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
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
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