When a child refuses to sleep, it can be very difficult. And knowing what to do when a child becomes frustrated or nervous and refuses to be left alone may be really hard for the parent. Their first reaction will probably be and try to get the child to calm down, to settle back to bed, and this is definitely the best thing to try. But if they don't, going back to put the child to bed can be really exhausting and as a parent and you will probably want a break from it! Sometimes it can seem much easier to let the child be with you, for an easier life.
So, the parent may give in and either sleep with the child or allow the child to sleep with them. But there are many drawbacks to this. Rather than offering rest and sleep for those involved, it actually causes disturbed sleep, even if you are not aware of it. And sleep deficiency is a serious concern for everyone involved.
Many people though, do take the decision of allowing a child or children to sleep in their bed - or they may sleep in the child’s bed. And most of them at some stage wish they hadn’t! This is because there are a lot of consequences that the parent may not have considered before taking the co-sleeping route. And these may not become apparent until the child is already used to only being able to sleep with the parent.
Just imagine, for a minute, how it would be if a child is not capable of falling asleep without their parents. They will be not be able to go to friend’s sleepovers or go on school trips. They won’t be able to have friends over to sleep. There is no respite. And this just adds to the stress of all family members, including the child concerned! You having to go to bed at the same time as the child, or the child staying up until you go to bed….. And what about your relationship? How would having a child or teen in your bed affect your marital relationship?
And how will it affect your child? The child will become less self-reliant. Many preteen children and even some teens don’t yet know how to be alone at bedtime. They haven’t been encouraged to learn. This is really the parents putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. It’s taking the easy route for a quieter life by allowing the child to co-sleep with an adult. Not teaching them how to self-soothe. The parents probably assume that the child will naturally grow out of it. Some do. But many do not.
So, when the parent realises the negative impact that this has, and the challenges it puts on every day and family life, they then find that they now have the added challenge of trying to work out how to change this and get control back over bedtime and night-time, and re-gain their bed. Because it has become a habit and a routine, it is now much harder to address than it would have been if they had done it when the problem arose.
Studies have shown that more and more children are co-sleeping with their parents. I’ve worked with some. One family had a 16-year-old, still sleeping in mum’s bed. The relationship problems caused were huge and the young person was initially brought to me with anxiety in all aspects of life. We had to unpick the problems - many of which stemmed from the effects of co-sleeping, and all of which were ‘put to bed’ when the teenager learned to be comfortable being alone and to sleep in his own bed. It changed the family dynamics completely, improved the lad’s life and a marriage was saved in the process too!
The impact that habitually co-sleeping has on a person really can be huge, including things such as memory loss, fatigue, developmental issues, friendship problems, low energy, depression, lack of self-esteem and some even suggest obesity or eating disorders.
So how can you address the issue? Here are some steps you can take:
Firstly, recognise that this is a problem and understand how serious it’s impact can be on the child and the wider family. Then commit to doing something about it.
Seek help and support. It will not be easy doing this on your own and I know, as an Ollie Coach, that we can help. As I said earlier, I have worked with people who have been going through this.
Discuss this with the child. Explain the needs of parents to have some rest and that your bed is for parents only. Discuss the importance of children being able to sleep independently and why. Relate this this to their ability to take part in age-appropriate activities just like their peers.
Involve them in the solution to the problem and also in the making of a plan to change things. Believe that this change is in their best interests, whereas the current situation, however it may seem, is not.
Be prepared to get resistance from the child and expect that you will have to be strong and stick to your guns. You will need to be caring but very consistent to achieve your goal where all family members sleep in their own beds every night. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
Do this gradually, allowing the child to have time on their own whilst slowly removing your comfort and presence at bedtime. This will need to be replaced with your praise and attention before and after bedtime. It will require you to help the child learn self-soothing strategies to use before and during the bedtime routine and during the daytime too.
Understand that the child’s anxiety, low self-esteem and being dependent on you, that you experience during the daytime, are all directly related to their inability to be able to sleep alone at night.
When you are consistent with these steps most children will learn more appropriate sleep habits and will learn to remain in their beds for the whole night.
And that, surely, has to be the best decision of all!