Family Bed Hurts Child Development
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Dear Dr. Vicki:
We share a bed with our kids. We have a 7 yrs. old girl, a 3 yrs. old boy and a 1 yr. old boy. What bothers me is that our 3 yrs. old boy exhibits some sexual acts. Is it alright? We make love as discrete as possible but we are not sure if they had seen what we’ve done. Are the scenes such as love making seen by babies will register to their mind unconsciously? Thank you very much. I am hoping for an informative answer. Concerned Father
Dr. Vicki’s response:
Hi—Thank you for writing in. There has always been a variety of opinions about the family bed, some feeling that it promotes family closeness and others feeling that it is not appropriate for child development. I am of the latter opinion for several reasons. First and foremost, I believe in the sanctity of the marital relationship and the importance of privacy and intimacy. You should not have to make love discretely—you should be able to be as passionate, intimate and unbridled as you desire, without any need to hold back from each other or your expression of love. Kids in the bed definitely impede your ability to totally let go to each other, which is such an important part of intimacy…total expression.
The second important reason is that sleeping with parents impedes child development. One of the very important developmental tasks that kids need to master is to self-calm and be able to tolerate separation from parents physically and emotionally. When children sleep in their parents’ bed, they rely on their parents to provide their sense of security. However, they need to be able to feel secure in their room by themselves and develop the ability to master the anxiety that comes with sleeping on their own. If they are not given the opportunity to manage for themselves, many children become anxious and dependent, relying on others to take care of them and protect them. Kids need to be able to sleep on their own to develop the very important developmental task of mastering their anxiety and being able to self-calm…not only for sleeping, but for any situation where they experience anxiety. Furthermore, they need to become separate individuals, feeling your love, protection and security without needing to be physically in your presence.
My third reason for separate sleeping arrangements involves the issues you bring up in your questions. I think it’s very important that children learn that the marital relationship is a special one, needing alone time away from kids. The relationship that you have with your spouse is the model your children have to learn about the relationship that they will have as adults. Your kids need to know that while they are very important to you, they are not your whole life. That way they will grow up learning that the marital relationship is special and apart from the kids.
Finally, children are very aware of what’s going on around them. And, yes, they will see, hear and react to any lovemaking you may do in their presence. If they see or hear anything at any age, their brains will try to process the information. And, since babies and young children do not have the knowledge (and thankfully so) of what lovemaking is all about, the noises and/or actions that they may pick up on can be very scary for them, and can cause a great deal of confusion and fear. They are simply not emotionally and neurologically equipped to process adult information. Your 3-year-old may, in fact, be acting out what he has seen, heard or misinterpreted. None of your children should be anywhere near adult sexual behavior. Even discreet acts of lovemaking will be misunderstood by your children; and information is still processed by their brains while they are asleep.
My sincere recommendation is that you help your kids develop their ability to self-calm and master their anxiety by having them sleep in their own beds. And, give you and your partner the privacy you need to love each other without restrictions and without anyone else on your mind except each other.
Enjoy your kids!…and also each other!
What do you think? Should kids sleep in bed with their parents? Please feel free to comment below.