Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sara Stepford On Parenting: Nighttime Issues

As the mother of a first grader and soon to be mother of an infant, parenting consumes a great many of my thoughts, as I’m sure it does for every other parent on the face of the planet.

Today, my thoughts are surrounding how to teach your older child to sleep in their own bed. We all know that infants need to be trained to sleep through the night and most of us have already heard the advice from our loved ones and read the articles on how to perfect this process, but what do we do when our older children are having this problem?

I hear it all the time from Moms…"My daughter didn’t sleep through the night until she was two, my 4 year old still wets the bed every night and it wakes him up" or, my personal favorite, "my 7 year old refuses to sleep in her own bed."

While, I have personally not had this problem with my 6 year old son, my sister-in-law is having this issue with her 7 year old daughter. There has not been one night in the last 4 years that my niece has not slept in bed with her parents.

Now, I know a lot of parents will react strongly to this issue on both sides, but I don’t want to argue as a parent, I want to discuss to what is in the best interest of the child.

It is inevitable that our children will occasionally seek our beds for comfort. It may be after a nightmare, or when they are ill or perhaps they’ve woken and are afraid of the dark. Let me be perfectly clear, when this happens there is NOTHING wrong with allowing your child to snuggle close with Mom and Dad. It is very important that our children feel safe, protected and reassured and sometimes that comes in the form of, as we say in my house “Mom’s Magic Sheets.”

However, when your child is visiting your bed nightly or worse yet, you are putting your child to sleep voluntarily in your bed, we have a problem. While there is conflicting research regarding co-sleeping in older children, it is most often a taboo subject and not advised by physicians.

Children who sleep regularly with their parents often lack abilities and disciplines of other children their age. Their inability to cope with separation anxiety, participating in any task independently, including going to the bathroom, doing homework or simply coloring is greatly deteriorated versus a child who sleeps independently.

Also, children who are co-sleeping are less likely to get the quality sleep they need in order to function during the day. Tantrum rates increase when a child doesn’t get the necessary amount of quality of sleep and parents are often less-rested as well.

As children grow, it is in vitally important for them to have a strong sense of self and to begin acting independently in order to allow them the best chance at maturing and growing into well-adjusted adults. Parents who voluntarily allow their children to co-sleep may have unaddressed anxiety or attachment issues that can be passed on to the child who sees their parents act that way and learn to mimic their reactions.

There are parents of children with psychological problems, night terrors, for example that co-sleep are forced to allow family members to get any kind of rest at all.

Whenever a child is co-sleeping and whatever the reason, many factors need to be considered, and physicians and possibly psychotherapists need to be involved in the decision making process.

  If, as a parent, you have had co-sleeping concerns with your older children, there are many tips and tricks you can use to help your child adapt to sleeping independently. Here are a few of them:

1. Do not allow your child to fall asleep in your bed at bedtime. Even if you move them later, they get the impression that it is okay to be there and are more likely to come back if they wake in their own bed.
2. Turn your child’s bedroom into a place they WANT to spend time. Let them help you pick a paint color, new bedding, nightlights and maybe some ‘cuddle buddies’ to put in their room. Many parents also have a radio or CD player for soft music (classical or jazz) as a distraction.
3. Establish a bedtime routine that revolves around your child’s bedroom. At night, have your child put on their pajamas in their room, after they’ve brushed their teeth, snuggle in bed with their ‘buddies’ and read a book (I use chapter books for my son, so that each night he looks forward to finding out what happens next. Since he knows we only read this book at bedtime, he is less reluctant to hop in bed when it’s time.)
4. If your child is constantly getting out of bed at night and coming into your room, get up, walk your child back to their bed, give kisses and hugs and tell them it’s time to go back to sleep. Do this each time your child awakes so they know you will not make exceptions.
5. If your child refuses to stay in their room without you, you can use the old ‘chair by the bed’ trick. Sit quietly in a chair in your child’s room until they fall asleep. Each night, move your chair further and further away from your child’s bed, until you are sitting in the hall. Eventually, your child with get more comfortable with falling asleep on their own.
6. Talk to your child about their fears and concerns about being alone. If they are afraid of the dark or they hear strange noises, talk to them about the reality of darkness and light, and what things make different sounds. This is when nightlights and CD players come in handy as well.

I hope that some of these tips will help parents with co-sleeping issues. If you are a parent who chooses to allow co-sleeping in your home, I urge you to discuss the pro’s and con’s with your child’s physician so that you are all comfortable with the outcome of your decision.

Keep in mind, I am not here judging any parent for their choices in raising their children. I am simply addressing an issue of concern. We support many forms of parenting, and encourage responses from parents who may disagree with our information.

Also, this article is not meant to diagnose or treat any sleeping disorders your child may have, if you have concerns about the well-being of your children, we urge you to contact their physician.

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