“Sharing a bed doesn’t make your child secure”

“Sharing a bed doesn’t make your child secure”

My seven-year-old daughter likes to sleep with us. We have a new bed for her, and have even done up her room, but she refuses to sleep there at night. She has slept with us from the very beginning. Is this a bad habit? We have managed to convince her to sleep in her bed during the day, but how can we get her to do the same at night?

The jury is out on that one, for sure! And the verdict, when it does come, is going to be a hung verdict. The world, it seems, is sharply divided between people who think it is fine to have their children sleep in their bed till they are ready for their own rooms; and those who think it is a complete no-no and is to be discouraged from as early as possible. A parenting poser that is fiercely debated by psychologists, families, doctors, parents and kids.

Like you, a whole lot of parents in India, even urban Indians with Westernized lifestyles, do accommodate their child in their rooms, their beds, up to the age of even 13-14. And again, like you, they’re not too sure it’s the right thing because it clearly prevents parents from having not just sex and intimacy in the bedroom at night but even adult conversations, not meant for the children to hear or participate in.

Let us first look at why your child prefers to sleep with you and why you hesitate to firmly shut her out. The primary reason is that we are told that children grow up more secure this way. That, to my mind, is a debatable issue in the first place. Your child doesn’t need to share your bed to be secure and happy. And, more importantly, sleeping with parents is no guarantee against insecurities. Moreover, their fears need to be, and can be, dealt with in other ways. Then, there is the sheer discomfort of poking knees and butting heads. All in all, no one gets rest.

Secondly, many of us in India tend to either not acknowledge or not give adequate weight to the adult man-woman relationship once we become parents. There is often guilt attached to spelling out to children that parents need their own space and time. So it seems more convenient for all, by default, to sleep in the same space.

One grave danger of this is that our children have very poorly etched ideas about what their parents’ relationship is like, and to accept and be equanimous with the fact that parents have a relationship with each other at certain levels which do not include the children. This, to my mind, is clearly an impediment in a child’s development and transition into young adulthood (that one spouse finds it “convenient" to insert a kid into the marital bed so that intimacy can be avoided, is also a factor at work—but then that is another issue).

Once they’re in the habit, it’s difficult to get children to sleep elsewhere. In spite of whatever way you “dress it up", the kid feels she is being banished. The bottom line is that parents have to decide they want “just their space" badly enough. And then do what it takes—ranging from mild cajoling and rewards to explanations—to get children to sleep in their own bed. Preferably, start this early with your children (by the age of three or four). You could begin by being in the child’s new room for a while—put the child to bed, and read to her or read yourself, with the clear understanding that you will exit the room in half an hour or so. There is bound to be some crying and protest, but if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com