Q – “Since the split my daughter crawls into my bed at night. What started out as a started out as a one time thing has now become an every night affair. How can I get my child to sleep in her own bed?”
A – When parents split up life changes tremendously for kids. As a result, children often experience increased levels of anxiety or feelings of uncertainty about what the future holds. When evening approaches feelings about those changes can really hit home for kids. They may miss the parent they’re not with, feel overwhelmed by how life has changed or focus on worries about what’s happening in the family.
While allowing your child to sleep with you may seem like an ideal way to deal with their nighttime angst, it’s a short-term fix that often leads to long-term problems.
What can you do?
Make sure you’re not part of the problem.
Change isn’t just unsettling for our kids, it’s also shakes us up as parents. When you’re feeling lonely, it can be quite comforting to have your little one snuggled up next to you. If kids sense your divorce distress, they may respond by offering comfort. Therefore, if you want your bed back, you may need to take a hard look at how you feel about changing the sleeping arrangements. Be sure you’re not sending your child a mixed message.
Evaluate what may be feeding your child’s anxiety
Along with concerns related to your separation or divorce, spend time thinking about other changes that could be contributing to your child’s bedtime issues. Are they missing the parent who is not there? Are they getting enough time with both parents? Is their bedroom comfortable? Do they have a regular day-to-day routine or is the family schedule different everyday?
Talk with your child.
If you feel you feel your child’s anxiety is directly related to your divorce, open the conversation by normalizing the problem for your children. You could say something like…”Divorce is a big change in a family. When parents split up sometimes kids have a hard time sleeping on their own.” Reassure them while it’s a big change, over time things will get better and the family is going to be okay.
Include kids in creating a solution.
Once you’ve identified the problem, brainstorm with your child what might make his or her bedroom more comfortable. Remember to be creative and have fun. Ideas can range from making special dream catchers, to creating a bedtime ritual to putting glow-in-dark stars on the ceiling. Bottom line, kids need to hear from you part of being a healthy family involves everyone sleeping in their own bed.
Create a bedtime routine and stick to it
Routines and structure are the cornerstone of kids feeling safe and secure. Together create a bedtime routine that engages your child in winding down for the day (i.e. reading a bedtime story, singing a song, saying a nighttime prayer or sharing three good things about their day.) Do your best to stay committed to your nighttime activities and schedule when your children are with you.
Don’t cave when the going gets tough.
Getting kids to sleep in their own bed can be incredibly challenging even for the most capable of parents. Remember change takes time. Even if things go well the first couple of nights, keep in mind some backsliding is normal. It may be wise to have a plan in place for how you will handle a midnight visitor or endless amounts of pleading after you’ve tucked them in bed. If this happens, quietly walk your child back to bed without lecturing, getting angry or engaging in a conversation. Also avoid giving them an incentive to continue the behavior by lingering in their room.