In nearly two-thirds of homes with two children under age 18, the kids share a room.
Inside a sprawling six-bedroom home in Oak Park, Ill., Sarah Coleman’s three children are tucked into bed in their room.
Yes, their room. The three kids share one bedroom, the parents share one bedroom, and the remaining four bedrooms are untouched most evenings unless there are guests.
“I’ve always admired big families where the kids seem to develop a tribe mentality from sharing everything – toys, space, experience, parents,” said Coleman, a former nonprofit manager who is a stay-at-home mom to her three children, ages 1, 3 and 5. “So even though we have enough space that our kids wouldn’t need to share, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t.”
Home sizes are growing, but spare bedrooms are being used for guests, offices and play spaces.
The median size of a new single family home in 1995 was 1,950 square feet, and 30 percent of new homes had four bedrooms or more, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2014, the median size had increased by 550 square feet to 2,500 square feet, and 46 percent of new single-family homes had four bedrooms or more.
While the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t track how many children share a room, the New York Housing and Vacancy Survey found that in nearly two-thirds of homes with two children under age 18, the kids share a room.
Jessie LeMar recalled fondly the years she shared a room with her sibling, so when she had her own children, she created the same arrangement for them, using the spare bedroom as a playroom.
Her 4- and 6-year-old daughters share a room, and she threatens that she will make them get their own rooms if they misbehave.
“Our threat is, ‘If you can’t fall asleep, you’ll have to get your own rooms, and they are young enough that they are afraid of the dark, so they don’t like that,” said LeMar, a legal librarian.
While there’s no right or wrong decision when it comes to whether siblings should share a room (if families have the space), James Crist, licensed clinical psychologist and co-author of “Siblings: You’re Stuck With Each Other, So Stick Together,” said that it’s a fairly recent phenomenon that kids have separate bedrooms at all – and there are benefits to room sharing.
“Anxious kids, in particular, often have a much easier time falling asleep when they have someone in the same room or even in the same bed,” Crist said.
Sharing the room also teaches children how to negotiate, how to compromise and how to work out conflicts, all of which are important skills to develop.
When they’re sharing a room, siblings can also develop an even closer bond because of those nightly pre-sleep chats that they may start to establish, said Laura Markham, clinical psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Sibling.”
But those nighttime chats can also wreak havoc on sleep, one of a host of issues that families may discover as soon as they put their children into the room and turn off the lights, said Linda Szmulewitz, a certified gentle sleep coach.
Szmulewitz recommended that parents, if they decide to have children share a room, figure out solutions to such problems before they affect the kids’ sleep.
“For older children who share a room, I work on helping parents set expectations about bedtime, so that they keep in mind that the time that children spend chatting before going to bed is their special private time, and you have to allow for that to some extent, rather than expecting that you are going to put them to bed and they are going to lay there quietly and just fall asleep without any interaction,” Szmulewitz said.
Younger children will encounter different sleep complications.
If one child wakes before the other, Szmulewitz said, they need to learn not to yell for their parents to get them and, instead, tiptoe quietly out of the room.
And while room-sharing siblings tend to adjust and become heavier sleepers, Szmulewitz said, she suggests that they sleep with a sound machine, especially if there’s a baby in the room.
Once sleeping is tackled, parents should also consider the privacy needs of their children, said pediatric therapist Julianne Neely.
She said that it’s important for each child to have his or her own personal space to be alone.
“It is also important for each child to have their own respected space within the room to put their personal things,” Neely said.
When the children reach puberty, having their own private spaces becomes even more important, and this is the time when opposite-sex siblings usually request to have their own rooms, Markham said. It’s also the point when same-sex siblings simply want their own spaces, and if it can’t be done by separating the rooms, Markham suggested curtaining off the beds or doing something within the room to give each child a degree of privacy.
School social worker Rebecca Solomon recently gave her 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter their own rooms after they requested their own space, but up until now, they had been sharing. Her twin 4-year-old sons share a room, and she doesn’t plan on splitting them up into separate bedrooms.
Nor do they want to leave their roommates.