11 Problems: Co-Sleeping With Older Children
Have you been enjoying co sleeping with your baby or toddler for a few months or even a few years?
Do you worry that your co sleeping experience is about to draw to a close as your child gets older and older?
Are you hoping to continue the co sleeping experience for as long as possible?
If you’re one of the many parents who enjoy co sleeping with your child, you may not be ready to give it up even though your baby or toddler may have reached the right age to start transitioning him or her to a separate room.
In some situations, your child may be as attached to the idea of co sleeping as you are, and neither one of you may be ready to stop even though the time is drawing near. So what do you do when you want to continue co-sleeping with older children? How do you know if you’re making the right decision based on your child’s needs as well as your own?
In some cases, it may be easy to simply say that your co sleeping older child needs to move to his or her own room when either you or your child are no longer comfortable co sleeping. But in many situations, it’s not as easy as that. If this sounds like your situation, you’ll need to consider the possible problems that may arise from continuing to co sleep with a child who is older than toddler years.
In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about these possible issues and what you can expect from your co sleeping experience with regards to them. You’ll know the warning signs to look for and you’ll have a better understanding of the reasons why co sleeping must eventually come to an end, as well.
We understand that it can be tough to give up something that’s working so well for you and your child, but the time will eventually come when this necessary change has to happen. Read on to learn more.
How Old is Too Old?
Knowing the right age to stop co sleeping with your little one can be very difficult. Depending on your relationship and your individual family experiences, co sleeping with 7 year old kids and even older could be the right option for you and your family. On the other hand, in many situations, children who have reached the age of going to kindergarten are already beyond ready to move to sleeping in their own rooms. Each child is unique, and each family’s experiences are as well. It’s important to have a firm understanding of your little one so you can tell if he or she is still comfortable with the co sleeping experience or not.
Your co sleeping 6 year old may feel nervous showing you that he or she isn’t interested in co sleeping anymore, for example. Your child may not want to hurt your feelings or break a perceived bond between the two of you. Because of this, you’ll need to learn to be keenly aware of your baby’s personality and expressions from an early age so you can tell if he or she is upset about anything when it comes time to go to bed at night.
Understand, too, that your child isn’t angry or upset with you if he or she wants to stop co sleeping. This is just a natural part of your baby growing up! Your co sleeping 10 year old may really want his or her own room as the preteen years and puberty approach, but in the same vein, a much younger child may have heard fellow classmates talking about having their own rooms and may want to try it, too.
The safety and comfort—emotionally as well as physically—of everyone involved in co sleeping is crucial to ensuring its success. If your child stops feeling comfortable, then it’s time to stop.
11 Problems that May Arise from Co Sleeping with Older Children
Most of the time, parents and caregivers stop co sleeping with kids by the age of 3 or 4, since the child in question has gotten through the toddler stage by this point. Some parents continue to co sleep until the age of 5 when school starts, and this is okay too. Co sleeping with 9 year old children and beyond, however, is generally much less common, and if you continue to co sleep with your child past this age, you may encounter one or more problems from the list below. Check out the list and see if you can tell that your child is already showing signs of some of these problems, especially if he or she has been co sleeping with you for some time already.
Your co sleeping 8 year old child or older is going to start showing signs of his or her independence—and probably has started already, maybe even a few years ago. As your child leaves the infant stage and becomes a toddler and even older, he or she is going to develop a unique personality and start wanting to experience new fun and exciting activities and interests that you may or may not have encouraged. When this happens, it’s important for your little one to feel safe enough to want to try these things even without it being your idea first.
When you co sleep with your child for too long, you teach him or her to be dependent on you for too much. While your child should certainly still depend on you for some things, as he or she gets older, your little one is going to need to explore life more and more as well. If your child doesn’t feel safe enough to do this without you metaphorically holding his or her hand the whole time, you are going to cultivate an anxious child.
The more independent your child is, the happier and more well-adjusted he or she will be throughout the process of growing up. Your child needs to feel safe and comfortable enough to try new experiences—including sleeping in his or her own bed—when the time is right. Waiting too long to introduce this concept may be the first step of many stages of nervousness and dependency in your little one’s life.
Your child may not even take initiatives at school, such as joining clubs or being a part of the band or a sports team, without enough independence. A more independent child may feel comfortable signing up for something like this on a whim just to try out a potential new interest, while a dependent child will have to ask your opinion first and nervously fret about making this decision. In the end, this anxious child may be less likely to try sports or other extracurricular activities at all.
Confidence and independence go hand-in-hand. A child who isn’t confident isn’t going to be independent, and a child who isn’t independent probably isn’t very confident. With that said, however, these are two distinctly different problems that simply are much more likely to present themselves together in a child who has been co sleeping for too long. If you continue to co sleep with your child longer than is necessary, you may be encouraging your little one to feel very self-conscious and negative about his or her own self in many aspects of life. Your child may start to have a lot of self-doubt from a very early age, and this may encourage more negative behaviors later on as well.
A child who isn’t confident isn’t going to be willing to give any new experiences a try. This child will feel nervous stepping outside of his or her comfort zone and will probably not be outgoing enough to make many friends at school, either. Although being an extrovert or an introvert isn’t determined by co sleeping or similar factors, a child’s behaviors and social relationships can be stunted by a lack of ability to let his or her emotional and mental self truly shine.
Without confidence, your child may develop a lot of fears or nervous habits. Once again, co sleeping (or a lack thereof) is not solely responsible for the development of fears or nervous habits in a child, but it can certainly encourage them. A child who isn’t confident may pick up the habit of biting his or her nails or may become afraid of things that aren’t really a threat. These behaviors could potentially spiral into more serious problems as the child ages, depending on his or her individual situation.
A confident child may be more well-rounded in school, while a child who doesn’t have a lot of confidence won’t be willing to try out new clubs, new hobbies or interests, or anything that doesn’t fit into his or her smaller social bubble. For example, while a child who lacks confidence may excel when it comes to studying and performing on tests, he or she may not be willing to try anything else at school to become a more well-rounded student. This is just one of many possibilities that could occur, however, and your child’s experience may be different.
3. Lack of Self-Reliance
A child who co sleeps for too long is going to depend on you, as we’ve already discussed, but he or she is also going to start relying on you to take care of everything in his or her life. A child like this may not be able to handle his or her own problems very well and may not develop any sort of self-soothing or self-care methods to use for coping with negative situations later on in life. This can be potentially very harmful to your child, especially if he or she grows up experiencing or perceiving a lot of negativity that can be challenging to cope with even for someone who has the skills to do so.
This can be an especially big problem for children who are bullied in school or in other social situations. As it is, a child who has been co sleeping for too long may have already developed a lack of confidence or a dependency on you that may lead to being a bullying “target.” Once this happens, your child is going to need to be able to handle the experience of being bullied.
Unfortunately, children who haven’t got a lot of self-reliance or self-soothing skills often don’t know how to manage bullying problems very well at all. They may try to talk to you about it and rely on you for help, but in many cases, they may feel too shy or upset about the situation to talk to you or any other adult about the problem. If this happens, your child may feel alone with no idea how to handle what’s going on.
Bullying isn’t the only area where this can become a problem. Your child may also be struggling in school or may have some other problem that he or she simply doesn’t know how to handle due to a problem with self-reliance.
Privacy is an important part of a growing child’s life. Think about your own life—as a child and as an adult as well. Even if you are a very outgoing person who loves to be around others, surely you value your “me time.” As a child, you might have used your private time to explore your own imagination, come up with new and exciting ideas that you might or might not have ever put into practice, or talk to your friends without the fear of your parents interfering. You may have concocted elaborate plans and schemes worthy of any kid’s free time, or you might have even just spent that time reading or coloring if you preferred a quieter lifestyle. No matter how you spent your private time as a kid, you needed that time to learn and grow as an individual, and your child is no different.
Giving your child some space to be himself or herself is a crucial part of helping your little one grow up well. Your child needs to be able to explore his or her interests without feeling like you are looking over his or her shoulder throughout the whole experience. For example, if your child wants to play video games alone for a while, you don’t have to get involved. You can simply make sure the game is age-appropriate and then otherwise let your child have some private time.
As your child grows, you’ll be able to better judge whether or not an experience or a situation is a good opportunity for some privacy. For example, if you’ve got a young child who wants to spend time online, you may want to monitor his or her behavior and activity a little bit more than you would if the same child was reading a book or playing privately instead. Privacy shouldn’t be confused with the ability to get into potentially harmful situations.
Of course, sexuality is another important part of privacy, which we will discuss in the following section.
5. Gender and Sexual Identity
As your child reaches the preteen years, he or she is going to naturally want to learn more about his or her own gender and sexual identity. This may mean wanting to explore a little more sexually, and that’s totally normal and an important part of growing up. However, if you’re co sleeping with your child into this stage of his or her life, this is quickly going to become a potential issue for the both of you. Your child needs to feel free to explore and examine his or her own identity without fear of “being caught” or, even worse, being shamed or punished for it. This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s not recommended to keep co sleeping once your child has reached puberty.
It can be tough to guess when your child is getting close to puberty, and because of this, many parents and caregivers prefer to stop co sleeping several years before this is a possibility. Kids who stop co sleeping around the ages of 5 to 8 years don’t run the risk of reaching puberty while still sharing a bed with their parents. Some children may not reach puberty until much later, but many are early bloomers who will begin to encounter this stage of their lives as early as 9 years old.
Older kids, preteens, and teenagers may be more open with you about wanting their personal space. If your child speaks up about wanting to be alone at bedtime, this isn’t the time to judge him or her. It’s especially not the time to punish your child for wanting to be alone for a while. You should understand, as a parent and as an adult, that exploring gender and sexual identity is a vital part of growing up well, and it’s something your child is going to experience eventually.
6. Time with Friends
At sleepovers, your child may be nervous or not fully understand how to fall asleep on his or her own. Your child may be interested in going to hang out with friends in a sleepover situation, but he or she may not know how to behave or how to self-soothe if being alone at night becomes scary or intimidating. Being with friends can be fun and exciting until bedtime rolls around, but at this point, a child who has been co sleeping for too long may become nervous or anxious and may want to go home. This can put a damper on the whole sleepover—and it may cause your child to experience bullying or teasing because of it as well.
Your child’s experience with friends may be dampened by the problems that come from co sleeping for too long. Your little one may not feel comfortable spending too much time away from you and may not even want to go to sleepovers at all. He or she may not be able to socialize well because of this long-term dependency.
Sleepovers aren’t the only situation where this can be a problem. Your child may want to go to camp during the summer or may want to stay with his or her grandparents for a while. There are many situations in which your little one may need to be able to fall asleep away from home, but if you’ve been co sleeping for too long, your child hasn’t developed the skills necessary to do this successfully.
A child who has been co sleeping for too long may even develop such an attachment to sleeping in the same bed with you that staying in the same room with you isn’t going to be good enough. This can be challenging, for example, if you go on vacation and need to stay in a hotel room with a bed that’s smaller than the one you’re used to at home. Your child may not be able to sleep in the other bed in the same room or even on a cot beside your bed if the co sleeping attachment has gotten too severe.
7. Poor Performance at School
As the co sleeping experience progresses, you may notice your child begins performing worse and worse at school. Like many other potential problems that can arise from co sleeping, the co sleeping experience isn’t the only possible cause of this problem. There are many other factors that could be causing your child to be doing badly in school, but you should understand that co sleeping for too long may be one of them. Many times, when children co sleep for too long, they no longer have the skills necessary to perform well in their classes or to go above and beyond what’s requested of them in terms of assignments and studying.
If your child is too nervous or lacks self-confidence, grades may start to slip early on. These habits, which can easily arise from co sleeping for too long, may lead your child to feel uncomfortable with his or her own abilities in school. Your little one may feel as though he or she can’t succeed and therefore may become less willing to try over time, too.
A child who is too dependent on you may not learn how to study independently. If your child relies on you for every other aspect of life, including sleep, then he or she is probably going to feel incapable of studying alone too. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you’re willing to help your child study, but as his or her school demands increase or the subjects get more difficult, you may not be willing or able to help as much anymore. And if this happens, your child’s grades may start to suffer due to an inability to study alone.
If your child isn’t sleeping well at night because of the sleeping arrangements, this can affect his or her focus during the day. As co sleeping continues into the later years, your child may become less physically comfortable as he or she gets bigger. You may feel the same way, but while you’re willing to deal with it, your child’s sleep may start lacking severely over time. This can lead to an inability to focus well in school.
Your child could be doing badly in school because he or she is stressed by co sleeping. If your child is no longer enjoying co sleeping but can’t figure out how to tell you that or is worried about hurting your feelings or upsetting you, he or she may start to struggle in school due to this stress.
8. Anxiety or Anger Issues
Older kids and especially teens may start to display anxiety and anger problems if co sleeping continues. This is largely related to a lack of sleep that may come from co sleeping for too long, but stress can also be a contributing factor. While we’ve already discussed a lot of situations that could cause anxiety to arise, the anxiety factors that your older child or teenager may face are different from the ones your younger child may be dealing with.
Teens may be less likely to develop fears of things that are not actual threats, while this is a more common problem in younger kids who have a lot of anxiety. However, teens may develop more social anxieties as well as anxieties about themselves, their own bodies, and even their personalities.
Teens may also develop anger problems if co sleeping continues for too long. Anger issues are a part of growing up, and mood swings are a normal part of puberty. However, if your child seems to be showing more aggression or anger than is normal for his or her age or personality type, then you may have to rethink your co sleeping experience. If your teen feels uncomfortable or unhappy with the sleeping arrangement, this can have a serious effect on his or her mood.
9. Strained Parental Relationship
Up until this point, we’ve focused solely on the problems your child may face when it comes to co sleeping. However, it’s important not to neglect your own feelings and potential issues throughout this experience as well. One of the key issues that can come from co sleeping is strain on family relationships. Your relationship with your partner is a vital part of your child’s life, but when co sleeping continues for too long, it may quickly become strained or even threatened, depending on the severity of the problem. Your child, even at a young age, may be able to perceive that co sleeping is the root of this problem but may misinterpret that as being his or her fault. In no time, a problem that could have been resolved by separate sleeping arrangements may potentially blossom into something large.
If your partner no longer wants to co sleep, stop co sleeping. Everyone involved needs to agree on co sleeping for it to be a safe and successful experience. While an older child doesn’t risk suffocation or being injured from falling out of the bed, you still don’t want to put your little one in any uncomfortable situations that may arise from co sleeping with a parent who is angry or irritated at the situation.
If your partner ends up having to sleep in a separate room, stop co sleeping. There are many situations in which a co sleeping toddler has become a co sleeping child or preteen and has crowded one adult out of the bed. If you find that this is happening in your relationship, it’s time to call it quits on co sleeping. Clearly your child is old enough to sleep in his or her own bed, but the fact that he or she isn’t doing that is keeping your partner from being with you at night.
If you’re fighting with your partner over other problems in your relationship, don’t co sleep. Of course, co sleeping isn’t the only area in which your relationship may be strained. If you find that you’re fighting a lot during the day, don’t bring your child into the bed with the two of you at night. This is just inviting your child to overhear arguments or to be in the middle of something he or she doesn’t want to be a part of.
If you and your partner agree that you miss the ability to be intimate without having to plan it around your child’s sleep schedule, stop co sleeping. While you may have both been okay with a lack of intimacy for the first couple of years of your child’s life, this may soon become a challenging problem that’s too difficult to overcome. And if this is the case, it’s absolutely okay to stop co sleeping. Intimacy is an important part of your relationship, and your child can learn to sleep in a separate room so that everyone can have some privacy at bedtime.
10. Lack of Sleep for Everyone
Your child isn’t the only one who may be dealing with a lack of sleep when co sleeping continues for too long. If you keep co sleeping until your little one isn’t so little anymore, you and your partner may find your sleep schedules suffering severely as well. The older your child gets, the more this may become a serious problem. While your child is an infant and even a toddler, your sleep schedule and his or hers will probably coincide pretty well. However, as time goes on, you and your child will start to have different needs when it comes to sleep, and if you’re still co sleeping, it may be impossible to reconcile these differences.
A younger child may need to go to bed earlier than you and your partner want to. If your child is in school, he or she needs to get enough sleep to be ready for the next day. This may work well for a couple of years, but as time goes on, you and your partner may get pretty tired of having to go to bed so early just to accommodate your child’s sleeping schedule.
A preteen or teenager is going to want to stay up later than you do. He or she may even start to go hang out with friends later at night, depending on your child’s age. If your child is old enough to go out and hang out with friends at night, then he or she is old enough to sleep in a separate room.
As mentioned before, bed space may quickly become crowded as your child gets bigger. No one will sleep very well if there isn’t enough room in the bed for anybody to move. A lack of sleep may cause you and your child both to be grumpy, tired, and unable to focus on work or school throughout the day.
This is definitely a worst-case scenario possibility. However, there’s always a chance that your child is going to develop full resentment toward the co sleeping experience and maybe even toward you. No parent wants to think about their children resenting them, but if co sleeping continues for far too long, your child may look back on this experience with a very negative point of view. As a teenager, your child may already feel negatively toward the situation, and this could lead to bad behavior and acting out in many ways that are different from the normal type of teenage rebellion.
So, do you feel a little bit better about your understanding of the potential issues you may encounter with co sleeping older children? Do you feel as though these issues far outweigh the benefits after a certain point in your co sleeping experience? It’s always challenging and emotionally distressing to give up on a part of your child’s life and your bond with him or her that the two of you have grown to love together. However, eventually, your child will need to stop co sleeping, and the above reasons are just some of the many you may find yourself facing when you continue co sleeping with 5 year old children and older.
Of course, that brings us to the all-important question: how old is too old? At what point do you have to put your foot down and say you’re finished with the co sleeping experience no matter what?
It may feel a little frustrating to hear it, but like many aspects of parenting and child-raising, this answer is different for every family and every experience. A big part of the determining factors you’ll need to look at is the potential for your child to become distressed about the co sleeping experience. A co sleeping 5 year old may truly love to cuddle up in bed with you and your partner, but by the time your child reaches 6 he or she may suddenly feel shy, nervous or unhappy about it. If this happens at any stage of your child’s life, be sure you respect your little one’s feelings and wishes and start transitioning from co sleeping right away.
Don’t forget your own wishes as well as your partner’s, too. If either of you become uncomfortable with the sleeping arrangements, it’s time to stop co sleeping then as well. Everyone involved needs to be completely on board with the co sleeping experience in order for it to be a safe and enjoyable one. There is no shame in deciding it’s time to call it quits even if your little one isn’t yet showing signs of readiness to sleep in his or her own separate bed or room.
When you are ready to start moving your child to a separate sleeping space, make sure you talk it all over with your child regardless of his or her age. Your little one will be able to understand more than you may think, and a heartfelt explanation from you may make your child feel much less alone or confused when it’s time to make this big change in his or her life.
There are a lot of reasons why you’ll need to stop co sleeping eventually. Once you have a solid understanding of these, you’ll come to realize that this experience can become a fond memory for you and your child as you both move on to new and exciting stages of your lives together.