I am 10 years old and sitting in the storage space under my platform bed. It’s a good-sized structure, taking up about a quarter of the living room. It’s dark under there except for the nightlight that I have plugged into the wall, a green Christmas bulb screwed into its top. I can hear my parents talking over the drone of the television while my baby brother sleeps in the bedroom. I love this space. In my family’s one-bedroom New York City apartment, it is my sanctuary–it even has a door that I can pull closed behind me.
From an early age, I craved my own space. My father once crafted a spaceship out of a large cardboard box, the television blasted static to signify takeoff–I sat in there for hours. During school recess in Central Park, I would crouch beside pools of rain water and imagine I was standing at the sink of my own private cottage.
While a lot of parents are forced to make their kids share a bedroom, a good number of families deal with even tighter situations because of financial concerns. According to Gail Gross, a family and child development expert, author and educator, your child will know and recognize that you have limited resources, so anything that you can do to help her carve out her own special place in the home will foster not only gratitude, but also independence.
“Feelings of independence can transfer to good decision-making, choosing healthy options and ultimately transitioning into good self-esteem and a strong sense of self,” says Gross.
This space can be a closet, a foyer, a play area, a corner, a wall–any place that your child can call his own will help make him a viable part of the family and aid his journey to adulthood.
As Elaine Taylor-Klaus, parenting coach and international speaker, puts it, our job as parents is to raise adults, not children. All too often parents find themselves dictating everything for their children–from their time to their interests and their space. Adolescents should be learning how to separate from their parents and beginning to get a sense of who they want to be in the world.
“It helps for them to have a small world to create,” Taylor-Klaus says. “Sort of like a terrarium–their own ecosystem that is all theirs to experiment with.”
Once I hit my teenage years, finding a space of my own was tough to come by. The walls were even off limits because my bed sat in the living room and I’m sure my parents weren’t interested in looking at a poster of Leonardo DiCaprio every day.
Add the hormone overload that dominated my high school years, and the apartment could barely hold my frustration. My city was shared by millions, my bedroom was a shared space and my only quiet escape–the bathroom–wasn’t available any time someone had to pee.
When I turned 17, my sister was born and my parents agreed it was time to put up a sliding glass door in the living room so I could have some privacy. Though it wasn’t a room, it created a space that I could claim as my own.
Many adults have their coping mechanisms down, whether it’s having a glass of wine, sipping a cup of tea or getting in bed with a good book. Adolescents are still developing coping skills, so when they are faced with a stressful situation it’s harder for them to re-center themselves.
According to Gross, adolescents need a dedicated place to unwind, emote, express anger and be alone with their thoughts and feelings. Children are also constantly bombarded by outside stimuli–people, technology, television–so it’s important for them to have a place to find some peace and quiet. Reserving a special space for your child, at any age, can provide her a necessary place to contemplate, journal, read or just be still.
We have moved to the suburbs, so the lack of space won’t be an issue for my daughter. I am grateful that we are able to provide her with a room of her own, but I will keep in mind the importance of letting her claim a space. Even if that means letting her tape up posters of the current boy band on her bedroom wall.