Even if Pepper Ventresca had the space in her house for both of her children to have their own rooms, she’d have her little ones share anyway. “There’s a distinct closeness between them,” the Toronto mom says of five-year-old Kiryn and three-year-old Kais. “They love to be together. Just before they go to sleep, they like to tell each other the stories they’re reading. It’s wonderful.” Indeed, room-sharing families can foster a comfortable intimacy amongst siblings. After all, isn’t that what parents do? Share a room to maintain a close, connected relationship with each other? So having your children bunk together isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’re looking to build bonds between siblings. And in dense, urban areas where space is at a premium, sharing rooms can be quite common.
“We’re wired for relationships and we want to be with people,” says Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist and parenting expert. “One of the ways we connect is sharing proximity and experiences. In a sense, sharing a bedroom is forcing that upon them.” But how best to execute room sharing? And what about when your children get older? Here are the ins and outs of having your kids share their space, whether by choice or necessity.
Some kind of wonderful
Many parents, besides Pepper, are quick to tout the benefits of room sharing. “Aidan, who’s nine years old, and Annabelle, who’s five, wake up early and they seem to share a similar waking rhythm. So they’ll get up and watch TV or play without waking us,” says Alyson Bethley of Guelph, Ont. “And Aidan is afraid of the dark and doesn’t like to be alone in rooms, so he’s comforted knowing his sister is there.” Easing anxiety is one benefit for many parents whose children share rooms. That and the closeness between siblings. “Most kids will turn that close proximity into a positive,” says Schafer. “And they have the benefit of hours of giggling and making incredible memories that last a lifetime. It’s a place to repair the inevitable conflicts that happen over the day.”
However, that closeness and ease of putting them to bed together can also later backfire. Especially when one is sleeping over at grandma’s house, and the other one won’t sleep solo. Plus, if the ages are so far apart between the children sharing the room, the logistics of putting them to bed can be tricky. “Aidan and Annabelle share a bedtime so it’s harder to get time alone with them,” says Bethley. “I would like to let Aidan stay up later because he’s older, but he can’t without disturbing Annabelle, and he won’t go by himself in another room.” And naturally, at times, having solitude can be an issue as well. “As kids get older, privacy can be hard to get,” says Schafer. “Some people always remember their younger sibling shadowing them and it’s hard for them to carve out their own space.” Especially as children move into early adolescence when privacy demands can really peak. Jennifer Kolari, a family therapist and author of Connected Parenting, doesn’t advocate a specific age that room sharing should stop, but she says those early adolescent years are natural markers for alternative room arrangements. “Certainly if they’re opposite sex, because that’ll be a bigger issue for them—they’ll need their privacy,” says Jennifer. “And even if they’re the same sex, I would say once someone moves into adolescence, if it’s possible, have them in separate rooms.”
Setting up their fair share
The best way to prepare to share is by first talking to your older children about the experience and what it will be like. That, and letting go of your own baggage if you have any. “Parents tend to project, so if they never had their own room growing up or they didn’t get along with their sibling, they may say, ‘Who would want to share a room?'” says Schafer. “And they may not realize there are a great deal of people with fond memories of it.” Set up a family meeting to raise the room-sharing issue (with kids who are old enough to understand). One caveat: If the room-sharing decision is made already, avoid opening the discussion with ‘What would you think about sharing a room with your little sister?’ Don’t set up for feedback if there’s no potential for a vote. Instead, set up expectations ahead of time and boost those words with plenty of enthusiasm.
At Kirsten and Joe McGoey’s home in Toronto, the time came to share rooms when Kirsten opened her home daycare and needed the second room to put her little charges down for naps. “Our son Austin was three-and a-half years old and we spoke with him about it. We made it a big deal, telling him how cool it was to share a room, that we as kids had both done it at one time or another,” she says. “We assured him that his brother Dylan wouldn’t keep him awake.” Another way to get them on board is to involve them in setting up the room. “Let them have some input—such as helping decorate the room, moving in themselves, packing up their favourite toys, or saying which wall they’d like their bed on,” says Schafer. “That’s a big decision for a child. So, if they come home and you’ve moved them and thought it was going to be like the home reno show reveal, you might just freak them out.”
While it’s good to focus on the positive aspects with your children, don’t avoid the negative aspects, says Kolari. “We all get ideas into our heads and think—this is going to be great.” But it’s important to walk kids through the potential challenges ahead of time so when little brother starts jumping on big brother’s bed, he knows how to handle it. Kolari says: “Pre-plan and organize some strategies ahead of time. Because you know these scenarios will happen. When you live with someone that closely, it’s bound to happen!”
Making it happen
There’s no need to draw a line down the middle of the room, Brady Bunch-style, when it comes to having your children share a room. Instead, try some of these tips:
- Rather than installing separate side-by-side beds, think about a bunk bed to save on room real estate.
- “Designate areas in the room and have the kids respect that as if it’s their own bedroom,” says Kolari. “You want them to understand that a part of the room you don’t go touching and moving and taking things, that there’s a boundary there and having the kids understand that and respect that is very important.”
- As your children age and privacy becomes an increasing issue, think about possibly turning to a less harsh room divide than the linear line—think a bookshelf or even curtain.
- If time alone in their room is important, try Alyson’s trick of setting up an in-room timeshare allotting certain chunks of time to each child to have the space to themselves.
When shouldn’t your children share a room?
“Some siblings are more like oil and water than fric and frac,” says Schafer. “And the more time they spend together, it can create more problems and they just don’t find their way out of it.” Alyson also feels that children who are constantly being compared to each other or who have a high sense of competitiveness with each other are better off in separate rooms.
Published in October 2010. Photo by iStockphoto.