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My Out of Control Child

Should Your Child Sleep In Your Bed?

Many parents give in to their children's desires or demands to share their beds in order to avoid arguments at bedtime and to decrease night-time disturbances. Some parents feel this is in their children's best interests. Others simply prefer to have their children in bed with them.


Although taking your child into bed with you for a night or two may be reasonable if he is ill or very upset about something, for the most part this is not a good idea. We know for a fact that people sleep better alone in bed.


Studies have shown that the movements and arousals of one person during the night stimulate others in the same bed to have more frequent wakings and sleep-state changes, so they do not sleep as well. But there are even better reasons for your child to sleep in his own bed.


Sleeping alone is an important part of his learning to be able to separate from you without anxiety and to see himself as an independent individual. This process is important to his early psychological development. In addition, sleeping in your bed can make your child feel confused and anxious rather than relaxed and reassured.


Even a young toddler may find this repeated experience overly stimulating. If you allow him to crawl in between you and your partner, in a sense separating the two of you, he may feel too powerful and become worried. He wants the reassurance of knowing you are in control and that you will do what is best for him regardless of his demands. If you show you cannot do this and let him act out his impulses, he may become frightened.


These feelings may be heightened if only one parent is in the bed if you are a single parent or if one of you is away from home, at work or in another bedroom. If you take the easy way out and allow your child to sleep in your bed while one of you moves into his, your child will certainly not be reassured, as he will realize at some level that he is replacing one of you in your bed as the other's partner.


He may begin to worry that he will cause the two of you to separate, and if you ever do he may feel responsible. Often children of divorced or separated parents feel they caused the family upheaval, and they will feel even more confused and unhappy if they had been sleeping in their parents' bed. Also, if you begin a new relationship, your child will certainly resent being displaced in your bed by this 'intruder'.


Most children have no serious continuing problems sleeping alone. If your child is 'too afraid' to do so, and you deal with his fear by letting into your bed, you are not really solving the problem. There must be a reason why he is so fearful. You will help your child most if you work with him to find and solve the underlying cause of the fear and do not simply let him sleep with you to assure a quiet night. This may require considerable patience, understanding and firmness on your part; and you may need outside help and support.


If you find that you actually prefer to have your child in your bed, you should examine your own feelings very carefully. Some parents who would otherwise be alone at night (single parents or people whose partner works nights or travels frequently) find they enjoy the company, feel less lonely and possibly are less afraid if their child is with them.


If there is tension between parents, then taking a child into their bed may help them avoid confrontation and sexual intimacy. If any of this applies to you, then instead of helping your child you are using him to avoid facing and solving your own problems.


As long as such a pattern continues, not only your child but your whole family will suffer. You need to understand and deal with your own needs and feelings and to resolve the tension between you and your partner.


If these problems cannot be easily resolved, then professional advice may be required, for example, a marriage guidance counsellor.


Finally, if your child always sleeps with you, you may have great difficulty leaving him with a babysitter. This could affect your own social life and you may find that you begin to harbour angry feelings towards your child. And as he gets to the age where you feel he should be sleeping alone, you may find you have real problems moving him into his own bed.


There are, of course, situations in which your child may have to sleep in your room every night for an extended period of time. For instance, you may have only one bedroom or two bedrooms but several children; grandparents may be living with you and need a room for themselves, you may be living in someone else's home and have only a single room.


These are all difficult situations, but there are solutions. If your child has to share your bedroom, try to give him his own place to sleep perhaps a camp-bed or even a mattress on the floor. Make that corner of the room his, and try to have space for some of his things and even a place on the wall for his decorations. Perhaps that area can be closed off with a curtain. But as soon as you are able, move him to a new room, either alone or with brothers and sisters.


The Special Toy or "Comfort" Blanket

Better than lying with your toddler or young child until he falls asleep at night is for him to fall asleep with a 'transitional object' a stuffed animal, a doll, a toy, a special blanket. The toy will often help him accept the night-time separation from you and can be a source of reassurance and comfort when he is alone. It will give him a feeling of having a little control over his world because he may have the toy or blanket with him whenever he wants, which he cannot expect from you. His toy will not get up and leave after he falls asleep and it will still be there whenever he wakes.


A child will often choose such a special object early in the toddler years and may continue to use it (or new ones) until he is perhaps six or eight. If your child does not have a special toy you can try offering him ones which you think might take on his role, but he will always make the final choice, you cannot make him attach to a toy because you think it will be appropriate.


But if you always allow yourself to be used in the manner of such an object to lie with him, to feed or rock him, to be held, cuddled or caressed by him, or let him twirl your hair whenever he tries to fall asleep he will never take on a transitional object, because he won't need to.


If your child begins to favours a particular stuffed toy or doll, include it in the bedtime rituals. Have him tuck it in and let it 'listen to' the story, or make sure he has his special blanket. It will make the final goodnight that much easier.


Copyright 2009, ChildSleepSolution Publishing,

Department of Neurology. Helsinki, Finland