According to research children undergo significant neurological and behavioural development up to the age of four. This is also when the child forms attachments. The most important attachment any child makes is with their primary caregiver. It is essential that this attachment is not disrupted at this early age, as it can result in major developmental problems.
For this reason, overnight stays for such young children has been the subject of heated discussion and extensive research.
Younger children prefer the security of a structured environment. Such an environment is most likely when they have a single home in which they live continuously. When they become a little older they will benefit from a more unstructured living environment. This is when they will enjoy time spent in the homes of both parents.
There is a growing trend among fathers to spend more time with their children. Some even insisting on overnight stayovers at the vulnerable infant stage. Many parents argue that they should enjoy equal time spent with their children. Parents fear that they may find it difficult to build relationships with their children unless they spend time with them from a very young age.
In making decisions on sleepovers, parents should heed the research regarding attachments. They should fit in with the changing needs of the child. They must consider the best interests of the child in everything that they do.
The jury is out on the issue of overnight stays for very young children. Some professionals believe that children under the age of four should not spend the night away from their primary caregiver. Others are of the opinion that infants can form bonds with more than one caregiver and should be allowed to do so. They are of the view that the child should spend nights with both parents.
Since small children are comforted by secure and structured environments, it is important that the parents take this into account in caring for them. Both parents should spend quality day light hours with their child to build a strong and trusting relationship.
The individual circumstances of each family should dictate the best time for the child to sleep over. If the he or she is deeply attached to siblings or if Mom is still breastfeeding it may be best to forego the overnight stay for now.
The best interests of the child and not the rights of the parents will form the basis any decision of the court or the family dispute centre.