting that a child sleep in his own bed is not usually the easiest choice, but in my opinion, it is the best one.
Choose wisely. Don't take the easy way out.