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Sleep Email Series Issue1234

The Sneaky Co-Sleeper

Every parent has experienced it: ​the rustling of sheets and the vague ​sensation that it's no longer just you and your spouse in bed. Sure enough, your child has crawled under the covers with you to sleep.

It's tempting to allow this to happen. First of all, it's kind of cute. It shows affection and trust. Second, if your child is sleeping - even if it isn't in his or her own bed - that's a good thing, right? Well, yes... but co-sleeping does present certain issues that parents should be aware of.

First of all, co-sleeping, with a very young child or infant, can actually be dangerous. In fact, hundreds of children under age two die every year because an adult with whom they are sleeping rolls over on them, crushing or suffocating them.

With older kids, however, the choice of whether or not to allow co-sleeping is really up to the parents. That being said, parents need to be aware that sleeping with Mom and/or Dad can result in disrupted schedules. If the child's and parents' sleep schedules don't match, the one with the most disruptive sleep schedule will dominate everyone else. This can result in stress, distress and fatigue for the other sleepers.

And having a child in bed obviously means a lack of privacy for parents. It more than proves the truth of the old saying that two's company and three's a crowd. Having your child join you in bed can curtail intimacy between you and your spouse, and this can put a strain on any relationship. So while there are no real psychological or medical issues with letting a 9- or 10-year-old sleep with you, you should be aware that it may disrupt things for a while.

So what is the solution?

When a toddler sneaks into your bed, use the "robotic return" method: Treat the situation seriously and solemnly. Move stiffly and do not speak to the child as you return him or her to bed. Then, close the child's bedroom door so he or she associates a fully closed door as the consequence for getting out of bed. Don't argue, discuss, yell, threaten, promise or have any other communication with your child if he or she gets out of bed after bedtime. Children usually get out of bed to get their parents' attention, so by talking to them, parents are giving children what they want.

For an older child, if co-sleeping is not desired, it should be addressed as a boundary and privacy issue. Your child must understand that your bedroom is a private area, and that he or she can't simply walk in and crawl into bed to get your attention. One way to convey this is through role-playing, which is described in the following Teaching Activity section.

Teaching Activity

Boundaries

The first step to addressing this boundary issue is to describe to your child what you want him or her to do. Be clear and specific. Tell your child that it's important for him or her to stay in bed at bedtime. Make it clear there has to be a really important reason or an emergency for wanting to talk to you, and that he or she should first call you from bed. If your child has to come to your room, make sure he or she knows to knock on the door and wait until you open it. The second step is to give "kid" reasons for why doing it this way will benefit him or her (won't get in trouble, shows your child is a "big boy" or a "big girl"). The third step is to practice what you have just discussed. This could involve having your child practice calling out "Mom" or "Dad" and waiting for a response, or knocking on your bedroom door and waiting for you to answer. Then you can invite your child in to talk with you (but not get into bed). Afterwards, your child can return to his or her own bed to sleep.

One additional option is the Bedtime Pass. You create a pass of some sort - kind of like a hall pass at school - that allows the child to either call out for a parent to come to their bedroom or to get out of bed for whatever reason. But, once that pass is used, it is returned to the parent, and the child can no longer call out or get out of bed for the rest of the night. And if he or she does, the parent would use the "robotic return" method mentioned above.

Social Skills

Giving Instructions

If you want your child to follow your instructions - as in the earlier exercise - it is best to give those instructions using this method:

  • Look - Look at the child.
  • Please - Begin with, "Please..."
  • Action - State specifically what you would like the child to do.
  • Reason - Offer rationales, if needed.
  • Thank - Thank your child for listening.
  • Finish - Once the child does what you asked, thank him or her for following your instructions.

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