Most parents in Singapore face space constraints in their homes and therefore have to resort to their kids sharing a bedroom. But, given the choice, would you want your children to share a bedroom or sleep in separate rooms?
When children share a bedroom, they pick up important life skills, such as the art of compromise and cooperation, as well as how to collaborate when it comes to play activities. It also teaches them to respect other people’s property. And, especially for children who are anxious or don’t like sleeping alone, sharing a bedroom with a sibling will give them the sense of comfort they need.
But as it is with everything, there are pros and cons in both situations, although the benefits might actually outweigh the negatives when it comes to kids sharing a bedroom.
“The advantages of kids sharing a bedroom are a deepening of sibling bonds and the development of social interaction skills, such as learning to share space and toys and to negotiate,” says Anoushka Beh, Psychologist, Marriage & Family Therapist, Abehpsych Counselling Services Singapore.
“But the disadvantages are sleep disruption, increased conflict and lack of personal space when it comes to focusing on work-related tasks.”
The most important thing is that it’s an important bonding experience that can’t be replicated. And, the younger you get your kids sharing a bedroom, the more ‘normal’ it will feel for them, making it much easier for them to adapt.
But, if your kids don’t share a bedroom, this doesn’t mean that they won’t have a bond with each other as this isn’t the only way for them to develop it.
“Bonds between siblings often are most reliant on the foundation of trust which parents help them to build and establish with each other – how well parents coach and role model negotiations of conflict and also help foster the mutual respect and compassion that they have for each other,” Ms Beh explains.
When children share a bedroom, there’s also the possibility of conflict and arguments between them, especially if they have contrasting temperaments. And, if they have different sleep schedules – because of age differences, for example – it could be disruptive for them too.
So, at what age, ideally, should kids get their own bedrooms?
“In a child-centred approach, you would look at various factors including specific needs of the child, age differences between siblings, gender differences and also resources of the family,” says Ms Beh.
Of course, the scenario is slightly different when it comes to siblings of different genders, especially when one of them hits puberty.
“Generally speaking, kids of different genders may feel more comfortable having their own privacy and space once they – or one of them – hits puberty,” Ms Beh advises. “Kids of the same gender may not feel as sensitive about this.
“Ideally though, experts and the literature suggest that siblings should move out of a shared room and into their own room if they are of a different gender by age six, if this is a practical option for the family.”
Because this isn’t always possible, there are then some rules that parents should follow when kids of different genders share a bedroom at an older age, as outlined by Ms Beh: “It’s important to set explicit boundaries around changing and privacy. You can give them the option of changing in the bathroom, or your own room as another place to change. Alternatively, you might consider setting up a Japanese screen or curtain in their room if that seems to be a better fit.”
Baby Number Three
Another tricky situation arises when two kids already share a bedroom, then baby number three is introduced into the fold a few years later, into the same bedroom.
“There are no hard and fast rules, but I first and foremost recommend parents take an open-minded approach where they are willing to try things out, remain child-focused and have a back up plan if things don’t work out,” says Ms Beh. “It is important to discuss with the older siblings and prep them for the upcoming change before it happens. Talk through the positives and also the challenges they anticipate, using age-relevant language.
“Sleep schedules need to be honoured the most, so it’s best to only move baby in once she is sleeping through the night. This ensures that the other kids don’t get disrupted in the middle of their own sleeping cycle. If baby goes to bed earlier, which is usually the case, parents can put them down first and discuss with the older kids the importance of being respectful and quiet for baby when they go to bed.”
Even though children who share a bedroom learn about sharing, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be any conflict. In this instance, Ms Beh advises parents to set some rules.
“Parents can help to set rules that children should follow. These revolve around borrowing items that belong to the other siblings and also responsibility of keeping the space neat and tidy. Parents should feel comfortable setting these rules with corresponding consequences for when the rules are infringed upon.
“Physical boundaries that help to organise and separate toys and clothes that belong to each of the children are often also useful. For example, higher shelves for an older child’s toys and individually labelled cupboards and drawers for clothing items.”
Mums we spoke to whose kids share a bedroom are big fans of it, as they believe it has helped their kids to be closer.
“Given that our kids are of the same gender, we want them to share a room because we believe physical proximity encourages conversation and forces them to sort out any disagreements, no matter what,” says Angela Poh, mother of two girls aged five and three. “We’ll keep them together for as long as they’re happy to, ideally up to the day they shift out of our family home. That’s our intention – we’ll find out in due course whether that’s wise or pragmatic!”
So how does she make sure they each have their own personal space too? “They’re still young and, being close in age, we don’t see them needing much alone time. Even if and when they do, it’s not impossible to find space elsewhere within the home. And when they’re older, their lives will increasingly be apart with plenty of opportunities for personal space then.”
Tracy Lee, mother of a 10-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy, feels that her kids have bonded well as they share a bedroom but will give them separate bedrooms soon. “They’re really enjoying it now but we think that it’s important for our daughter to have her own space in a couple of years. We also don’t want our son to be sharing a room with his older sister when she’s going through puberty, so we are gearing up for this. Thankfully, we have three bedrooms in our flat, so there’s space for them to have separate bedrooms.”