Should Your Kids Share a Room? The Great Debate

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Anyone who has shared a bedroom with a sibling or had a roommate in college knows that living in the same space with another person comes with its ups and downs.

On the one hand, sharing a room with a sibling can be a major bonding experience, full of giggles, whispers and secrets, while reinforcing how to share, negotiate, and compromise. However, particularly for siblings who don’t get along well, tensions can run high in a shared space. Also, kids who are years apart (think a toddler and a newborn), and on different sleep schedules can become tired and cranky. And as they age, the lack of privacy can feel stifling. 

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The Research

“Having separate space is a bit of a luxury if you look at how families live and co-habitate in one bedroom homes around the globe,” psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer tells Education.com.

In the U.S., however, homes are only getting bigger, partly driven by the demand for more bedrooms. The average size house built in the 2000s is much larger than those built in earlier decades, reports the U.S Census Bureau. However, that doesn’t mean every kid gets his or her own room. According to a survey conducted by ApartmentTherapy.com, more than half of parents have their children share a bedroom because the adults preferred the arrangement.

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It’s not always so easy for siblings to share a room. Photo by Corbis Images. 

What the Experts Say

"Some families may see a lot of benefit from having children share bedroom space throughout their youth," child and family therapist Emily Kircher-Morris tells EverydayFamily.com. “The children may have a stronger bond with each other and feel comfortable sharing their things. Siblings may also find comfort in sleeping in the same room with a brother or sister.”

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However, privacy is key. “Each child should have a little space of his or her own within the larger room,” child psychologist Susan Bartell tells LearnVest. “I would recommend having children ask permission to sit on each other’s beds to give them control over their own space. It’s just like asking before entering a room.”

The issue is also tricky when it comes to opposite-sex siblings. “Ideally, children would move out of shared rooms with a sibling of the opposite sex by age six,” says Bartell, “but not every family has that option.” In that case, set up some boundaries. “Have them change in the bathroom, or be flexible with your own room as another place to change,” she adds. “I know one family who even set up a curtained area, like hospital curtains, for changing.”

But according to Kircher-Morris, developmental changes, not age, is a better indicator that it’s time to split them up. “There isn’t a specific age cutoff that requires that opposite-sex children separate rooms,” she says. “Parents should monitor where their children are, developmentally, and make decisions from there. [But] by the time children reach puberty, it will be much more difficult for them to feel comfortable sharing a room, and the need for privacy and space should be respected as much as possible.”

What the Parents Say

"My kiddos are in separate rooms. I’m an introvert, and as a kid, having my sacred haven, a space to call all my own, was so important to me, even at an early age. I am grateful that I can provide that for my children.” —Sarah Dawson

“As young children, our daughter and son were forced to share a space and become tolerant of each other. Now that they are older [9 and 13], I feel they need their own space, privacy, and a place that’s theirs to help let grow into young adults. But I’m not sorry that they shared rooms — I believe that they are more tolerant and certainly have less of a sense of entitlement because of it.”—Katherine T.

"My twin boys have shared a room since they were newborns, so I don’t think they know any other way to be. I do think that it’s made them even closer than they already are…We always say that if one day they ask for separate rooms, then we will make that work, but in the meantime, they’re happy to share. If my boys were different genders I’d eventually want them to have their own rooms.” —Jenny Teeman

The Bottom Line

As long as your children are getting along — well, most of the time — there’s no need to separate them. If they’re old enough and you also have another bedroom, ask them what arrangement they prefer. However, if possible, separate opposite sex siblings before the first one hits puberty so they can have the privacy they need, or at least try to create other areas in the house where they can change in private and have their own personal space.

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