When you hear the pitter-patter of your child's feet heading toward your bed in the middle of the night once again, you might begin to question your parenting abilities or your child's chances of becoming a functioning adult some day. However, even though cultural bias may lead you to hide your co-sleeping arrangements from others, sharing a bed with children is practiced around the world. Your own opinions and feelings on the practice will have the biggest long-term impact on making co-sleeping a positive memory for all or a problem in need of attention.
According to the University of Notre Dame's Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab, co-sleeping children have their natural need for comfort and contact met consistently and quickly. In the long-term, this helps children become self-sufficient, confident, socially competent and independent. This may be little consolation to you when your 5-year-old kicks you in the face as he rests peacefully while sprawled diagonally across your bed. Even if your mother is shaking her head and warning you that your child will never leave if you allow him to sleep in your bed, rest assured that this will probably not be the case. Most veteran co-sleeping parents report that their children went to their own beds willingly as they began to mature physically and emotionally.
According to The Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab, a survey found that boys who co-slept throughout childhood had noticeably higher self-esteem. Women who co-slept as children report being more comfortable with physical contact and affection and have higher self-esteem than women who had not co-slept as children. This is not to say that you are damaging your child's self-esteem by not co-sleeping. Rather, those who do co-sleep can rest peacefully knowing that they are helping their children develop healthy self-esteem.
As you learn to be more attuned to your child's nighttime needs through bed-sharing, co-sleeping advocates suggest you might develop a stronger bond with your child because he or she knows you are always available to meet those needs. Despite what disapproving family members or friends may tell you, this does not represent an inability to set boundaries on your part, but rather a personal decision that works for both you and your child. If you are reluctant to share a bed with your child, but do so just to get through the night, you might start to resent your nighttime sleeping arrangements. You might consider incentives or rewards to encourage your child to sleep in his or her own room throughout the night. Your parent-child bond will be strongest in the long term when you have worked out a sleeping arrangement that works best for both of you.
According to Attachment Parenting International, a study found that children who never co-slept had more tantrums and behavioral problems than children who co-slept on a regular basis. If you're happy sharing a bed with your child, you will probably recognize the lack of daily bedtime battles because your child feels content to drift off to dreamland in the comfort of your presence. There is little research to prove that co-sleeping leads to bad behavior, even though friends and family might suggest that it is the root cause of behavioral problems.