How many of you moms find that you are sleeping more nights with your kid than with your partner or that you’re experiencing interrupted sleeps due to your kid creeping into bed with you because they’re crying or scared in the middle of the night? Or how many of you moms have to lie endlessly with your child until they fall asleep before you can leave them?? If this sounds like your home…this blog’s for you!
Many parents see me in my practice because they can’t seem to get their child to sleep in their own bed, let alone their own room. The first question I ask parents is, “for how long has your child been sleeping in your bed?” Generally speaking, most parents say “always”, “since he/she was a baby”, “I’ve always lied with her until she’s fallen asleep”. For most kids then, their parents company at bedtime has been what they understand to be their bedtime routine. Now just because you’ve suddenly decided to pull the plug on your kid’s lifelong bedtime pattern because you now feel they’re “old enough” to sleep alone, doesn’t mean they feel so. In fact your kids are thinking, “what do you mean you’re going to change things up now after teaching me for all these years that this is the way we do bedtime?” Your kids might be right.
After years of bedtimes together, many kids will have a hard time adjusting to sleeping alone…they will adjust eventually…but it’s going to take some time and effort. Therefore, an adjustment period is what will help ease this transition. First things first…it’s very important to remember that having a kid who has trouble sleeping is NOT your fault. All kids transition differently to sleeping alone.
Here are some tips to help you jumpstart this transition in a healthy way.
Stop getting angry, stop reacting punitively, stop fighting in the middle of the night, stop yelling, stop trying to force your kid to their bed, stop, stop, stop! The only thing that fighting does is keep you from getting sleep.
Often kids tell me that they are afraid in their room. Note that children’s fears are very real and should be heard, not dismissed. Kids may be afraid because they don’t know what’s in the closet or under their bed. They might feel scared because their bed is next to the window; some say their room is to dark or that they hear things when it’s quiet; others say that when they close their eyes they see scary things. To solve this, I always “safety-proof” bedrooms with kids. This means that I would literally rearrange the furniture to position things (i.e. bed) in a “safer” place. I also would get rid of anything that looks creepy to your kid and do this at night with a flash light so that your kid is seeing the room as he/she would if they were trying to sleep.
I also have created things like “safety-blankets” or “safety-T-shirts”. Buy puffy-paints and crafty supplies to help your kids get creative. Tell them to write words or draw pictures of “safe” things or things they love onto the blanket or T-shirt so that when it’s covering them, or when they’re wearing it at bedtime, those safe and loving words/pictures will protect them.
Night lights are a dream. Put them on, put them everywhere. Light up your kid’s room if they’re afraid of the dark. If it works with your home, keep their bedroom door open with the hall light on. To drown out the “scary noises” that kids hear, get a tape recorder or CD player with lullaby music (for younger kids) or any of those relaxation tapes (i.e. sounds of the ocean, white noise, etc.) work well with the older guys.
To promote subtle shifts, have a bed (i.e. blanket/pillows) made up for your kid on the floor of your bedroom rather than your kid coming right into your bed in the middle of the night…this may not be perfect but it’s progress.
Lastly, all the small steps that your kids take are significant, even if it’s simply one extra minute they had in their own bed before coming into yours. Let them know you’re proud of them for these changes. Avoid comments like, “you’re old enough now you should be sleeping on your own”, “your sister does it why can’t you”. The more you deflate them, the longer this will take. Give your kids the goods about their progress so that they will want to continue to make more.
So…try safety-proofing, safety blankets/T-shirts, lights, music and subtle shifts all to promote a better night’s rest and send me your comments and questions on how your family is sleeping.
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