Co-Sleeping


"It's because I love my children," says Carol of why she's let her kids sleep in her bed on a rotating basis for the past 10 years. "My 6-year-old is genuinely fearful that somebody's creeping in her closet and somebody's under her bed and going to snatch her by the leg," Carol justifies.

But she's ready to put an end to their game of musical beds, while making sure her kids feel safe and comfortable in their respective rooms.

"I love my kids, but they don't sleep in my bed," answers Dr. Phil, explaining to Carol that she's conditioned her daughter to be rewarded for her fear. He advises against the practice of letting children sleep with their parents, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Critics of bed-sharing have argued that co-sleeping may interfere with a child's development, create psychological problems, or compromise a youngster's sleep habits. Others point out that infant deaths are often tied to co-sleeping.

But there are two sides to the controversy. Some parents and experts argue that bed-sharing with parents makes for comforted, tantrum-free children, and may even help their sleeping patterns. Others have claimed that bed-sharing leads to a healthy sense of self for a child and to stronger, closer parent-child relationships. Recent studies show that children who bed-share are not more likely to have emotional problems than children who don't, and that bed sharing before 6 years of age appears to have no major impact on a child's development or behavior.

Still, Dr. Phil feels strongly that parents and children should be sleeping in their own beds. Dr. Phil suggests that Carol and her children discuss the issue during daylight hours — not at bedtime. Get kids excited about the independence of sleeping in their own room. Make a game out of it, giving them gold stars or rewards for making progress. To help a child overcome fear of the dark, Dr. Phil suggests buying a lamp dimmer, so that with "successive approximations" — not one big leap — the child will feel more comfortable and safe. Draw the threshold and make it clear that your bedroom is off limits. It may be difficult at first, but in a short time, children will develop their own methods of soothing themselves and feel safe, secure and comfortable under their own covers.