I heard something new today: co-sleeping.
Apparently, it is part of an “attachment parenting” method that involves the parent and infant sleeping in the same room or same bed. However, there are quite a number of individuals taking it to another level. One where the entire family sleeps in the same room or even the same bed when the child is older. And with no foreseeable end to the practice. This form of co-sleeping is supposed to be an ‘alternative’ parenting practice in the western world (including Australia) given that children tend to have their own rooms and this is encouraged at a young age. However, the argument is that a lot of cultures (Asian, Indian, Middle-Eastern, South American etc) use co-sleeping as a daily routine.
The thing is, most of these countries lack the space in a house for each child to have their own room! And hence ‘co-sleeping’ probably came into effect. I mean, if I think about my grandparents or parents who lived in one bedroom apartments in families of at least 4 members, it’s not surprising co-sleeping was the way to go. Because there was no other option.
On the other hand, when I grew up, we were fortunate to have more than one bedroom. And hence, since my sister was born and I was 5, the two of us shared a room. And yes, we “co-slept” till I left home. Although we both wanted our own room! Anyway, attachment parenting is advocating the parents sleeping with the child(ren). It’s not talking about just siblings sharing a room. And whilst I understand the need for parents and children to share a room in countries where there is not much space or in households that are small, I fail to recognise the usefulness of co-sleeping in other circumstances. For children at least. Especially school-aged children.
Now, I am sure I will get told “You are not a mother….therefore…” but I am going to try and base my arguments on clinical experience and research.
First and foremost, a school-aged child sleeping in his or her own room (or even sharing with a sibling) is more likely to overcome common childhood fears of the dark or being away from parents. However, if the child continues to share a room with their parents, they are not even given the opportunity to face their anxieties, thereby maintaining it. In fact, this website about co-sleeping says something along these lines:
Transitioning to the crib by 6 months is usually easier — for both parents and baby — before the cosleeping habit is ingrained and other developmental issues (such as separation anxiety) come into play
It is quite common for anxious children and adolescents in my clinical experience to want to sleep with their parents. However, one of the first things parents are informed during the case formulation at the start of therapy is that permitting the child to sleep with them only maintains the anxiety. It’s a security blanket. A form of reassurance. The child doesn’t really learn how to manage their anxiety themselves. Any anxiety research will tell you that.
There is also research that does not find support for co-sleeping. Researchers investigating sleep, behavioural and emotional problems, and parental relationships and psychological distress in school-aged children found that co-sleepers had significantly greater sleep problems (went to bed later, had shorter sleep etc.), emotional and behavioural problems & the parents had higher psychological and couple distress compared to solitary sleepers and healthy peers. However, a review on co-sleeping in China, where this is a very common practice found both advantages and disadvantages for the same. Unfortunately, I could not read the details since only the abstract is available.
Common sense tells me co-sleeping would be very uncomfortable. Imagine 4 to 5 individuals sleeping in the same room. [Yes, my parents and grandparents would tell me that] Imagine someone snoring, another one talking in their sleep, another getting up 3 times to go to the toilet, another tossing and turning…how does one get a proper night’s sleep? I know my sister would complain about me hogging the quilt and I found her sleep-talk annoying.
So I wonder…how is this supposed to build attachment?? How is it supposed to bring parent and child closer? I must say, I have personally never been a fan of attachment theory because it seems to imply that everything about your personality and temperament is dependent on those first five years in life. In short, if you are screwed up, it’s your parents’ fault. They didn’t provide you with a secure attachment base. And then, how easy is it for a person to blame their parents and not take responsibility as an adult to change states such as depression or anxiety? It doesn’t seem to take into account all the other relationships a person has over the years, the other environmental factors or most importantly, biological factors. It says everything is about how the caregiver/parent relates with the child! [How’s that for a guilt-trip, parents???]
I think a lot more research needs to be done on ‘attachment parenting’ to see whether it is effective. Until then, I am going to impart knowledge about evidence-based parenting to my clients and that includes the Triple P which is about rewards and consequences in basic behavioural terms.
Anyway, what do you know about co-sleeping? If you have enough space in your house, would you still practice it? Do you know anyone who encourages the same?
Until next time,