Baby’s crying. “I am so tired, and I have work tomorrow — I’ll just bring her into my bed.”
“Aww, he doesn’t feel well, I’ll let him sleep with us tonight.”
Sleep issues often feel complicated to American parents with varying lifestyles.
It’s more cuddly to sleep with a warm protector, is it not? But then, what do the kiddos think? “Well, they let me before so they’ll let me tonight.”
You know you shouldn’t throw in the towel and let him into the parental bed. Boundaries exist and so do blurred lines.
I have a parent who will allow her daughter to come into her bed for the above reasons and her response to why she does is, “I really want her there.”
The same parent, will absolutely not allow this child to go to school with knots in her hair, so she will make sure she brushes those knots out before going off to school, no matter how much the child protests — mom wins.
Bottom line: if the parent is determined, it will happen, if the parent is wishy-washy or can’t distinguish his/her own needs from the child’s, (s)he will give in to the child, establishing a family dynamic.
Sleep is non-negotiable. Children must have 8-10 hours of sleep and — unless prescribed not to — must go through the stages of sleep, including rapid eye movement, to do their absolute best, cognitively, behaviorally, emotionally, socially and educationally.
When a child sleeps alone, (s)he cultivates the ability to separate, develops coping skills, follows routines, establishes internal controls and provides a respect for boundaries.
Children learn valuable lessons from having their own space to sleep. Studies also show that those who sleep alone get the best quality of sleep. Routines are important and fears that are not based on real danger, need to be managed. Self-regulation is a critical aspect of development.
Tommy and Leah need to be taken back to their beds, routinely. While there may be a small patch of time in an atypical crisis moment when Tommy may come into mommy’s bed, there is a beginning and an end (10 minutes) and back he goes.
Patterns of behavior and expectations are set and enforced by the parental unit. When parents make family rules, children feel protected and become rule-governed citizens. If sleeping alone is hard for Tommy or Leah due to fears, disabilities, separation issues, or because as an infant they were brought into the parental bed, help them develop the skills to master this.
Most children do sleep in their own beds. Don’t let your child stand-out among his/her peers, or feel incapable. The child may really want to climb into your bed, but mommy, daddy, parents, grandparents call the shots.
Learned behavior is very difficult to change and may cause more stress on the child. Set the boundaries and the rules from day one. It’s in the best interest of the child, the parent, the marriage and the family unit as a whole. Following are sleep time strategies for resistant children:
Have a routine; possibly a bath, pajamas, warm milk and off to bed (make a picture schedule of this for the child to see). Use a timer for lights-out. Use a nightlight. Make a chart of the bed and give the child a sticker for each night of cooperation which (s)he may put on him/herself each morning. Make the stickers fun, like your child’s favorite character. Give your child choices of a bedtime snack, favorite pajamas, stuffed animal or a pillow to sleep with. And, if you decide to read a bedtime story, make it short.
Beth Raiola is owner-director of ABA Therapy Services LLC in Pocono Summit, a specialized practice serving children with behavioral and cognitive challenges. She is a licensed behavior specialist and a board certified behavior analyst. She is a consultative supervisor and trainer in evidence-based practices and applied behavior analysis and is working on her doctorate at the American College of Education. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.