I am an Asian mom living in the US with my husband and our 4-year-old son. Every night, I sleep with my son. This is normal behavior that both my husband and I understand. Recently my friend who is here for a long time told me this is not normal behavior for Americans. She said it will make my son unhappy and that I must stop. Is she right?
From: Susan, Chicago
Your friend is right. In American culture, children typically learn to sleep independently. I guess that's mostly because Americans value autonomy and independence so much.
But lately, more and more American parents are doing some form of sleeping with their child. It's called the family bed or co-sleeping. (In the interest of safety, because American beds are so soft and have so much bedding, the baby doesn't literally sleep in the same bed, but in a co-sleeper which attaches to the adult bed, so there's no danger of an adult suffocating the baby).
But even in homes where parents co-sleep, sooner or later they put an end to it, usually before the child is 3.
Why then? The longer you wait, the harder it will be for a child to get used to new sleeping arrangements. That's the technical side of the problem. Perhaps more important is what I think your friend is trying to warn you about: other children may tease your son. That's the potential emotional down-side.
Most of them sleep in their own beds, typically in their own rooms. If they find out that your son still sleeps with his mom, they will consider him a "baby" and could call him names. That probably will make your son unhappy. This kid of teasing usually doesn't happen with 4-year-olds, but it gets more and more likely as they get older.
Here's the approach I suggest for making him transition from your bed to his own:
Find a corner of your room where he can sleep in his own bed, mattress or sleeping bag so he's no longer in your bed, but still in your room. Do that for days, or weeks, depending on how smoothly it goes.
To move him into his own room, you may need to do the reverse: Create a corner of his room where you sleep so that you are both still in the same room, but not in the same bed. Depending on your child, you may need to do that for only a few nights, or for weeks of nights. Depending, you can move to the next step: stay in the room with him until he's almost asleep, then leave him alone, checking up on him every five minutes, then 10 minutes, until he is able to fall asleep without needing you in the room.
If I'm making it sound easy, I apologize. It isn't. The typical kid will pop in and out of bed; need water and backrubs and who knows what else; will beg you to stay with him, and cry and cry. It will break your heart. This is a process. It takes time and effort and patience. If you goggle "weaning from co-sleeping," you'll find lots of advice and personal stories. Read through them before you start. Here's the best advice I can give you: Don't start until you're committed.
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