When kids want their own room to grow

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Pe­dro Arrais

OLIVIA Mead­ows is 10 years old and ready for her own room. She has told her par­ents she would be will­ing to live in a con­verted closet rather than con­tinue to share a room with her seven-year-old sis­ter.

Her sis­ter Grace does not wel­come the prospect of los­ing her older sis­ter, whom she looks up to. She is even less im­pressed with the idea of shar­ing her room with her three-year-old brother Ja­cob, who cur­rently oc­cu­pies the closet Olivia is eye­ing.

There was a time when shar­ing a room with a sib­ling was the norm. In the days when houses and bud­gets were smaller than they are to­day and fam­i­lies tended to be larger, chil­dren rou­tinely got to know their broth­ers and sis­ters, whether they liked it or not.

Most par­ents to­day want each child to have his or her own bed­room. But that can be dif­fi­cult when big­ger houses are too ex­pen­sive for many home­buy­ers.

And some par­ents don’t think a room for ev­ery kid is the best strat­egy for a child’s devel­op­ment. They think par­ents do their chil­dren a dis­ser­vice by giv­ing them their in­de­pen­dence too early.

Learn­ing to live to­gether is a char­ac­ter-build­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, says Al­li­son Mead­ows, mother of Olivia, Grace and Ja­cob. The girls have been to­gether three years now and we re­spect that Olivia is now older, wants to stay up later and needs her own space.

Un­til now, shar­ing a room has been a good ex­pe­ri­ence for the two. They read, lis­ten to the same mu­sic and play with each other.

To soften the blow, Al­li­son has talked to Grace about the pos­i­tive as­pects of the change. She has ex­plained that it is a chance for Grace to switch roles. In­stead of big sis­ter Olivia read­ing to Grace, Grace can now as­sume the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the big sis­ter as she, in turn, reads to her younger brother.

Al­li­son says the sug­ges­tion of play­ing the role of the older sib­ling ap­pears to ap­peal to Grace.

Teach­ing chil­dren how to share is im­por­tant for some par­ents. For them, the les­son of how to live to­gether is the glue that forms bonds be­tween sib­lings at an early age.

It’s not sim­ply about space, says Nazli Khos­ravi, the mother of Cordelia, 6, and Orla, 3½. There will al­ways be de­bate over the pros and cons, but I am a firm be­liever that liv­ing to­gether teaches the chil­dren how to share. Chil­dren will also have the com­fort of know­ing there’s al­ways some­body there.

Some chil­dren just don’t like be­ing alone. For them, shar­ing a room with a sib­ling can calm myr­iad night­time anx­i­eties.

She says that al­though her chil­dren have com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, they man­age to co-ex­ist be­cause she and her hus­band set bound­aries for the girls.

De­spite their dif­fer­ences, they still man­age to find com­mon ground, Khos­ravi says.

Some psy­chol­o­gists say most peo­ple would choose to en­dure a lack of space if they could have some pri­vacy in­stead.

It’s not den­sity, per se, that peo­ple miss, says Robert Gif­ford, a pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of psy­chol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria. When given a choice, peo­ple gen­er­ally will choose a smaller, pri­vate space over a shared, larger space.

He says the so­cial at­mos­phere of a home will de­ter­mine how the oc­cu­pants get along with shar­ing. If the at­mos­phere is pos­i­tive, it will mag­nify the pos­i­tive as­pects of liv­ing in that house.

While some chil­dren share a room be­cause their homes are small, oth­ers in larger houses share be­cause their par­ents be­lieve it’s a pos­i­tive life ex­pe­ri­ence for chil­dren.

Aliza Hunter’s two young chil­dren, Jeremy, 3½, and Tavia, 18 months, have sep­a­rate rooms, but it’s not the pre­ferred choice.

Lately, Jeremy has been cry­ing out in his sleep. When the two sib­lings shared a room, the noise would awaken Tavia — and her par­ents, of course. To en­sure that ev­ery­body can get a full night’s sleep, the chil­dren sleep in the two down­stairs bed­rooms in the two­s­torey house.

“While we are glad we have the op­tion, we would still pre­fer to have them up­stairs (in an ad­join­ing bed­room) with us,” says Hunter. She ex­pects the chil­dren will share a room once Jeremy out­grows his night­time cries.

When they are to­gether, they are ex­cited to see each other. They have their own time to hang out.

Mak­ing a room ap­peal­ing to two chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages, or twins, can some­times be chal­leng­ing but pos­si­ble, say in­te­rior de­sign­ers spe­cial­iz­ing in chil­dren’s rooms.

Par­ents need to re­mem­ber to rec­og­nize their chil­dren as in­di­vid­u­als, says Michelle Kohl, co-owner of Sam & Oliver De­signs.

It’s about defin­ing per­sonal space. She rec­om­mends us­ing com­ple­men­tary colours with sim­i­lar, but not match­ing, fur­ni­ture to give each child a sense of in­di­vid­u­al­ity. They should be of sim­i­lar size and weight, but age-ap­pro­pri­ate to the child.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

Ali­son Mead­ows with daugh­ters Olivia, 10, and Grace, 7, and son Ja­cob, 3. The girls have been shar­ing a room for the past three

years, but now big sis­ter Olivia wants her own space.

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