Ask the Expert: Nine-year-old son still sleeps in my bed
If your child has particular anxiety about falling asleep alone, adopting a gradual approach at his or her pace can help. Photograph:Getty Images
Q My nine-year-old son is still sleeping in my bed with me. He is an only child and his father left when he was three years old and, though he initially kept some contact, he has not seen his father now for a few years. Since that time he has more or less slept in the bed with me. I have tried many times to move him into his own bed, but he complains of being scared and always comes back in during the night. When I try to insist, he becomes very distressed. He says he only feels safe in my bed. I thought he would grow out of this as he got older but this has not happened – he will be 10 in two weeks so I am aware he is far too old to be in my bed. What can I do to get him to move on as I know it is not right at his age?
A Whether to let young children share the parental bed is a controversial subject with lots of parents having strong feelings on the matter. Some advocate early independence for children in their own beds while others advocate the benefits of co-sleeping with children in the early years. Whatever the strong views, in my opinion letting pre-school children share their parents’ beds is a valid parental choice with potential benefits depending on the needs of the individual child and set-up in the family. Within families who practise co-sleeping, most children move into their own beds at their own pace by the age of three or four.
However, at nine years of age I agree with you that your son is too old to be in your bed. It strikes me that he might be “stuck” at an earlier stage in his development and he may need some support in achieving independence.
Understanding the reasons for your son’s wish to sleep in your bed
When their parents separate, young children often become insecure for a period. Their world is disrupted and this can lead to them clinging to their parents for comfort and security. They often fear that if one parent has left the family home, then the other one could easily follow.
Habits like sleeping with parents can easily start post-separation and, to some degree, are helpful in reassuring children, especially in the early days. However, like all habits, they can continue beyond their usefulness.
In addition, the fact that there is just the two of you in the home and that you are parenting alone can lead to a special intensity in your relationship with your son which can make the normal developmental steps of separation and achieving independence more difficult for him. In simple terms, because there are just the two of you, it can be harder for him to pull away.
Finally, you need to take into account the fact that your son could indeed be anxious about the prospect of sleeping alone. This anxiety will prevent him sleeping and make it harder for him to settle in his room. As a result, he will need special support in managing his anxiety and developing new sleep associations in his own bedroom.