Family Bed Hurts Child Development

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More than two is a crowd!

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. 


15 Responses to “Family Bed Hurts Child Development”
  1. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Concerned Father’s comments:

    Hi, thank you very much for the information. I am somehow enlightened and due to this,I have to do some arrangement to separate our kids from our bed.

  2. Vale says:

    This is so uninformed. Family bed doesn’t imply having sex while your kids are there, they should be asleep in another safe place or being cared for by other adults somewhere else, but the comfort and security that being with adults at night gives them, creates independent, secure, empathic and interdependent people. I’m surprised by this article nowadays, you should read Dr. Mackenna.

  3. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you for your response. As I said, there are a number of philosophies about this issues. I have offered my own as well as what I see happen with families who have shared their bed. Also, the issue of having sexual relations was asked by this father; you certainly are very right about the privacy that other couples make available even when sharing a family bed. Dr. Vicki

  4. Lisa Maddox says:

    This is extremely uninformed. There is no study that supports that the family bed has any negative consequences for child development, in fact studies have found the exact opposite. These are your own ideas, not backed up by any real science. Just because someone has dr. credentials, does not mean they are terribly informed, does not mean they do not carry their own prejudices. Anyone looking for real answers should start with Dr. Mackenna and read some of the studies that Dr. quotes.

  5. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you for your comments. As I indicated in this article, the comments I made were based on my 25 years of clinical practice and the issues I have personally helped families deal with arising from bed-sharing. Thanks again for sharing your perspective. Enjoy your kids!

  6. Katy Meads says:

    I think the issues that Dr Vicki brings up in this article are extremely pertinent. It is so incredibly important that children learn to be okay with themselves at night time in their own bed. Now and again if a child is poorly, had a bad dream then yes it is nice maybe to be in their parents bed to help them with this feeling. However where Dr Vicki talks about the need for the child to learn to self-calm I too think this is critical.
    It all ties into helping a child learn how to regulate their emotions and feelings in order to find a state of calm, equilibrium. Fundamentally children need to learn how to regulate themselves (slowly) (and with the support of their parents) otherwise they may suffer to master the ability to regulate their own emotions and mood states as they grow up.

  7. Mommieorbust says:

    Love to hear your perspective on this. This is a topic that comes up among my mom friends. Generally the moms that I know that practice this find that they are sorry in the long run that they started it. I myself am not interested in the family bed. I appreciated the info.

  8. Ask three experts what they think on this subject, and you are bound to get three different answers. Parents can find experts from seveal fields that will support either side. My view is that parents should do what resonates personally with them. Most parents that co-sleep have gotten creative with ways to fnd private times for themselves. Clearly, there are some appropriate boundaries that do need to be set, and healthy, stable parents are typically very aware of this. As an expert in infant and early childhood mental health, I think it is important to bear in mind, that from a developmental perspective, co-sleeping does not create problems, or impede development. Very young children need support and assistance to self-regulate in general…and they get ample opportunity to do so during the day. Co-sleeping does not rob them of this experience. Children reared with in a family bed are just as well-adjusted as children who were not. From my 25 years of clinical experience, I must say that I have never had parents come in and complain that they could not get their teen out of their bed/room. Children will naturally seek their own space. One of the problems I have seen, is difficulty when one parent or both begin to feel resentful and angry that the kids are in the bed/room.

    Dr. Vicki, thanks for welcoming the opinions of others in such a kind and supportive way! And congratulations on your good work. You must also be very proud of your son and the incredible work he does in cancer research!

    Wendy @Kidlutions …. connect with me on twitter, if you are there! =)

  9. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you Wendy for your input. This issue has lots of viewpoints, and I welcome any and all comments. Enjoy your kids!

  10. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    I think it’s important for parents who are considering co-sleeping to check their reasons. I find that many of the families I have worked with often have underlying reasons that stem from issues within the marital relationship. Using the kids as a buffer for problems in the marriage is unhealthy for all involved. Enjoy your kids!

  11. Beth says:

    I would guess that this doctor has done most if not all of her practice within America. Americans value independence and seek to instill it in their kids from a very early age. As an American who has lived in several other countries where co-sleeping with your children is a given, I’ve grown to respect that choice and I’ve seen the close family bonds and yes, even independence that a family bed creates. Have a bit of global perspective. Also, I enjoy my kids!

  12. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you for your comments. I know that this is somewhat of a cultural issue. Yet, I continue to clarify that my poistion is based on the families I have worked with and the dependency co-sleeping has instilled in these children. Also, it is important to note that the reasons behind co-sleeping can also play a part in the development of the children. I am SO glad you enjoy your kids–that’s what it’s alll about!

  13. ReadAnthro says:

    This is not “somewhat a cultural issue.” It may be the abnormal practice in America now, but did you know that human beings have practiced co-sleeping since our species first evolved and sleeping separately is a relatively new phenomenon that’s still not the dominant global practice? Please read the book “Our babies ourselves” by Meredith Small, Prof of Anthropology at Cornell. You simply cannot claim that across the board this causes development problems, unless you want to say that about 99% of children that ever existed suffered from them.

  14. Dr. Vicki Panaccione says:

    Thank you for your comments. This post certainly has created a lot of interest both pro and con.


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  1. says:

    Family Bed Hurts Child Development : Better Parenting Institute…

    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….