At 9, he's still coming into bed with mom and dad

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 20, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

My 9-year-old will go to bed on his own, but will wake me up during the night to get in with him. This happens every night like clockwork. It is also causing strain between my husband and myself. What can I do to stop this? Please help!   

From: Tired MOM, St. John's
Hi Tired Mom,

This is not typical behavior for a 9-year-old, which makes me wonder:

Is this new? Is there some stress in his life? A parent out of work? Someone he loves who is sick or dying? Perhaps some stress at school you don't know about? It's worth asking the teacher if she's noticed anything. Also worth asking him directly: "You didn't used to come into our bed at night and now you do. I'm wondering why you think that is."

Is he needy at other times, in other ways? Is this the only way he can get your undivided attention? If your family life is kind of chaotic, with other children who need attention, for instance, institute "mom time" with each child, even just five minutes, where each child, but especially he, knows that he can have you without distraction for those five precious minutes.

What is his bedtime routine? Do you stay with him until he falls asleep? If so, wean him gradually from that routine. If he relies on you to get to sleep, he may think he needs you during the night, too.

Considering his age, he probably isn't thrilled to be feeling he needs you to get back to sleep; it probably feels baby-ish to him. So I would address this with him head-on sometime during the day (NOT in the middle of the night). If you haven't asked him directly, why he comes into your bed, ask him that. Ask him if he'd like help to figure out how he can fall back to sleep in his own bed. If he says yes, then brainstorm with him how he can do that: Can he turn on the light and read for a few minutes? Listen to quiet music?  Tell him you and dad like to have your privacy during the night. Putting a futon on the floor in your room can be a good alternative, so he is welcome to come into the room but not the bed. (That may not address your husband's issue, but it's a start.)

Children this age generally want their autonomy and he may just need help figuring out how to undue this habit. It may be simply that: a habit. But rather than be unhappy and resentful because of this behavior  (which he has to sense), get it out in the open: "You know, you're kind of big to be coming into bed with mom and dad, it's not so comfortable for us to have three people in the bed, we don't sleep all that well. What can we do to help you be able to go back to sleep in your bed?"

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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2 comments so far...
  1. I remember occasionally crawling into bed with mom as old or 9 or 10. I was terrified of ghosts and mom thought it was "hilarious" to tell ghost stories to me at night - about the ghosts she heard at night, in our house! She got what she deserved.

    Posted by Q April 20, 10 09:15 AM
  1. Q- sounds like you might need some therapy of your own. Yikes.

    Posted by betsy April 22, 10 02:05 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. I remember occasionally crawling into bed with mom as old or 9 or 10. I was terrified of ghosts and mom thought it was "hilarious" to tell ghost stories to me at night - about the ghosts she heard at night, in our house! She got what she deserved.

    Posted by Q April 20, 10 09:15 AM
  1. Q- sounds like you might need some therapy of your own. Yikes.

    Posted by betsy April 22, 10 02:05 PM
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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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