Even though Lisa Winn’s house has three bedrooms, her daughter, Tabitha, and son, Steven Jr., ages 6 and 8 at the time of this interview, share a bedroom. The third bedroom is a computer/craft room.
“People always ask us why we don’t turn that room into a room for one of the kids, so they don’t have to share,” says Winn, “but we all use that spare room for projects and homework, and I think it’s good for the kids to share a room. I don’t think it matters at all that they are different genders.”
Fifty years ago, with smaller homes and larger families, sharing a room was common. Then it went out of fashion. Families got smaller; houses grew into mini mansions. Today, due to the economy or just a choice to live smaller and smarter, kids are starting to share rooms again. And sometimes those siblings are a brother and a sister, either through necessity or by choice.
Many parents have fond memories of sharing a room. Or at the very least they recognize the value of the lessons they learned while sharing.
“Sharing a room teaches kids how to share and respect private space. Those are related issues, but different,” explains Russell Hyken, psychotherapist and creator of Educational+Psychotherapy Services, LLC. “You need those skills in life. They’re good to learn at an early age with natural consequences.”
Many parents find that when brothers and sisters share a room, the squabbling is much less than between the same-sex siblings.
“There is usually more competitiveness and rivalry with same sex siblings,” explains James J. Crist, Ph.D. author of Siblings, You’re Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together! “Siblings of the opposite sex just don’t breed that same conflict. It’s the same way that girls in the classroom can moderate boys.”
Frequently, boys and girls have different interests, so there isn’t the same competition for toys, clothes, and even friends. It can actually be a happier, healthier experience than same gender sharing.
“My kids get along so well,” say Winn, “and I think a big part of that is that they have to share quarters.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama shared a room with her brother Craig Robinson while growing up. Today, both of them speak openly about how this set the foundation for an extremely close brother/sister relationship over the years.
Still, the logistics for siblings of the opposite sex to share a room can be touchy.
Hyken recommends that any time siblings share a room, parents should sit down and talk about boundaries. “When friends come over, where does the other sibling go? Do they play with the friends? Are any toys or areas off limits? Are they treating other siblings appropriately? These are conversations all parents should have if their kids share a room.”
Eventually some special accommodations need to be made, particularly as kids approach puberty. This doesn’t mean that they need to be split up – just be respectful of privacy issues.
“The one issue that gets problematic as they get older is the sense of modesty,” Crist says. Often a simple adjustment is all that’s needed.
“Once they are aware of the differences, they just shouldn’t undress in front of each other. Use the room for sleep and play,” he adds.
Winn’s son, for instance, now gets dressed in the bathroom, instead of his room.
“It’s not a big deal,” she says. “I’m not sure they’ll be OK with the arrangement in five years, but for now, it’s fine. And, it’s sweet hearing them talk to each other as they fall to sleep.”
This post was originally published in 2012 and is updated regularly.