This stage — not yet preteen but far from toddler — has many parents wondering whether it’s appropriate to still sleep in the same bed with their opposite-gender children.
Shannon Lambert co-slept with her eight-year-old son until he was almost seven. She stopped after the birth of her third child because there was no room in the bed. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t changing in terms of what her son feels is appropriate. “In public now, I can’t even kiss or hug him goodbye. But at home, cuddling or lying together, there’s no issue. He’s still little,” she says.
The ick factor
Cory Milne* says the question of sleeping in the same bed as his seven-year-old daughter is “definitely something I have started thinking about.” His family has always had an open door policy, where nakedness is nakedness. “Now, she’s starting to see things and ask questions. I don’t mind answering, but I’ll be honest, I do find it a bit icky. So if we end up sleeping together, I don’t sleep naked anymore. I will go as far to say when she rubs up against me, it feels uncomfortable to me. On the couch and cuddling is different. It’s when you lie down and get under the covers that it starts to feel icky.”
What our expert says
“There is nothing wrong with cuddling your eight-year-old in bed and, on occasion, sleeping with them for comfort when they’re stressed or ill,” says Janet Morrison, a psychological associate from Toronto who assesses children, adolescents and families. “I don’t think there’s any harm in sleeping with them at this stage, although you want them to begin developing some independence.”
But if parents are uncomfortable cuddling with their opposite-sex child in bed, then they shouldn’t do it. “The discomfort will undoubtedly get communicated to the child and confuse or upset them,” she says. “Whether cuddling or sleeping, the most important thing to consider is whose needs are being met. If the child is sleeping with mom or dad because mom or dad is sad and lonely, then it’s definitely not a healthy or positive event for a child of any age.”
Morrison points out that it is not a child’s responsibility to console his parents. “This is not to say that the cuddling isn’t mutually enjoyable for parents and kids. Cuddling is important, comforting and a lovely time out from the hassles of the day.” Milne says that even though his squeamishness may be all in his “closed adult mind,” he’s teaching his daughter the tools of self-respect. “I want to show her respect and teach her that it’s not for everyone to see.”
*Names changed by request.