||Roommates Can Be a Rude Shock to Children Who've Always Had Their Own Rooms
By: Katherine Salant, The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
From the November 23, 2002 Washington Post article:
When Los Angeles architect Murray Milne's older daughter came home from her first day at nursery school, she asked her startled family, "Are we poor? I'm the only kid in the class who's sharing a bedroom with my sister."
Though the family was far from destitute, the Milnes' Malibu condo, with its spectacular view of the Pacific, was cramped. It was fine when Milne was a bachelor, but space was tight with a spouse and two daughters. His "paneled home office" was a converted sauna. His daughter's remark spurred him to design and build a bigger home.
Three years later, when the family moved into larger quarters, each daughter had her own room. The two rooms were separated by a large closet that could be opened to create a passageway between them. But the girls preferred to continue sharing space, bunking in one room and using the other as a playroom. When the younger daughter was 9, she wanted her own bedroom, but the passageway remained open and the two were constantly in each other's rooms....
How are child development and sharing bedrooms related? To thrive, an infant needs to form a strong bond with one person -- usually a parent -- and with other family members. Once the bond is made, slightly older children experience "separation anxiety" when they are away from their parents and siblings. When parents can't get children to sleep through the night in their bedrooms, the problem is not bad technique, it's often separation anxiety, said University of Michigan psychology professor Brenda L. Volling.
Though children sharing a bedroom with their parents is unusual in America, that is how most of the world sleeps -- sharing not only the same room but often the same bed, Volling said. Mothers in other countries are appalled to hear that Americans expect infants and small children to sleep alone, she said.
Between ages 2 and 6, bonding continues to be important. Children don't necessarily play together, but they still want to be around other family members.
During the "middle childhood years," roughly ages 6 to 12, interacting with others begins in earnest, as children wrestle with becoming "socially competent" -- able to play with other children, acquire basic academic skills of reading and writing, and resolve conflict.
As sibling rivalry in the household heats up, squabbling may be constant, but the children don't want to be alone, said Laura Kastner, University of Washington professor of psychiatry and co-author of "The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior to College Life."
The squabbling may be hard on the parents, but, Volling said, "evidence suggests that you learn a lot of life skills in dealing with a sibling. A big one is conflict. If you can solve it with a sibling at an early age, it's a good predictor that you can solve it at a later age."
When youngsters become teenagers, they want to establish identities apart from their families. If they don't already have their own rooms, they practically demand them.
Adolescence does not mark the end of child development; the last step is learning how to get along with other people intimately, and that occurs from about age 18 to 25, Kastner said.
For many young people, that phase begins when they go off to college and are thrown into living with strangers, their roommates. That has always been a major life adjustment, but it's harder for most American children today because most of them have never shared a bedroom. They lack the skills that come with having shared a small space with another person, said the directors of residence at some large state universities....