Whose Bed Is it Anyway?

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Parent Library

Almost all children seek the comfort and warmth of their parents' bed at some time during the early years.

The Circumstances May Vary

Some youngsters just enjoy the cozy snuggle from time to time. Others may want reassurance when life is especially stressful or normal routines are disrupted. Nightmares, thunderstorms, and other frightening events may also cause a child to creep into bed with adults. Suffering during an illness is probably the most common reason for children to express the desire to stay close to Mom and Dad through the night. Whatever the reason, several points should be kept in mind in deciding how to handle this common development in your child's sleeping pattern during the preschool period.

Sleeping Alone-Many People Don't

For many of the world's people, sleeping in crowded, cramped, and noisy conditions with insufficient privacy is a norm they hope to change someday. Most of the world's children do not sleep in isolated interior spaces anything like the individual bedroom to which we are accustomed. For a young child to sleep alone in a secluded room is not the most "natural" arrangement; it is part of our standard of living and is related to our expectations concerning comfort, sound sleep, and privacy.

Old Interpretations: Largely Exaggerated

Not so long ago, psychologists were quick to put sexual or romantic interpretations upon the child's demand to stay in her parents' bed, and cautioned parents against permitting it. However, today these concerns seem to be greatly exaggerated. As far as we can tell, a young child's sleeping in his or her parents' bed is unlikely to present or become a significant problem in and of itself. If a child seems to be thriving in general, sleeping with his or her parents should not be cause for alarm. It may, however, warrant your concern if it becomes clear that it is a symptom of a larger problem that is making itself apparent in other aspects of the child's behavior.

Factors To Consider

One of the major factors to consider in deciding how to handle the matter is the quality of sleep and whether all concerned are getting adequate rest. If the child's presence disturbs the adults to a point that sleep, as well as privacy, becomes an issue, then it seems best to stop the behavior before it becomes a firm pattern. Some children resist changes more than others; if your youngster is one of the stubborn ones, it is best to nip in the bud the habit of coming into the parents' bed.

Letting your child join you in bed when her sleep has been broken in the middle of the night may be all right on occasion. However, the practice of letting your child stay up till you and your husband go to bed, then allowing her to join you in bed at that time, is likely to be a more difficult pattern to break. It seems better to spend a week or two staying with your child in her room and getting the routine of going to sleep in her own bed firmly established. It is probably best not to lie down in the child's bed alongside her.

Many parents find it helpful to let the child stay in their bed until she falls asleep and then put her back in her own bed. It is a good idea to tell her that you plan to do this so that your wishes and expectations about where she is supposed to sleep are clear and "up-front." If she wakes again and comes back, repeat the process. This may mean some nights of inadequate rest for you. But long-term benefits of getting good sleep routines established for your child will almost certainly make a week or two of hardship worthwhile.

The Pleasure of Her Company

Many parents simply enjoy the company of a child at night. As long as the quality of sleep does not suffer, it is not likely to do any harm to the child. Sooner or later, she will probably want the privacy of her own bedroom anyway.

Credits: Lilian G. Katz

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