Who among us hasn’t, at some point, awakened to the sight of a child’s elbow smacking our faces, or a foot jammed into our chests? Even kids whose parents prohibit co-sleeping tend to, at some point, wind up in their parents’ beds. A bad dream, an illness, or an instinctive desire to stay near Mom can prompt even the most independent child to climb into his parents’ bed at some point. It’s not surprising that kids do this: they’re naturally programmed to sleep near their parents for safety and protection. But when are kids simply too old for this ancient, instinctive habit? The answer depends on several factors.
Kids are too old to sleep with their parents when…
It’s uncomfortable (for anyone). It’s not easy to share a bed with any child. It’s virtually impossible to share a full-size bed with a five-year-old, a seven-year-old, your spouse, and your family dog. If your kids are big enough that they’re taking up too much space and keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep, it’s time to insist that they sleep in their own beds.
It’s inappropriate. In almost no situation is it normal for a child who is approaching adolescence to sleep with his parents. By the time a child is ten to eleven years old, he should want more privacy and space to himself. Co-sleeping with parents after this age could be confusing for a child, since he needs to learn to process the difference between parent-child relationships and spousal relationships. A persistent desire to sleep with parents after this age could be a sign of an anxiety disorder or attachment problems.
It’s become a problem. A consistent, prolonged habit of sleeping with parents can become problematic when it interferes with a child’s normal social or emotional development. If, for example, your child is unable to go to sleepovers or summer camp because of his anxieties about sleeping without his parents, it’s a sign that that habit is interfering with his ability to have a normal childhood– and needs to stop.
Your child’s needs are, of course, individual. A child with significant special needs may benefit from sleeping with his parents, at least on occasion, longer than one with typical health and development. Similarly, some rare, independent children never feel a need so sleep with their parents at all, so the question never arises. Ultimately, the decision of when a child is too old to sleep with his parents, rests squarely on the backs on the parents themselves.