Giving Children Their Own Space

I can see it on their faces.  The second I say my 13 year old shares a bedroom with his 5 year old and 2 year old brothers, they have POOR KID written all over their faces.

What they don’t know is that my 13 year old LIKES IT THAT WAY.

He likes the bedtime chatter of little voices.  He likes telling them stories as they drift off to sleep.  He likes playing World War II when they clean up their bedroom as motivation to get the little guys to actually work.  He wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But, he does need his space.

Everyone does.  Children in large families are no different, they are just more creative with how they do it.  Here’s how we do it:

*Lock boxes for older children. My son collects knives.  Knives and little hands are dangerous.  However, it would be wrong of us to ask him to get rid of all his knives simply because he happens to have little brothers.  Yes, he needs to be mindful of his siblings, but if you are going to use that argument then I had better get rid of my sewing things, and even quite a few of our school supplies since they too could be dangerous in little hands.

Instead, Blake purchased a lock box (a fireproof box with a key).  His knives and other precious treasures go in there.  My 10 year old also has one, but hers contains candy. {she’s a saver and she kept finding her “saved” candy gobbled up by little mouths ;) }

*Personal shelves for personal items. My son gets the top of the dresser and a shelf that is hung on the wall as a place for his personal items.  He displays certificates and breakables there.

My daughters (ages 10 and 6) each have 2 shelves on a plastic stacker that stands in their room.  Those shelves are so they can house and display things that are specifically theirs.

Now, let me digress for just a second…

Sometimes families, especially large families, get into the habit of allowing everyone to play with everyone’s stuff.  “Share and share alike,” we say.  But that is a socialist mentality. We shouldn’t be raising our children to believe that everything they own can rightfully be taken away by someone else.  That simply isn’t true.  So please, let them have some possessions!

*Breaks.  Having Sensory Integration Disorder (or Sensory Processing Disorder) has made me acutely aware of the need to give my children “brain breaks.”  My 10 year old also has SID, and often requires several short breaks throughout her day, usually spent sitting on her bed with a notebook and pencil in hand.

However, we do not allow insurmountable amounts of time spent “alone.” Children left to themselves are problematic. (Prov 29:15)  Minds left to wander without boundaries and guidelines tend to gravitate toward foolish pursuits (Prov 22:15).  And often there can become a craving for escape.  They want more and more and more time alone, and pretty soon you find they are totally disconnected from the family.

*Headphones {not what you think}. I am NOT a proponent of headphones.  1 out of every 5 teens in the U.S. today has mild to moderate hearing loss.  Bet you can guess why.  But, in a house full of people, quiet is either hard to find or hard to keep.  So, we have headphones on our digital piano and headphones on our computers.

The headphones on the piano are for the pianist’s concentration and for one less noise (no matter how musical it may be) in the house during exceptionally busy times (i.e. school hours – because music practice is one of their school assignments).

The headphones on the computer are for certain school lessons that are done on the computer, like Rosetta Stone Spanish.  Typically, it is my SID child who needs this added level of quiet in order to concentrate.  No, we don’t tiptoe around her, but we do recognize particularly rough days and try to give her as many “helps” as we can.

*Time with mom or dad. We don’t have a rotating list or a special chart.  We could, but for some reason life gets in the way and someone inevitably gets their feelings hurt because their day got skipped.  Instead we choose at random (or based on who is truly needing some Mommy/Daddy time)  someone to join us on outings, stay up late with mom and dad, or go to Daddy’s office.  This creates the “space” to have deep and meaningful conversations with mom or dad or both.

I want to encourage you to give your children the gift of space enough to be themselves, yet walls enough to build solid foundations of character and wisdom.

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41 thoughts on “Giving Children Their Own Space

  1. Love this practical glimpse…
    Our 10 and 1/2 year old shares with our 2 year old…our boys share too…everyone has always “had” to share…but they wouldn’t want it any other way…but we’re figuring out ways to give our older ones, their own space.
    One of our middle boys doesn’t have his own desk (we just don’t have room)…so we gave him my husband’s old briefcase…he keeps his “paperwork” in there. :)
    I love the idea of the lock box though.
    Our older 3 are close in age and then our daughter who would’ve been closer in age died in ’08 so there is a huge gap and it is a challenge to keep the rooms “safe” while also allowing freedom for age-appropriate responsibilities/freedom…so this is very helpful and encouraging. Thank you!

  2. Great post, Amy. I especially like the part about each child not needing to share everything that they have — I will remember that even more. I think I’m going to have to get some of those lock boxes. Brennan, my almost 8 year old and oldest boy, is really craving some space and area for just his things that his younger three brothers can’t get into. Like lego creations.:)

    And, I’m chuckling, as my ten year old Grace would for sure have candy locked in hers as well.

    Thanks again for your words of wisdom!

  3. Thank you for this post! You’ve hit on multiple spots that, I personally feel, so many large families miss! Yes it’s a family, but it’s also made up of individuals. We had certain rules for certain toys growing up (for example we had video games, and the rule was no one was allowed to advance past wherever the person given the game was up to, lest someone else figure out the secret/hear part of the story that the person given the toy had not, and ruin it for them.)

    Lock boxes are a great idea, as are high up shelves. When we got older, and our collection of personal posessions (things bought with own money, things not able to be easily shared and given specially to that child) grew larger we each had our own shelf or own drawer. There’s certainly ways to do it, and it’s very important.

    I’ve never been a fan of the sharing mentality as it seems to be encouraged in kids today. Can I have a turn driving your car now? No way would you give me your keys, you don’t know me, you don’t know if I’m trustworthy, I could crash it. Now siblings is a slightly different matter and many things should be shared, but it used to make me quite upset when a child would be forced to hand over their own toy to a child they barely know, and in way too many cases, the strangers child would end up breaking it! Many of us stopped bringing toys to sunday school as kids because the sunday school teachers would force us to share with the children who’s parents wern’t present, and were picked up on the sunday school bus as almost a free babysitting service. I’m sure you can imagine the care these children took with our posessions.

    Children should be encouraged to share from the perspective of loving and serving one-another, but since the child being shared with likely has toys of their own to play with (and if they don’t most kids will have a quick change of heart!) that has limits. Sharing one stuffed animal might be fine for a child, but sharing the stuffed animal that they take to bed every night might not be. One child might be very attached to their scooter and only lends it to people he knows he can trust with it, another might not care so much and is happy to let the new kid at church try it out. If a child dosen’t want to share anything under any circumstances ever, that’s a problem, but not wanting to pass favourite items to a stranger? I can understand that. As adults there’s certain books we might lend to a new family at church, and certain books only close friends may borrow. When we have something someone else dosen’t no one stands over us and says ‘ok, let so-and-so have a try now’. It dosen’t work.

    • Very well said! And I hadn’t even thought about not having to share with children outside the home, but that is spot on! Thanks for adding your thoughts!

    • This is something I completely agree with. Our Mom always forced us to let other kids play with (any and all of) our toys, no exceptions.
      I still remember (a little bitterly) one doll that was wrecked beyond use (I know… it was 30+ years ago… let it go… hehe).
      But! This has made me realize there are toys and then there are special toys. Now when we are having company over, in particular if there are younger children, I let my kids know. They have an opportunity to put away anything they are not willing to share. If it’s left out, it’s fair game (within reason of course).

      • Penny, I have done the same thing. I remember one little boy coming up to me demanding that I make my son let him play his DSI. I simply told the little boy that I was sorry, but it was not mine it was Brandons and there was nothing I could do about it.

        Peace, <

  4. When I was raising mine and homeschooling them, the mid-week church service day (Wednesday) was our family fast day and Quiet Day. The children knew Daddy and Mommy would be fasting and praying for them so they would grow up to live for God all the days of their lives. They could fast if they wanted to.

    Quiet Day was anticipated. After school work was finished, we each retreated to a quiet space. Depending on age, that could be the hammock or the sofa, cuddled up with a great read, or in a corner of the bedroom for play with paper dolls, etc.

    And Quiet Day (underscore) ALWAYS included a NAP! Even when Daddy got home from work, he took a nap before we all left for mid-week church service. After we got home, Daddy and Mommy broke their fast with the children by having a bowl of soup or hot cereal at the dinner table before bedtime. Usually we were in our pjs and ready for bed for this.

    And possessions were possessions, not community property as you described. We taught the children to respect what belonged to others.

    Good post!

  5. Thank you for sharing this Amy! We are about to have our 5th, and ours are all still pretty young. We certainly follow that “your right to your possessions” idea, and each child has things are strictly theirs. With that said, we do try to teach them how nice it is to share, and when they want their ‘item’ back, we tell the other child it is ‘so and so’s and she would like it back now.’ I know that this information will come in handy in the very near future :)

    • It was evident from the moment she was born. She screamed any time there was too much going on or anything was out of the norm. As she grew older, we were more able to see exactly what was going on (we just thought she was “high needs” and “fussy”) because she could speak. Thankfully, I had learned about SID a few years prior, so I realized she was dealing with what I was dealing with, but had more trouble learning to cope than I did. We’re still working on giving her the balance between learning to integrate and just staying away from the things that hurt.

  6. We have mostly the same set-up. For now, our oldest (14) and the next boy (9) have their own rooms. Mostly, because we are able to provide that with particular layout. However, when another baby arrives, God willing, our 2 year (however old he will be then) old will move up with the 9 year old..and they are all thrilled.

    We are all used to “sharing”, and even in a household with 6 children (we, too, have 4 boys and 2 girls) everyone is always able to find their own spaces..and I find that naturally with having the children home all the time, and not overly busy, that they will gravitate towards time alone, or with mom/dad at different points.

    Our older children have their own items that are age appropriate, and those things are kept out of familial hands..they need their own special and “older” things. The older boys also shoot firearms with their dad, which obviously, are kept under lock and key..and they ride dirt bikes together with their dad-another thing that the older boys do, that the remainder of the family has different needs during that time.

    In our current culture, I have noticed people seem to think anything counter to the current providing an independent bedroom, huge wardrobe, extensive entertainment budget and large collection of new and expensive technological “toys”, means deprivation! I would say it means blessing, and I know our children do, as well!

    Great and practical tips!

  7. This is SUCH great advice! Children do need to know that sharing is generally a good thing, but their possessions are their own, and therefore not subject to the desires and whims of another. Taking this to a long term conclusion, it is promoting a socialist/communist mindset. Not of the New Testament, voluntary, example, but of a forced, mandatory variety.

  8. Oh! And then society ends up with what we see now- scores of “adults” acting like selfish children, crying,”That’s not FAIR….” when someone else has something they don’t.

  9. This is so true! Last year when we were doing our occasional re-arrange of the rooms to accommodate changing needs we offered to let our 21 year old move into our small guest house. She didn’t even think about it. She just said, “No, I want to be with you all! I don’t care if I have to share a room.” People assume we push our ways on our children, but we don’t. They love it! Lisa~

  10. GREAT points & ideas you made! My older kids share rooms with their younger siblings and wouldn’t have it any other way! In fact, when checking everyone before I go to bed, I often find my 2 older boys curled up & sleeping with my 2 toddler boys in the TODDLER room, even though they have a loft room upstairs that they share. :) And my 6 y/o daughter gets the biggest kick out of waking up in the morning and seeing her baby sister standing up in her crib next to her bed & smiling, waiting for big sissy to pick her up. She walks out of her room every morning, laughing & playing with her baby sister in her arms. I love it! Also, we don’t make them share everything either. We encourage an ‘attitude of sharing’, but they have certain things that are their private property and the little ones are disciplined if they mess with it. A child that is not given any right to his own things will soon come to resent their siblings & view them as interlopers instead of friends. Also a child that is not taught to respect others’ personal property…well, I think we see plenty of consequences of that mentality in our society today. I LOVE the lockbox idea – will definitely incorporate that! The older kids have the top of the dressers, but unfortunately, the 3 and 4 yr olds have proven more than capable of climbing on top of the dressers or finding a stool! :/

  11. Amy, you are so right, I have taught my boys to be modest as well as my daughter. My oldest son likes to sleep with his shirt off, but he does not want anyone to see him. He closes his door at night and when I go to wake him I open the door enough for my voice to be heard then close it. while his stubborness sometimes causes me to go in I do not stay long and respect his privacy and space.

    Peace, <

  12. I appreciated your insight that making the kids share everything is socialistic. I hadn’t thought about that. We have six kids and when they were younger, I often struggled with this concept. When the kids finally received something special theire hearts had been longing for, the reality was that the younger kids would probably ruin it. Having company over brought the same problem. I ended up allowing the kids to not have to share the things most precious to them and the most likely to get ruined, but always felt guilty, like I was teaching them to not be good sharers. You just relieved years of guilt. :) thanks.

  13. The lock boxes are a great idea! I just may have to invest in a few =) We have a standing rule in our house “If it’s not yours DON’T TOUCH IT, without permission!” Even our four year old has this one memorized. He and his older sisters (10 and 7) aren’t always good about following the rule but as soon as someone violates it, I’m the first to say “If it’s not yours…” and they finish the whole saying. Then the offender usually – and with a sad face – gives back the toy/book/paper/game etc. And when someone comes complaining to me because they did ask permission and the other person said “NO” I tell them, “well that belongs to [insert name of child] and it’s his/her decision, I’m not going to make her share that with you, if he/she says no then it’s no”

  14. Totally get this. I have a 3 bedroom house and 4 boys. My kids, however, are far apart…averaging 4 years. This made sharing a room difficult. My older two are the closest. When my oldest was 13 and his younger was 10, he was begging for his own room. We built one in our basement. It was a mistake. I truly feel like him getting his own room sort of segregated him. He withdrew more and more. He is now 16 and while some of it may have just been his personality I do blame the changing room as part of it. I really should have made them deal with it. My second son has no interest in moving to the basement ever. So I plan to keep him in his own room upstairs and my younger two sharing their room.

    We homeschool now and we did not our older two till they were in their 3rd and 5th grade years…I think the fact that my younger two are homeschooled from the get go has helped them in bonding together. They simply do not have the same issues of sharing a room that the older two even had at their ages. Bonding among siblings seems lost in our fast paced American lifestyles. I think children having their own rooms, being separated all day at school and being separated with extracurricular activities is leading to a isolated society.

    So keep’m together!!! We did the same thing in giving them shelves and drawers that were there own, but I like the locked box idea!

  15. What great ideas! We only have three kids, but I recognize their need for space. Our only daughter has her own room, which her brothers are not allowed into while she is at school, or unless she invites them in. I don’t want her to feel like her space is invaded just because she’s not home all day. The two younger boys share a room, but we are getting ready to switch rooms around, putting them into the larger of the bedrooms (after the master) and hopefully dividing up individuals spaces for our older son (he’ll be 5 in December) to give him some places that are his. Thanks for the ideas! I love your blog and read it every day!

  16. I so completely agree with this post. I am currently pregnant with our #4. Our oldest two are girls, ages 13 and 9, and they have shared a room for year. They have completely different personalities so it has been a struggle for them at times. I just keep telling them, when you grow up and get married, you’re going to be sharing a room, might as well get used to it now! Our son is 7, nearing 8, and we are expecting another boy. Our 7 year old can’t wait to get to share his room! We, too, make sure each child has their own personal space even within shared rooms. What is on their shelf belongs to them, and if anyone else wants to use it, they must ask first. One rule we do have, though, is that if you leave stuff laying around in other rooms, someone else can pick it up and use it – which teaches them to take care of their things and put them away! Another rule we have with sharing with children outside the family is that IF you invite a friend over to play, you must share (otherwise, what’s the point?) BUT…if other kids are in the house (because Mom is babysitting or someone just dropped by…you are allowed to keep your special things for yourself, since you didn’t actually invite those kids to play anyway. Most of the time they don’t mind sharing even under these circumstances, but there are some things they just want to keep special for themselves or a few special friends.

  17. LOL on my last comment…its supposed to say that our girls have shared for YEARS, not a year. Like, the last 7 years or so :)

  18. This is such fabulous advice! I wrote a post at HOTM once about forced sharing and how it doesn’t work to create generous children. The way you respect each child’s space in your family is so wonderful. Thanks for the great thoughts!

  19. Thanks for sharing your family’s story. We plan on having our boys share a room. They are about 7 years apart. I’ve been wondering how the older one could have “his own space”. I love the idea, and I’m sure it will work great for my girls too, even though they are closer in age.

  20. Amy,

    I’m an Amy too and I have been following your blogs and wearing skirts as well. This one in particular caught my attention because I have a 7 year old with SID. I do not know anyone else who has children with this so it was comforting to see that someone else is dealing with this too. She actually just finished up her OT and was released by the therapist. I would love to chit chat more about this with you.

    Blessings,

    Amy

  21. Our children each have their own special places. Each person’s bed is respected. They each have their own dresser, own shelf, own toy box, and own treasure box. We do encourage them to share with each other, but allow them to decide for themselves. Because we have some who don’t take care of their belongings, it doesn’t seem right to force them to share their special things to have them broken. This is an issue we’ve been sensitive about due to adopting and wanting each child to have their own special place. However, I have to say I’m one who hates selfishness, and when I have one who continually refuses to share anything, I have been known to tell them, “That is fine. But we are not going to share with you either. You may not play with anything but your toys. You may not even play with the things that belong to everybody since you do not want to share things.” Usually after a day of this, they become much more willing to share.

  22. We were just talking the other night about life not being “fair” that the whole idea of “fairness” is socialistic. Sometimes we may choose to give a special treat to one child and not necessarily to all of them. Also,it’s really true, personal respect is something that does not come naturally to us, and we need to teach our little ones to give it. Thanks for the reminder.

  23. I followed the bunny trail from your post today about children’s bedrooms. :) I am really interested in what you say about sharing. I struggle between thinking “forced sharing isn’t sharing and we’re not communists” and wondering how this all fits in with Jesus’ command to love one another and the model the first apostles gave us of sharing everything in community after Christ’s death. Not that I want my kids to share EVERYTHING, mind you, but I also don’t want them to have “Mine, mine, mine” attitudes, and it seems that whichever tact I take, I am stuck in the middle, refereeing.

    • Yes, this is a difficult thing to balance and I’ve even seen this attitude rear its ugly head. I think another commenter here talked about when they see selfishness they have to correct that as well. I think there has to be a knowledge of ownership before there can be a “willingness to give.” Forced sharing doesn’t lead to a willingness, so I see sharing as a separate character issue. Does that makes sense (I kind of feel like I just rambled on! lol)

      • Thanks– I just went back and read all the comments, and that gave me some thinking material as well. I think one of my big problems is that I tend to overthink things. I think the kids sense my indecision and then move in for the kill.

        Another struggle I have is when does a special toy become a group toy? At some point, it just sort of ends up in the community chest, and then it gets hard to sort through what belongs to who. It just seems endless. Or again, maybe I am overthinking things and my children sense that and try to have their own way through my confusion.

        • Most of our things are group things. But, as the children grow older there are things they cherish and they begin to naturally put away in safe and special places. Prior to that, it is really hard to differentiate between personal and community. If I thought something was definitely a certain child’s, but it seemed like everyone was playing with it, I would just ask that child if they thought it would be ok to let that toy be a part of other’s playtime…strongly encouraging the generosity and selflessness of that act. ;)

  24. We have six children, ages 10 and under. Our children are required to share their toys with each other. Now, children that aren’t ready maturity wise to use a toy don’t get to use it. So, a toddler doesn’t get to play with the older girls’ paper dolls or with Legos. But, if they are able to use it appropriately, it is shared.

    The example of the New Testament is to share with those who ask. Yes, this is to be done as a voluntary thing, but that’s also true of being kind, truthful, helping out, etc, and we require those things of young children. Now, if a child bought something with his own money, we would not require sharing, but otherwise, we are a family and we share what we have with each other.

  25. Thank you for this post! I am struggling with this issue right now and was thinking about the lock box thing. I am glad it works! Thanks for sharing.

  26. This is something I wish I could find a satisfying balance on! We originally allowed our older daughter to have her own things or it just seemed to happen since there is a 51/2 year gap….but as the next child became older and capable of playing safely with older dd’s toys it didn’t seem right to have this distinction between mine and yours. It also was foolish to rebuy the same toys for second child that first child just didn’t share, even though she rarely played with them… everything was “special” to her. and then we noticed 2nd dd becoming selfish with younger siblings. It was magnified when our niece and nephew moved in filling that 5 year gap with there ages and there own storage container of special toys…..It was then that I realized my husband and I were sharing our house, our dishes, furniture, food, piano, psessions, our life with these new children and expecting our children to do the same, but the distinction between things only created seperation. for example our niece had a lawn chair as we all do, but to her it was hers and only hers, so she did not think anyone should ever sit in it, but she would gladly sit in our lawnchairs…. how can this work, or my husband would get a movie and we all could watch it and enjoy it, it was put in with our other movies, but if a child was given a movie it went to there room and only came out if that child wanted to watch it??? I removed everyones toys except for 1 shelf of collector/keepsakes they could each have- these were not play toys and a 1 favorite thing. anything they wanted to PLAY with went into our “toy room” (i emptied out the office). breakable things up higher and baby toys on the bottom shelf….. respect was expected of the toys and proper care and treatment. If a child was truely not capable of caring for it properly, they did not touch it. This did solve that problem and the fights were mostly over and everyone could play together without all the segregation……..for birthdays and special gifts they would have about 1 month of mine time with the gift. but moslty i would just prefer family gifts( though it never happened)….. after our cousins moved out I wanted the office back and slowly the childrens toys went to there rooms and the lines have increased……Maybe its not the toys, but just too much, maybe something else… but once again I am pondering the “toy room” and thinking of going back to it again. I battle with the “my special things” and the balance of sharing and not clinging to everything. I never allow breaking or bad treatment of toys and my younger children do play together, and naturally there is some distinction between boy and girl toys but I want to encourage sharing and being an encourager and friendship, not clinging to things and collecting items, and choosing to be alone rather than share. Why share with a friend but not your own sibling?? As parents in chuch ministry we share our house and the things in it with many others. Someone is always borrowing something from our kitchen… true some things don’t come back and some things are broken and sometimes not replaced, but mostly by the generosity in our sharing to others we are blessed, blessed because we care for others and give and share with love…. its not about me its about serving….. do i have this figured out Not at all, I’ve talked with other wiser woman of large families trying to figure it out better….. someday maybe we will find a better balance! Just last week my middle dd recieved her very own kitten and within a day I remembered why that was a mistake…. it should have been called a “family kitten” to be enjoyed by all with my dd naming and caring for it to bless the family. I tried to share how when I have a baby I am entrusted to care for the child by God but our whole family enjoys the baby and we all hold and help out…… too late “the mine” mindset has already rooted.! Interesting reading all the comments, I will ponder this more!

  27. we did start out with the oldest having her own large lock box, shelf and bed area of her own. Do you put a limit on how much is “special” and locked away from sharing?

  28. I ? the lock box idea – we had bought my oldest a wooden box with a cheap lock but it quickly got broken. We have 4 kids (Hopefully another one soon Lord willing ) and my oldest is a 10 year old paraplegic boy who shares his room with a 4 year old boy and a 2 year old boy. The hard thing for him is putting things high because the little guys can reach higher then him since he is in a wheelchair. The wooden one did not make it thru one of his rage moments but I am thinking a stronger box along with the control we are praying for will be just the thing he needs and now he wear a necklace so he could put a key on that :)
    I come from a family of 12 and my parents were VERY clear on the fact that each child had their individual belongings – even tho as the youngest girl I found it very unfair that I could not play with my older sisters stuff haha
    we have tried to have that same thought with our children but if they do not take care of that ” Special ” thing or in my son’s case even try and make a effort then it is fair game.
    I just found your pages when I was looking for definitions for wearing skirts and I have found your page so helpful THANK YOU