Is there such a thing as ‘too old’ to co-sleep with your child?
Clueless actress Alicia Silverstone recently told a podcast she co-sleeps with her 11-year-old son, explaining she is “just following nature”.
“Bear and I still sleep together,” she told The Ellen Fisher Podcast last month. “I’ll be in trouble for saying that, but I really don’t care.”
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As Silverstone predicted, a backlash followed. Fans accused her of “ruining” her child, while others called it “creepy”. One psychologist said it would create “boundary issues”.
I am a psychologist who directs a clinic specialising in sleep difficulties in children from birth to 18 years. I am also a researcher in paediatric sleep. I have seen first-hand the strong opinions people have about parents co-sleeping (or not) with their children.
While we need to be mindful of safety and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when co-sleeping with infants, there is no problem with co-sleeping with older children in and of itself.
HOW COMMON IS CO-SLEEPING?
Co-sleeping, like many aspects of parenting, is often the subject of vehement disagreements.
While proponents argue it nurtures the parent-child attachment, reduces children's anxiety and helps children sleep, critics say it stunts a child’s independence and disrupts parents’ sleep and intimacy.
But it is more common than people may realise and is under-reported. I have found in my work that before their child is born, parents often say they don’t want to co-sleep, but often end up doing it over time.
WHY DO WESTERN COUNTRIES FROWN ON CO-SLEEPING?
In Western societies, the idea that children should sleep on their own only emerged during the 19th century. Before this, the communal house and communal bedroom, shared by siblings and parents, was the norm (and still is in many societies).
But with the emergence of nuclear families in Victorian times came the need for increased discipline with children who were independent from their parents. Bedrooms were “privatised” and sleeping alone was thought to instil self-regulation in children.
Co-sleeping was also seen as something “poor people” did, as wealthier families could afford a bed for each child.