Family expert Sara Dimerman is here to answer any questions you may have. If you need to submit a question, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: How do I get my child to sleep in her own bed?
A: Ah, one of the most common questions I hear from parents. Along with “how do I get my child to sleep in her own bed, and not in mine?” Firstly, there are a few factors to consider when coming up with a solution to this problem.
1. How old is your child?
2. Why is he or she saying that he does not want to sleep in his own bed? Anything you can think of?
3. How long has this pattern been established?
Young children, in particular, seem to go through phases of not wanting to sleep alone or without an adult that they feel secure around. They may be going through a period of separation anxiety, for example or might be wanting extra reassurance, especially during periods of adjustment, such as moving into a new home or starting a new grade at school. During these phases, even children who were pretty good sleepers and fine with going to bed at a specific time will resist doing so.
Sometimes children will not be able to identify why they don’t want to be alone at night and you may have to consider factors yourself. Changes, as mentioned previously, can change behaviour. In addition, children, at various stages of development, become more anxious or aware of things they didn’t previously worry about – people breaking into homes, for example.
Has this pattern been established for a long time, meaning that it is more firmly entrenched, or is it recent? A recent behavioural change is easier to rectify more quickly.
Fear is top of the list for children not wanting to sleep in their own beds. They don’t want to be alone. So, acknowledge what your child may be feeling and come up with solutions. Sometimes, just talking about the shadows on the wall can make them go away. Other times, a toy bat under her bed will make her feel more able to defend any imaginary creature that might visit her during the ‘night. Sometimes, having siblings (both of whom may be a little afraid) share a room may be a good solution.
Although many parents are worried about setting a precedent by inviting their children into their beds, I often suggest that instead of having your child in bed with you, that you set up a mattress and bedding on the floor next to your bed. Then, tell your child that so long as he doesn’t disturb you during the night, he is welcome to be in your room, on the floor beside your bed.
The last solution is often one that is well received by both parents and children. Parents don’t get little feet in their faces while they’re trying to sleep and the child has the security of knowing that being with mom and dad when she is afraid is an option.
So, instead of bribing and punishing your child to stay in his own bed, maybe consider the alternatives I’ve suggested. I have yet to meet an adult who is unable to sleep alone as a result of sleeping in his or her parent’s room or bed when they were children.
Sara Dimerman is a psychologist in the Toronto area who has provided counselling to individuals, couples and families for more than twenty-five years. She is the author of four books – two for parents and two for couples – the most recent of which is “Why Married Couples Don’t have Sex….at least not with each other!” and is a columnist and podcast producer/host for sites and print media across North America and internationally. She is a regular guest on radio and television and is interviewed frequently for articles online, in newspapers and magazines. Sara is married and has two daughters. Visit Sara‘s website: www.helpmesara.com or follow her on Twitter @helpmesara.