Sharing bedroom helps kids develop valuable social skills

  • By Melissa Kossler Dutton Associated Press
  • Monday, March 5, 2012 12:13pm
  • Life

In the Panebianco house, sharing a bedroom is about more than saving space.

Gerri and Sam Panebianco have chosen to put their sons, 3-year-old J.P. and 2-year-old Eric, in the same room because they want them to become good friends and develop social skills.

“We want them to understand what it’s like to navigate shared space and to be happy sharing space,” said Gerri Panebianco, an owner of Little Crown Interiors, which specializes in designing children’s rooms, in Orange County, Calif.

Through her work, she has seen many parents making a similar choice, deciding that having kids share a room is good preparation for college and marriage. “This is a skill that they feel children should be learning early,” she said.

Of course, in many families with more children or smaller homes, sharing a bedroom is also a necessity.

Today’s tough economy has caused many families to stay in smaller homes longer, said Jim Badgley, managing broker of Windermere Real Estate in Kirkland.

“I know they’ve outgrown their house,” but they’re not moving, he said.

Stefanie Nieves and her husband, Eddie Morales, have no plans to sell their two-bedroom, starter home in Perth Amboy, N.J., even though they now have two children.

“We can’t really move, so we have to make the space work,” she said.

Her children, 3-year-old Elias and 18-month-old Mia, share a bedroom. The kids have responded well to the arrangement, she said.

“They have the best relationship,” she said. “They love being in their room.”

Pairing a boy and a girl hasn’t been an issue at their age, she said. But as children approach middle school, that arrangement can be more challenging, said James Crist, a psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center in Woodbridge, Va.

Parents should make accommodations — such as having kids dress in the bathroom — to ensure privacy for older brothers and sisters who share a room, he said.

Whatever the reason for putting children together, a shared bedroom is a good opportunity to learn about negotiation and compromise, Crist said.

There can be other benefits as well, he said. When kids are in the same room, they may have an easier time going to bed and can become closer with their siblings. “It can strengthen the relationship,” he said.

Children may find it reassuring to have a sibling there to keep them company and talk with them before falling asleep.

“Some of the kids really prefer sharing the space,” he said. “They choose to stay together.”

Gus Dreher, 6, loves sharing a room with his big brother, Abe, at their home in Peterborough, N.H.

“I’m not scared when I’m with him,” Gus said.

Sharing a room has been good for the boys, said their mother, Tonya Dreher. The boys, who used to share a room with their now 10-year-old sister, aren’t interested in separating, even though the family now lives in a four-bedroom home. Tonya and her husband, Steve, like the closeness that has developed between the brothers.

“They’ve always been together,” Tonya Dreher said. “I feel like when they’re in there, they’re allies.”

Crist suggests a few guidelines for parents to help kids share a room happily:

•Sharing a room doesn’t mean sharing everything. Provide each child with a place to store their prized possessions.

Give children a role in solving problems. When conflicts arise, let the children offer solutions.

Teach kids respect. Help the children develop rules about taking or using their siblings’ belongings.

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