School-Age Children and the Family Bed

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress,

“But you don’t have to sleep alone!” Kyle protests to his mom when she suggests he sleeps in his own room. Family bedrooms are increasingly becoming common in Western societies, thanks to the Attachment Parenting movement that recognizes that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to sleep on their own for the first few years of life. However, Kyle is seven years old.  The prevalence of family bedrooms among families with school-age children has not been studied, let alone talked, but the trend is growing.

Many children, especially those that don’t have siblings to snuggle in with, continue to sleep in the same bedroom as their parents, well into the school-aged years. Many families do not admit that they sleep with their children. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often, but is not openly admitted. As a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting at relatives, camping, and vacations but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost. Still, parents persist. “We cosleep because it’s a cultural choice. My husband is Vietnamese and I am Canadian, and we have decided that it’s what works best for our family. Back in Vietnam my husband’s sisters still sleep with their mother, and my husbands’ brother and father also share a room. The younger ones are all in their 20s and it is not illegal or abnormal or culturally odd like it is here,” says Cheryl, mom of two children.

How does a family bedroom work? Two hundred years ago, before the invention of central heating, most of the family slept in the same room if not the same beds. Fast forward to the 21st century, where bedrooms now have the square footage size of the average 1950s house, the family bedroom can easily accommodate two king-size mattresses on the floor or several beds in the same room.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a family sharing sleep in the same room. Barbara Evans, a parent educator from Beaumont, Texas USA, worries about the parent’s need for privacy and intimacy.  “My concerns are that, as parents, our job is to raise healthy, loving and lovable, independent children. Not to the exclusion of depriving them of nurturing and cuddling, but this may be the first place to start learning about boundaries and self-care.”

Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles is the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work out of home full-time and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at the end of a busy day. “The best thing about having the kids there with us is the emotional bond we have with them. We love the time upstairs to talk in bed, read, write, or just watch TV together. There’s no separation between us and we don’t send our kids away at night to be alone unless they want to,” says Ally, mom of three children. They have a big master bed for the parents and two mattresses on the floor on either side of the master bed for the children.

What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by age 13.  This occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents.

Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear night clothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says “no” should have their wishes honored whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if their eight-year-old son wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual intimacy must take place in another room.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” And for many families, that rings truer than ever.

26 thoughts on “School-Age Children and the Family Bed”

  1. Great Article!! I can remember when my now 22 year old was a baby, and we decided to keep him in bed with us the outcry of so many saying.. What? babies need their own beds.. ( that concept was a bit of a mystery why babies needed their own beds..) Now that I have 4 kids.. 2 of them sleep in the same room with me, the 22 year old ( which objectors said would never be independent) has been living across the country 5000 miles away.. for 2 years. Hmm.. so much for the not being independent objection! and my 20 year old sure as heck does not want to share the same bedroom! Sure, they all grow up. There comes a time when they don’t want to be in the same room..when they are ready.

    Thanks for sharing on this topic! ( It is too bad many more parents don’t openly admit to sharing a bed.. though where I live it seems that parents often do!Ahh. the west coast!LOL).

  2. Thanks for the article! We bed-share with our 3-1/2 year old and don’t intent to stop unless she indicates a desire otherwise. She does have her own bed and her own room, but it feels more natural to have her in with us. When she is in her own bed, she usually wakes up after a few hours and asks to come in with us anyway. I see no urgency, and I feel that it continues to reinforce the attachment. I agree with Elissa Joy regarding others not admitting to bed-sharing. I’ve become a lot more open about it as my daughter has gotten older, and I see that other parents are relieved to admit to it, but only after they see that I’m open to it.

  3. Nice article. Well, not only do we co-sleep our almost 5-year-old son, but -oh shock – I am still nursing him to sleep as well, and there is no end in site! Why is it OK to do this while camping in a tent, or renting a King-size bed in a hotel, but not at home every day? And outside the home, my son is very independent, and plays with other children without our direct supervision!

  4. What a wonderful article. My husband and I bed-share with our eight year old. It is amazing how peaceful the bedtime routine is at our house, and how smoothly all of us transition to sleep. When I hear other families discuss how difficult their nightime routine is I am so thankful for our decision to co-sleep/bed-share. It’s a piece of cake!

    Additionally, people comment on how our son is so “well grounded” and connected to us. While it’s true that the connection comes from many of our attachment parenting practices, I believe that allowing him to be close to us during his most vulnerable hours (i.e. feel protection during sleep) is one of the main reasons. He feels safe and guarded.

    In his 8+ years of life, he has never slept without at least one of us.

    Please continue to share these types of articles so that parents who have the instinct to bed-share or room-share but are afraid to, feel that it is “OK”. They will not be investigated by child welfare.

    The world will be a better place when everyone, including the children, is “rest assured”

  5. Kudos for bringing this topic up. We chose bedsharing when our twins (now 9) were born because it made nighttime nursing easier; we continued bedsharing because everyone loves the closeness and connection it provides. When I was pregnant with our youngest (now 2), we added a twin bed next to our king so no one would have to be displaced by the new baby. I try to share our experiences with other parents who seem receptive whenever possible – so often I hear “If you let the baby into your bed he’ll never leave” and think, “so what?” Our twins have their own rooms now and sleep in their own beds most of the time, but still are welcome in our room. I miss that time together before we all fall asleep. My introverted son really opens up as he’s getting drowsy and I get to hear all the wonderful thoughts, ideas, and concerns going through his mind. I would have missed out on so much of that if I insisted on “independence” before he was ready. I can’t understand the concerns about adult intimacy and privacy; the window of time when my children’s needs are so intense is quite short. My husband and I had plenty of time alone before we had children and will have plenty of time alone in the future. This is a season of our lives and it will pass far too quickly even without pushing our children to grow up before they’re ready!

  6. Awesome choice of an article! My 7 y.o. daughter has slept w/us since day 1 and yes, the stigma goes along w/that. However, we see no need to force her to do something that either of us don’t see as a problem. There are nights when she wants to be on her own, and we respect that & abide by that, although she “ends” up in our bed anyway! We, too, choose not to share the family bedroom concept w/others because those who are curious in our lives, specifically, are the most judgemental, and quite frankly I owe no explanation to no one. However, for new parents who ask, I openly tell them our experience and my research on attachment parenting, and then it all seems to make sense for them also. Yay for family bedrooms!

  7. My oldest (now 11) was my only bed companion for the first 5 years of her life. When my now husband & I moved in together she asked if she could have a “nest” next to our bed for the nights she wanted to come in. My husband was the first to say of course. We currently have 2 sleeping in our bed (ages 3 & 5months) and on occasion my big girl likes to sleep in bed with the whole fam 🙂 we have a king sized bed on the floor with a twin next to it to extend the size of our bed, the 3 yr old is a bed hog lol we love having our babies close, middle of the night sleepy declarations of love from our toddler when the baby wakes him, waking up in the morning to see my big tough construction worker husband snuggled up with at least one of our boys, I can go on and on. We are so close, my children have special bonds not only with mom & dad but with their siblings too 🙂

  8. My almost 6 year old dosen’t want to sdleep without mommy yet… She ends up in our bed religiously every night.. Her almost 4 year old sister is more ready for independant sleep, yet she often follows her big sis’s lead…

    The EBF baby sleeps with me as that simplifies life…

    It is comforting to know other families bed share with school aged kids… Even though they probably won’t admit it publically… I keep it to myself or downplay it to others as there is a stigma attached to it…

    My husband isn’t as much of a fan but mainly because there is less space for him strech out… We want the older two to move to their own room more often… But arn’t forcing it yet…

  9. Love this article! Older son (age 12) slept with us until 5, younger son at 5-1/2 is still with us. We do have some issues, though. (1) My hubby wants the little one out. We don’t have any private space – our downstairs is all open and the guest room is full of junk! (2) Our older son likes company at bedtime. He had a full bed, and I would sit w/him sometimes at night, but we bought bunk beds, hoping the little one would move in w/him (which hasn’t happened) and I can’t sit w/him in the top bunk! (I do sit in a chair and read at times.) (3) The older one wants to lie w/us at times but my hubby freaks out about it. Partly because he (son) is a bed hog, and partly because he has a bedwetting problem, that developed after he moved out of our room, probably due to sleep/breathing issues. He uses a mat in his own bed. I think hubby is also just not comfortable with it for other reasons that he can’t articulate. Anyway, I feel cruel sometimes when my son tries to lie down w/us and we don’t let him, since the rest of us are there. Sorry for the long post. Just expressing all this has helped me think of some ways to improve the situation!!! Thanks for the great article.

  10. Great article and insightful comments! Thanks so much!

    Our son is three and has his own room and twin bed. Some nights he goes to sleep in it and wanders into our room. Most nights he just goes to sleep with us. He is a bed hog, so I’ll often head to his bed if I need a break. As time has gone on, I’ve stopped listening to others’ comments and just settled into our little way of life. At three he is extremely independent, intelligent and charismatic. His teachers say his compassion is “remarkable.”

    On the nights when he is in his bed, I worry about him. After three years, I’m used to his breathing patterns, and constantly get up to check on him when he isn’t with us. My husband and I both work full-time, so the nighttime is the best time of day. We talk about the day, read books, make up stories and cuddle.

    I don’t feel the intimacy with my husband has suffered due to the family bed. If anything, it makes us more creative about sneaking away!

  11. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I
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  12. Thanks for this. I still bed share with my 6 yr old and am in no hurry to stop. our children are depedent on us for such a short time. I could not imagine not providing comfort for my child when needed

  13. Thank you for writing this article.
    My 9 yr old son still sleeps with us, he has no interest in having his own room, there is one waiting for him for whenever he is ready.
    I am wondering if anyone knows of the legality of co-sharing with an older child in Canada. I have resently been approached by another family member that they will call CAS on me if I don’t put him in his own room. How stressful. Any information on this would be welcomed.


  14. Sandra,

    We encourage you to post this question on the API Forum, which is moderated by experienced API Leaders and read by other parents who may have faced similar situations. Here is the link: You will need a login and password in order to post a question; please see the upper right corner of the Forum home page to register.

    You can also get in touch with Attachment Parenting Canada ( for more information about legal research in Canada.

    We hope you find this information useful.

  15. Our son is 5 and still sleeps with us. He has his own room but even if he starts there he always ends up with us by morning.I agree with the others who have posted. We have no arguments about bedtime and I love knowing he is safe next to us. As far as intimacy between my husband and I, I feel more connected to my him with the life we created between us. Our children are only with us for such a short amount of time and I don’t think you can be too close to them.

  16. I am a divorced mom of two boys. I divorced their dad when they were two months and two years old. I breastfed and worked full time and had always coslept anyway so we continued. The boys have always had their own rooms and beds and have gone through phases of sleeping alone, or together, or most often with me in my king sized bed. They went through some traumatic and emotional stuff with my ex husband this past year and are now back in my bed every night. They are eight and eleven. I am totally okay with this idea of a family bed. We all pile into the big bed with our dogs and read and talk and fall peacefully asleep. I believe they need the comfort and closeness and feel safe this way. They always have the option of sleeping in their rooms. They just choose not to. Sometimes when I have been ill or want to stay up late I will ask them to sleep in their room but most nights we are all piled in and snuggled up in one bed. I don’t tell many people this because of all of the ridiculous negativity surrounding the family bed, especially with older kiddos. But my boys are happy and healthy and independent kids and we are close for lots of reasons but one is the great conversations we have at bedtime. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  17. Your article was the first I came across when frantically searching on whether or not I am abnormal. As a divorced mom (and one of the reasons for my divorce) co-sleeping, then the family bed seems, only, well, natural!!

    My daughter moved on, to her own room quite naturally as she hit middle school. My 7-year old has gone through phases, but now isn’t even thinking of sleeping in his own room.

    One of the things mentioned in the article is child welfare. Does child welfare frown upon the families sleeping together?

    It is wonderful to hear others just as comfortable as I am.

  18. Great article. I have a 7 year old son who enjoys sleeping near me. We were separated for 6.5 years. I wasnt even allowed to speak to him until I gained custody. He has his own bedroom. Hes not afraid of the dark and really doesnt have a problem sleeping in his own room. I think he just wants to know im close. Most nights im awake (insomnia) so its no big deal to hang out in the boys room until he falls asleep. Once in a while he wanders into my room and plants himself in my bed. Im a single dad who also lives a celibate life so theres no issue with needing intimate time with a wife. My time is 100% open to my son. Its odd that my son wont sleep near any other person though. I enjoy the quality time spent when he sleeps in my bed. Quality time because he sleeps while I usually stay awake and study him. He doesnt toss and turn either. I get to watch him peacefully sleep. Its the only time hes not bouncing all over the place.

  19. I’m not sure what to say here…

    One commenter actually said that she and her husband had plenty of time alone before the kids and they’d have plenty of time after the kids left. So the couple decades that they’re in the house, what… you put your relationship on hold? For what reason, exactly? How is a couple with a non-intimate relationship going to help the kids? How is having two unhealthy, unhappy parents going to be good for the kids? (And yes, I’m assuming a relationship that lacks intimacy has serious risks of being an unhappy one… wouldn’t you?)

    There are legitimate cases of emotional problems or one-off issues that can, IMHO, drive a valid reason for bed sharing. But simply not wanting to set rules in place and stick to them is not a valid reason.

    Kids don’t want to do a lot of things, including playing in traffic or drinking paint. As Super Nanny once said: “Children need boundaries and ground rules.”

    Not only that, they need to understand they’re not the sole focus of the world, with the parents putting their lives, their happiness, and their relationship on hold, simply because kids came along. My mom once told me that her relationship with my father was her first priority because her (and his) ability to be a good parent was dependent on having a stable home. Never once did I not feel important, protected, or attended to. But I also grew up knowing that I wasn’t the center of the universe, and with parents who were loving, stable, and happy.

    When I see bed sharing with 7, 8, 12 year olds, I don’t think “oh that’s such a close family with well behaved children”, I ask myself what trauma the parents lived through that they’re carrying through to their parenting process.

    As you might imagine, I chose to have my daughter sleep in her own bed early on. The rules were that she stayed in bed after she went to bed. On rare, rare occurrences of thunder or other fears, she could come into bed with me for a few minute, calm herself, and then was taken back to bed. 99.9% of the time since she was 3 yrs old, she’s had zero problems going to bed and staying in bed because that’s what I taught her to do. It’s not that hard, it just takes a decision to do it. If you don’t create and maintain boundaries, you can’t excuse that lack of action away by simply saying “They don’t want to, so I don’t make them”. Come on now.

    I’m sure I’m going to be lambasted for posting something that’s not full throated support of this issue, but hey, here I go anyway. Try to remember that I’m not attacking you personally, I’m simply including the other side of the debate where none exists.

  20. Well it’s quite tiresome for me, we had our sibling sleeping between us, in a queen sized bed. She had her own room but kept insistin to sleep in the same bed. Our intimate time together went downhill and was nil when my doughter was around 10. My doughter was always sleeping between us, usually cuddled next to her father. This was finally over when she got married at the age of 18. Now finally we have the bed to ourselves. Please becareful this dosn’t happen to you.

  21. I stumbled across this article due to my sister-in-laws inability to be comfortable with her own parenting decisions. Both her and my brother sleep in separate bedrooms now – each with one of their two boys. She claims it is for the best of her children but I see major division and a deteriorating relationship between them now – although I don’t say anything she seems to want to defend their decision to sleep outside of the marital bedroom even though I offer nothing in way of conversation to approve or disapprove. I thought the idea of a family bed seems a bit chaotic and stressful and the possibility of being sleep deprived for one if not all of my family members has kept us from ever venturing down that road. I have several friends that complain about lack of quality sleep due to not having enough space in their king bed for them and their children. I can’t imagine getting up in the middle of the night to relocate if I don’t have enough room in my own bed lol! Yet to each his own. It sounds super sweet and somewhat cozy but our family does this on the couch in our family room. An extra big sectional is cozy and comfy for hanging out watching tv a few nights a week. This way I know my children are not having their sleep interrupted by either my husband or myself if we get up early. I know my children have plenty of room to stretch out and get the quality sleep they desperately need at this stage in their life. Although we agree with most of attachment parenting we know the foundation of our marriage is the strongest when we put each other first and our kids second. Sleep is meant to be restorative and even in our king bed my husband and I can often need our space if we had kids in there it would be impossible. Props to those parents who feel this keeps their family unit tighter but I honestly have hundreds of other ways keeping our family close and allow me to keep my sanity (and especially the welfare of my children) of having a good nights sleep, and besides having our privacy at night and our down-time from the children we both sleep in the buff more comfortably and having to wear pajamas or sweats to bed would not be enjoyable for either of us. Our children learn to be respectful of the only privacy we share away from them which is at nighttime. Hopefully my SIL can become more adjusted to her own lifestyle or maybe get some ideas from a family bed and bring more closeness back to her and my brother.

  22. I commented on this article 5 years ago (using name “J-Mom”)! My kids are now 10 (almost 11) and 17. The younger one moved into a room with his brother almost 3 years ago, into a room w/his brother. They still share. I have no regrets about the years one or both of them was in bed with us, and I consider it an important part of the close relationship we still enjoy. But I do enjoy having more space!

  23. My husband has back and shoulder issues and hasn’t slept a full night in bed since even before our son was born. Sleeping in the same bed is not the only way for there to be intimacy in a relationship. We have a king sized bed and my son has his own room but at 10 he is still in bed with me and my husband is not. My son went through a few phases over the years where he moved out to his own room for a few nights to a few weeks but even when he did he would climb back in bed with me before morning. I dont feel like I was carrying any issues over from childhood except the issue that as a child I never felt very close to my parents even though we are close now. As an adult I had to constantly defend my parenting decisions when my son was younger, including breastfeeding past 6 weeks (he nursed until he was 6 years old because I let him decide when he was done). As he got older, my son started to have some emotional issues and we went to family therapy. Neither therapist, psychiatrist, nor pediatrician could make a definitive call whether he was on the spectrum or not. After a year of getting to know us the therapist said that she is pretty sure he is on the spectrum and its all of the ways I incorporated attachment parenting into my parenting style that makes it so hard to tell. Without the co-sleeping, extended breast feeding, time-ins instead of time-outs, he could have been an emotionally handicapped child instead of emotionally challenged. Sure, sometimes its a pain and sometimes I get annoyed being pushed out of bed when 3/4 of the bed on the other side of him is empty, but he only pushes me out trying to cuddle as close as he can and as we get to these teen years where he is more and more teenager-ish, it’s sharing a bed that helps us to put away the angst and hostility and just enjoy eachother and our time together.

  24. I just wanted to add my voice here in 2017! What led me here was waking up with my stirring children this morning after having listened to their peaceful and gentle breathing a bit with a smile on my face. As I started to stretch and stir, my 5-year old felt me move and rolled over, putting her arms around my neck and whispering “I love you, Mommy.” We shared kisses and cuddles before my 8-yr old daughter woke and joined in.
    Right now life’s a bit hard. I’m in between jobs. I go out there everyday and cover the earth with my resumes and dress myself carefully for interviews. I face the world courageously, or exhausted. I’m a single mother. So much always on my shoulders. There’s a lot of uncertainty. But one thing I know is this: cozying up and cuddling with my beautiful babies each night and waking with them night/day is such a precious gift. When their daddy and I were together we co-slept as a family, no questions, and when they spend the night or weekend with him, they still co-sleep with him. This actually made our transition as a separated family so much easier. I’m so glad they still co-sleep with both of us in our own respective homes. Sleeping apart would have made them–AND us– feel vulnerable and unsure. I’m not saying that parents that don’t co-sleep are doing it wrong, or that it’s always hard. I have, however, observed a lot of unnecessary fights, tears, struggles and stress that parents and their children have endured when the solution seemed so obvious. Because I am a childbirth educator and breastfeeding counselor, friends share with me some of their struggles. Here’s a common one: “I’m not getting any sleep. The baby/child cries all night and keeps crawling into my bed. Refuses to sleep in his/her bed! Finally at 3:00am after hours of struggle, I have to hold him/her on the couch and they fall asleep immediately, and I doze off too. When is this going to end?” It’s clear here that the child is communicating a vulnerable need that is not being responded to. Parents tell me all the time that sleeping only works with the baby or child when they sleep together, but doesn’t when they don’t. The problem? The parents don’t hear themselves saying it! I’ve had parents nod blankly when I gently point this out to them, and they still can’t draw the connection. It seems that what they are hearing is “The only solution is to keep struggling, because it’s not a success story if your child is only falling asleep with you.” This is ALSO true when a parent has shifted from co-sleeping to an independent bed, and the problem immediately commences and they STILL don’t draw the connection. I remember when my first daughter was born, I was given a bassinet. I only used it once, for 20 minutes while she was napping. I remember saying “It’s ME that doesn’t like the bassinet. I want to hold her, stare at her sleeping face, give her soft kisses, make us both feel safe.” I thanked my relative and returned the bassinet to her.
    I can’t speak for everyone, but for me this has been my experience: My children learned all-night sleeping rhythms pretty much from birth as we co-slept and nursed on demand. *They both learned even as tiny infants how to root, seek, find and help themselves while I continued to rest–aware of them but not being kept forcefully awake either. * They have never woken up crying or have had scary nightmares. *They are not forced into falling alseep before me. It’s ok for me to drift off and for them to quietly play with a toy or read a book until drowsiness kicks in and they snuggle up close with me. *I love sleeping with them, and it’s ok for me to want my own space every and then, too. And once in a while is all I need! I’ll wake up, use the bathroom, have a drink of water, and stretch out on the couch, enjoying my personal space. But it’s telling that I only need that occasionally, and the majority of the time I am comforted by their presence. *A bonus I never anticipated was still having my family to cuddle with at night after my separation, making the nights easier. In fact my ex said this was his most difficult part of the transition: not having his children to snuggle with every night. My heart goes out to him because of course I can understand how lonely that made him. I am so thrilled to hear other families share their experiences. When will we move to separate beds? When we’re done co-sleeping, I guess!

  25. Most nights my 8yo girl is in her own bed but the nights i let her stay in to watch tv, cute duck videos or chat. It’s precious! and one day she’ll be grown up. But I’ll always have my memories of times like this

  26. wanted to throw in my 2 cents. My son is now 8, he has his own bedroom since he was a little more than 2. The caveat: I moved in with him. We got a mattress so I could sleep next to him at night. My wife was getting peer pressure from friends that he should move out of our room; I was not convinced. She has changed her mind and thinks its great that we sleep together. Sometimes all three of crash with him in his room. I expect that he will sometime soon want his space at night which is fine with me, but until then I am happy giving him the closeness that he wants.

    Do you know what? He is the most popular and confident kid in his class. He is consistently testing better as well. No one is going to convince me that we are doing something wrong.

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