Will You Please Get a Room? Please?

Dear Mr. Dad: We have two boys, ages four and nine. The nine-year-old has no problem sleeping in his own bed, but the four-year-old constantly wants to sleep with my husband and me. I don’t mind an occasional “sleep over”–especially when my husband is away on business and the bed seems so empty. But lately, my son wants to be in our bed every night. That seems a little old to me. Is co-sleeping with a four-year-old okay?

A: I wish I could give you a definitive Yes or No, but the real answer is the completely unsatisfying “It depends.” There’s a lot of controversy out there about co-sleepng (or “the family bed” or “bed sharing” or whatever else you want to call it). Some authorities, such as the Children’s Health Network and the American Academy of Pediatrics say the practice is dangerous and they point to studies that show that the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is higher when babies share a bed with parents. Others say that sharing a bed is fine, and they point to the fact that something like 80 percent of the world’s families practice co-sleeping. Unfortunatley, neither of those answers applies to your situation: At four, your son is far too old for you to worry about SIDS. And, like it or not, about 80 percen of the world’s families live in much, much smaller spaces than we do in the U.S., and the option for famiy members to sleep in separate rooms isn’t even on their radar.
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Co-sleeping/bed sharing

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are looking into “co-sleeping” with our new baby girl. When I told a neighbor of mine, she shook her head and said it was too risky and would “spoil” her, causing later behavior problems. What are the risks, the benefits, and what should we do?

A: Co-sleeping, or sleeping with an infant in your adult bed, is one of the many parenting ideas that has passionate advocates and just-as-passionate detractors. The two sides are usually framed in extremes, as if you’re evil if you do it – or evil if you don’t. Obviously, it’s not that simple. As you noted, it’s best to learn the risks and benefits so you can make an informed decision.

Although it has only recently re-entered the conversation in North America, co-sleeping is not some newfangled idea. Outside of the English-speaking world it’s the norm, and before the 20th century it was standard pretty much everywhere (although it’s worth mentioning that in many countries, people share a bed with their children because the entire family lives in a single room).
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