Bedtime Battles: Should Parents Sleep With Kids?

Every night across the country, a battle occurs between children and their parents: Parents tuck their children into bed -- and while some children fight bedtime from the get-go and negotiate for more time awake, others drift easily to sleep

But then in the middle of the night, little bodies toss and turn before screaming and crying for Mommy or Daddy.

Each night this same scene plays out for the Smith household in the Sylva, N.C. Mom and dad try every night to bargain with 2-year-old Colby, 7-month-old Riley, as big sister Deborah, 12, looks on.

The Smiths call their nighttime routine a family circus, but the severity of the issues is no laughing matter to them.

"She'll kick the walls; kick the covers off; scream and cry. And usually she gets so upset that she'll throw up. She'll actually vomit from being so upset," Melanie Smith said of daughter Colby. "[I] can't watch that. As a mother, I just cannot watch that."

So Smith does what some consider controversial. She gets in the bed and goes to sleep with her daughter -- the only thing that seems to quiet her.

"It's so much easier for me to just go lie down with her and let her go to sleep," Smith said.

Colby isn't the only child in the house who wants to sleep with her parents. Infant Riley still gets up a couple of times a night and wants to lie down with Mom and Dad, too.

"It just seems like the same routine every day, day in day out. And we don't get the adult time with one another," said Bryan Smith.

Controversy Over Bed Sharing

And while literally hundreds of books on the subject exist, people still have differing views on the practice.

"I think it actually is responsible parenting," one woman said.

But another disagreed.

"I think it's a bad idea because they get into the habit of you being there."

Even experts' opinions vary.

"Is it always wrong for your child to get into bed with you? Is it always wrong to get into your child's bed in order to get through the night? I don't think you can say that," said Mark Widome, professor of pediatrics at Penn State University Children's Hospital.

While opinions differ, experts agree that in the Smith's case, Colby was running the house.

"It's simply a way of getting what she wants, which is perfectly reasonable for a 3-year-old," said Dr. Judith Owens, associate professor of pediatrics at Brown Medical School.

And Widome said the Smiths' current solution is a failure.

"What they're doing now is not working best for anyone. I suspect, not only are the parents unhappy and frustrated, I bet this child is unhappy, too," he said.

Sleep experts said there is one thing parents should keep in mind when trying to figure out if it's OK to share a bed with a child.

"Look at your own emotional reaction. If your emotional reaction is anger or guilt or frustration, something's wrong," Widome said.

Bedtime Solutions

Both Widome and Owens said the Smiths needed to work out a plan -- either stop sleeping with Colby immediately or do it more gradually.

"The reality is that there are many different ways of doing it that work equally well, and parents need to choose a method they're going to be able to stick to," Owens said.

They also suggested the couple teach baby Riley to soothe herself to prevent her from ending up on the same path as her older sister, though the doctors said there's no evidence of long-term harm from sleeping with your kids.

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And the experts agree it will take a couple of weeks for everyone to get used to his or her own bed, and that it will get worse before it gets better, but success can be achieved.

The doctors said there's no evidence of long-term harm from sleeping with your kids.

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