My kid is turning me into a zombie!

Posted by David Beard, Globe Staff  December 11, 2008 06:08 AM

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The following came in a Boston.com readers' Q&A with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz:


Question:
Hi Barbara -- my 3-year-old has been refusing to stay in her bed at bedtime for the last month or so. We find her on the floor of her room, or sitting in a chair in her room, etc. She'll fall asleep OK, but has been waking up.

She transitioned to a bed quite easily (had to move her from the crib for safety reasons) about 3 months ago. At first she loved the bed, was every excited, etc. She'll come into our room, we bring her back & she comes back very shortly.

One night out of sheer fatigue & exhaustion we let her climb into bed with us (yeah, I know!!) and every night since has been a battle. When we ask why she doesn't want to stay in her bed, she says "I miss you!". How sweet --- but this nightly battle has affected everyone's sleep...any advice?
SUNFISH

Barbara Meltz
: Sunfish, You know, I've totally changed my tune about letting a child sleep in bed with you. If that's what it takes for you all to sleep, I'm not so sure it's the end of the world. On the other hand, if even one of you can't sleep like that, then it's a problem.

So what I'd do is set up a pallet for her in your room, a comfy spot on the floor where she can curl up -- hopefully without even waking you -- whenever she wants to. The alternative is to go through the drill of taking her back into her room and settling her back down each night, which will involve you staying in her room with her.

If you opt for that, start by getting her back in her bed and you sit in a chair next to the bed, rubbing her back. After a few nights, you will be able only to be in the chair without the back rub. A few nights more, and you move the chair away from her, so that you are eventually at the door. You get the idea. This is a process, it's slow and exhausting; everytime you shortcut it, you end up having to start over.

Which is why the pallet in your room gets my vote. Once you give her permission to do this, she will no longer need to wake you every night (let her know when it's OK to wake you: if she feels sick, if she's had a bad dream, etc.) and the stage will pass more quickly.

More quickly, not quickly. This can go on and off for years. But the more you fight it, the harder it is. This is, by the way, a distinctly American issue; we have this thing about insisting our children become independent sleepers at very early ages. Even pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton has come around on this issue. I'm not saying we should all be co-sleepers, but I think we need to relax about it.

So, are you relaxed about it? Got some advice of your own. Let us know in our comments section below. Also, be sure to ask Barbara a question yourself at 1 p.m. next Monday on Boston.com. And check out the recent posts and comments on these Child Caring topics:

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13 comments so far...
  1. We had to transition our daughter from her crib to a bed earlier than expected after she managed to climb out of her crib at 2 years and a couple of months old.

    She did the same thing - she would take her bear and blanket and camp by her room's door (could not get out - child proof door handle). We stayed the course and she slowly realized the bed in more comfortable - this was all over in about a month.

    Once you reward the behaviour by allowing them to gain access to your bed, convincing them to do stop is 10 times more difficult than being firm in the first place. As you just discovered, it only takes getting rewarded once to provide motivation for repeating the behaviour again and again and again...

    You probably lost this battle, but learn from it and be consistent in the future - it makes everybody's life easier in the long term.

    All the best,

    HB

    Posted by HBX December 11, 08 12:06 PM
  1. I was so glad to see the advise about co-sleeping (whether in the same bed or the same room) being a very acceptable option. We have gone the co-sleeping route without any problems; our son is one of the most self-sufficient and confident kids in his peer group and I think the sense of security he has when he needs it has played a part in that. Think about it: why should young kids be forced to sleep on their own? Of course it's warm and cozy to sleep with the ones you love. Adults do it: why would kids not want to? Of course ours has his own bed/bedroom and sleeps there too -- more so as he has gotten older, as it should naturally be. When her daughter is older and wants nothing to do with her parents, I think Sunfish will miss these days! And your advice about a pallet for those who have trouble sleeping with too many people in the bed is a great one, I know it has worked well for some of my friends.

    Posted by Beth IB December 11, 08 12:31 PM
  1. My husband and I both work full-time and have one daughter. My husband offers to sleep in the spare bed one night on the weekend so my daughter and I can spend some bonding time together she absolutly loves it and come to think of it so do I.

    Posted by Lisa December 11, 08 12:49 PM
  1. Your parenting skills need improvement. Don't be a milksop. This is just the beginning of your troubles. If you cannot muster this, you may want to think about adoption because you will lose every battle after this one.

    My suggestion. Put your kid in their bed. When she gets up. Put her back. If you discover her on the floor, put her back in her bed. Then when you find her on the floor again, put herm back in her bed. Eventually, you will win.

    Posted by Vinny December 11, 08 01:41 PM
  1. Thank you for offering the intelligent option of co-sleeping or sleeping in the same room. Only in America do we seem to think it's necessary to make very young children stay alone in the dark all night.

    Posted by P. Cross December 11, 08 02:09 PM
  1. Thank you so much for acknowledging co-sleeping as a valid and good option! It is often stigmatized and always an uphill battle for us to explain to others why we have chosen to do this with our daughter. While I understand that it is not for everyone (and maybe not for Sunfish if some are still going without sleep), it does work for us and we will continue to do it so long as she wants to. I no longer make apologies or hide from what we do because it feels "right" to us. She starts out in her own room at the beginning of the night and whenever she wakes up, whether it be 1:00 AM or 5:30AM, she is always welcome in our bed. As Beth IB points out, adults already know how wonderful it can be to sleep with someone you love, so why not indulge our children in what I see as another valid means of bonding. Not only do so many other cultures engage in co-sleeping, but so do many other species, particularly with their young. Why should humans be different? Either way, I think families need to do what works for them (so long as no one is getting hurt) and appreciate that there are many different ways to be a good parent.

    Posted by Sleeping Mama December 11, 08 02:14 PM
  1. We had this problem, too. We finally figured out that my daughter was kicking off her covers, getting cold, waking up and coming to visit us. We solved it by wrapping a full size blanket all around the mattress. She couldn't kick it off- stayed warm- and we got some sleep!

    Posted by Jill December 11, 08 02:18 PM
  1. No consideration has been given to the father in this column. I'm a VERY light sleeper -- and having children in the room with us only makes my sleep worse. We even kicked out the cat because he was waking me up at night. Children kick and turn around all sorts of crazy ways in their sleep. If we were to try "co-sleeping", it would be a disaster -- I'd either get no sleep and then be grouchy, more susceptible to illness, not able to perform at home or at work or I'd go sleep on the couch. A man getting kicked out of his own bed or being forced into a sleep arrangement he doesn't agree with is not the blueprint for a happy family.

    We had some sleeping difficulties with our daughter, where she kept getting out of bed, especially at bedtime. It took a few weeks, but she got the picture -- and now she stays in her room and her bed. It was a tough couple of weeks, but now we are reaping the dividends.

    Posted by J December 11, 08 02:19 PM
  1. My son slept in the bed with my mate and I until the night before he started kindergarten. He will be 11 this weekend. The first night in his own bed he cried but after that it was easy. He began to look forward to going to his own bed and his own room.

    Posted by kim December 11, 08 02:50 PM
  1. My husband and I also work full time. We have two kids. We also use one night each weekend and we each have a sleepover with each kids. It's a treat for them and the bed hopping has become much less...

    Posted by mom2kids December 11, 08 03:29 PM
  1. I don't have kids, but am I the only one that thinks child proof door handles are a very bad idea? What if there's a fire? Or what if she has to use the bathroom? Or any of another host of problems that spring to mind?

    As a child, I had horrific insomnia. The only way I would get any sleep at all was in my parents' bed. We tried everything, and nothing worked. I can't imagine the horror of being told that I had to spend every night alone in the dark not sleeping when I was five. Of my parents locking in my room, telling me I'd eventually get used to it. As I got a little older, I would still sleep in a sleeping bag on their floor when my insomnia was bad. I've turned into a mature adult without any of the insomnia of my youth, although I do find it easier to fall asleep when there is some else in the room.

    Posted by gf December 12, 08 10:58 AM
  1. If you don't want her in your bed, don't let her in your bed. If you don't mind her there then don't kick her out.

    If you do want her to stay in her own bed, try making a book called "Sarah goes to bed". Take pictures of her getting ready for bed--jammies, brushing teeth, story, whatever your routine is. Don't forget the picture of her in the bed. Read it every night for a few weeks. This book works for other situations too--Sarah goes to the store (and stays with Mom and doesn't have a tantrum), Sarah goes to school, Sarah uses the potty...

    Posted by AB December 13, 08 10:24 AM
  1. Just an observation about this blog: it really takes WAY too long for comments to get posted. One of the points of blogging is the immediacy of the communication. I understand about comment moderation and all that, especially for these topics, but it can take upwards of 12 hours for comments to get up here. This means that many posts have multiple comments that basically duplicate the same thought (or two or three thoughts) and reduces the amount of actual dialog among commenters. Just my two cents.

    Posted by ramona December 15, 08 11:40 AM
 
13 comments so far...
  1. We had to transition our daughter from her crib to a bed earlier than expected after she managed to climb out of her crib at 2 years and a couple of months old.

    She did the same thing - she would take her bear and blanket and camp by her room's door (could not get out - child proof door handle). We stayed the course and she slowly realized the bed in more comfortable - this was all over in about a month.

    Once you reward the behaviour by allowing them to gain access to your bed, convincing them to do stop is 10 times more difficult than being firm in the first place. As you just discovered, it only takes getting rewarded once to provide motivation for repeating the behaviour again and again and again...

    You probably lost this battle, but learn from it and be consistent in the future - it makes everybody's life easier in the long term.

    All the best,

    HB

    Posted by HBX December 11, 08 12:06 PM
  1. I was so glad to see the advise about co-sleeping (whether in the same bed or the same room) being a very acceptable option. We have gone the co-sleeping route without any problems; our son is one of the most self-sufficient and confident kids in his peer group and I think the sense of security he has when he needs it has played a part in that. Think about it: why should young kids be forced to sleep on their own? Of course it's warm and cozy to sleep with the ones you love. Adults do it: why would kids not want to? Of course ours has his own bed/bedroom and sleeps there too -- more so as he has gotten older, as it should naturally be. When her daughter is older and wants nothing to do with her parents, I think Sunfish will miss these days! And your advice about a pallet for those who have trouble sleeping with too many people in the bed is a great one, I know it has worked well for some of my friends.

    Posted by Beth IB December 11, 08 12:31 PM
  1. My husband and I both work full-time and have one daughter. My husband offers to sleep in the spare bed one night on the weekend so my daughter and I can spend some bonding time together she absolutly loves it and come to think of it so do I.

    Posted by Lisa December 11, 08 12:49 PM
  1. Your parenting skills need improvement. Don't be a milksop. This is just the beginning of your troubles. If you cannot muster this, you may want to think about adoption because you will lose every battle after this one.

    My suggestion. Put your kid in their bed. When she gets up. Put her back. If you discover her on the floor, put her back in her bed. Then when you find her on the floor again, put herm back in her bed. Eventually, you will win.

    Posted by Vinny December 11, 08 01:41 PM
  1. Thank you for offering the intelligent option of co-sleeping or sleeping in the same room. Only in America do we seem to think it's necessary to make very young children stay alone in the dark all night.

    Posted by P. Cross December 11, 08 02:09 PM
  1. Thank you so much for acknowledging co-sleeping as a valid and good option! It is often stigmatized and always an uphill battle for us to explain to others why we have chosen to do this with our daughter. While I understand that it is not for everyone (and maybe not for Sunfish if some are still going without sleep), it does work for us and we will continue to do it so long as she wants to. I no longer make apologies or hide from what we do because it feels "right" to us. She starts out in her own room at the beginning of the night and whenever she wakes up, whether it be 1:00 AM or 5:30AM, she is always welcome in our bed. As Beth IB points out, adults already know how wonderful it can be to sleep with someone you love, so why not indulge our children in what I see as another valid means of bonding. Not only do so many other cultures engage in co-sleeping, but so do many other species, particularly with their young. Why should humans be different? Either way, I think families need to do what works for them (so long as no one is getting hurt) and appreciate that there are many different ways to be a good parent.

    Posted by Sleeping Mama December 11, 08 02:14 PM
  1. We had this problem, too. We finally figured out that my daughter was kicking off her covers, getting cold, waking up and coming to visit us. We solved it by wrapping a full size blanket all around the mattress. She couldn't kick it off- stayed warm- and we got some sleep!

    Posted by Jill December 11, 08 02:18 PM
  1. No consideration has been given to the father in this column. I'm a VERY light sleeper -- and having children in the room with us only makes my sleep worse. We even kicked out the cat because he was waking me up at night. Children kick and turn around all sorts of crazy ways in their sleep. If we were to try "co-sleeping", it would be a disaster -- I'd either get no sleep and then be grouchy, more susceptible to illness, not able to perform at home or at work or I'd go sleep on the couch. A man getting kicked out of his own bed or being forced into a sleep arrangement he doesn't agree with is not the blueprint for a happy family.

    We had some sleeping difficulties with our daughter, where she kept getting out of bed, especially at bedtime. It took a few weeks, but she got the picture -- and now she stays in her room and her bed. It was a tough couple of weeks, but now we are reaping the dividends.

    Posted by J December 11, 08 02:19 PM
  1. My son slept in the bed with my mate and I until the night before he started kindergarten. He will be 11 this weekend. The first night in his own bed he cried but after that it was easy. He began to look forward to going to his own bed and his own room.

    Posted by kim December 11, 08 02:50 PM
  1. My husband and I also work full time. We have two kids. We also use one night each weekend and we each have a sleepover with each kids. It's a treat for them and the bed hopping has become much less...

    Posted by mom2kids December 11, 08 03:29 PM
  1. I don't have kids, but am I the only one that thinks child proof door handles are a very bad idea? What if there's a fire? Or what if she has to use the bathroom? Or any of another host of problems that spring to mind?

    As a child, I had horrific insomnia. The only way I would get any sleep at all was in my parents' bed. We tried everything, and nothing worked. I can't imagine the horror of being told that I had to spend every night alone in the dark not sleeping when I was five. Of my parents locking in my room, telling me I'd eventually get used to it. As I got a little older, I would still sleep in a sleeping bag on their floor when my insomnia was bad. I've turned into a mature adult without any of the insomnia of my youth, although I do find it easier to fall asleep when there is some else in the room.

    Posted by gf December 12, 08 10:58 AM
  1. If you don't want her in your bed, don't let her in your bed. If you don't mind her there then don't kick her out.

    If you do want her to stay in her own bed, try making a book called "Sarah goes to bed". Take pictures of her getting ready for bed--jammies, brushing teeth, story, whatever your routine is. Don't forget the picture of her in the bed. Read it every night for a few weeks. This book works for other situations too--Sarah goes to the store (and stays with Mom and doesn't have a tantrum), Sarah goes to school, Sarah uses the potty...

    Posted by AB December 13, 08 10:24 AM
  1. Just an observation about this blog: it really takes WAY too long for comments to get posted. One of the points of blogging is the immediacy of the communication. I understand about comment moderation and all that, especially for these topics, but it can take upwards of 12 hours for comments to get up here. This means that many posts have multiple comments that basically duplicate the same thought (or two or three thoughts) and reduces the amount of actual dialog among commenters. Just my two cents.

    Posted by ramona December 15, 08 11:40 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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