Transitioning Children From Co-Sleeping
I my last blog I discussed co-sleeping with children. Basically, “co-sleeping” is the current title given to “the family bed”.
Let begin with a disclosure here. I support families who have adopted the family bed routine. I am not do I plan on sleeping in the same bed so if it works for your family, it works. My last blog discussed my clinical views about co-sleeping as well as my sharing my confession of sharing my bed with my two kids when they were very young.
If you have had enough (for whatever reason) of the family bed or co-sleeping, the difficulties of sleeping together can outweigh the advantages and you may consider moving your child to his own bed. There are techniques to assist parents with the transition even though it may seem like an impossible feat at first. Especially when you have a child screaming to high heaven, clinging to your body with every ounce of energy they have, crying alligator tears, expressing their horrors of their room, or dealing with your own guilt or fear of tearing your child’s heart out.
You are beginning a transitional journey that will upset your child and IT IS OKAY! You are not going to inflict lifelong trauma, break their little hearts, put them in danger, create abandonment issues, or suck out any of the confidence they have gained in their few short years.
Transitioning and then sleeping in their own bed and room builds a child’s confidence, security, self-esteem, trust, and self -worth in the long run.
This process can begin as early as 12- months old. This obviously excludes babies who are born prematurely, difficult births, digestion issues, health issues, underweight, or experienced trauma. You are the parent and you know what is best for your child. If you are not sleeping and worrying about your child in another room due to medical issues, this takes co-sleeping to a new level where you and your pediatrician will discuss a plan best for you and your child. Check with your pediatrician about your baby and be guided by his or her assessment.
There is no magical age where children need to be transitioned from their parents’ bed to their own beds. Generally, parents “just know” when it is time to begin the process and dread beginning the process. Parents tend to get frustrated with being kicked or hit in the night, hearing a little chattering voice, being edged to the last 4 inches left in the bed, having no access to blankets or sheets, interruption of “intimacy”, or experiencing relationship issues with one’s partner due to a child in their bed.
Beginning the transition will normally induce a child to express high emotions along with behaviors exhibiting “bad” feelings. Crying, screaming, standing in the crib, throwing toys, banging on crib, getting out of bed, leaving bedroom, seeing monsters, throwing fits, physically clinging on, gasping for breath, hitting, being petrified of the monster under the bed, snot running down noses, starving or thirsty, wanting kisses, another book read, or tucked in again can cause any parent to become highly irritated, frustrated and even angry at times.
Parents are taught to stop a child’s screaming or crying. There is obviously something wrong or “bad” either physically or emotionally and it is their job to stop this “bad” for their child. We assume that our child might be hungry, wet, dirty, sick, scared, or just needs us. So we try to soothe his crying with nursing or feeding (which is, of course, the appropriate thing to try with an infant, as crying also signals hunger or pain), and after he’s fed, and still crying, we may begin the rocking, patting, singing, bouncing, pacifier, temperature taking, walking, car riding, or whatever does the trick.
What we are taught is to check the signs: hunger, wetness, fever, or physical pain, all subjective. After checking the “signs” and feeling the child is “fine”. We begin jumping through hoops or suggestions we read on social media to stop the child’s crying. We now have implemented the technique known as “cause and effect” to our child. We teach the child, if you ____, then I (parent) will ____. Now the parent and child have established the first phase of a routine. I have seen “cause and effect” used extremely effectively by children throughout their adolescent years.
As parents, we are trying to alleviate the “bad” going on in our child’s life. Not knowing what the “bad” is, we begin going down our list of “the might be” to figure it out and solve the problem. This causes the child not to work through the “bad” feeling. We basically give up and offer our bed for comfort, fall asleep in the child’s room or bed or rocking chair, or allow the child to stay up and play “as long as they are quiet”.
This does not alleviate the issue. The child doesn’t get our assistance in working through the “bad” feeling and feelings of possibly fear, sadness, loneliness, or insecurity and the feeling are stored in their memory. Stored feelings become forever feelings, and these are followed with routines or behaviors. Unless a child is ill, their stored feelings believed to be true that wake him in the night, that make him restless in bed, deny going to bed, and that make him afraid to relax and go to sleep. This becomes a vicious circle and a reoccurring event at bedtime. The feelings take root and multiply, so that children harboring fear will wake once in the night, then twice, then three times. The child’s feelings beg for your attention.
Begin transitioning your child from your bed by with telling your child you are going to help him sleep in this own bed. A new room, bed, blanket, night light, or stuffed animal can begin this process for the “big boy”. Begin a routine much like the one you already have. If you don’t have a strict routine, start one. Do the baths, teeth, books, etcetera in their “new room” but allow the child to sleep in your bed for about 3 – 4 nights. Then, pull the Band-Aide off after carrying through the routine for several days, and put them in their own bed.
Know this is not a fast process and this process generally takes about 4 -5 nights in their own beds if you are consistent. Children use bedtime rituals -stories, baths, a drink of water, potty, brushing teeth, time, prayers, hugs, needing a pacifier or stuffed animal, and needing you close by—to assure them they can and will stay in their own bed. Change one little thing at bedtime, and the “bad” feelings reappear sometimes with a vengeance. Whatever the routine may be, stick with it. Get the drink of water, snack, or whatever you know will arise and get it completed before “lights off”. Don’t fall for the extra kisses, starvation, or another story or you are doomed.
Stay Parenting: Stay parenting proves to be effective when utilized in the beginning of transitioning a child to their own bed or when a child experiences a bad dream. A frightened or sad child (ages 14 months up) need is to be able to cry or scream in the throes of that feeling, while you offer support and remember that there isn’t any danger present at all. Your child releases his upset by expressing it fully and passionately. This is when back patting, rocking, music, or even lightly humming helps. I realize it is difficult, but don’t lay down! Emotional release eventually allows your child to regain a peaceful state of mind. For a child who is releasing a big fear, this process of crying, struggling, sweating, arching, and trembling in the arms of a supportive parent can take a while—even up to an hour! The child will become content and the “bad” feeling will pass a child will clear their mind and the fear will pass when the parent’s behavior is consistent…each time. Inviting them to your bed only affirms the “bad” feeling is real for the child.
Yes, you will need to repeat this behavior but the time the takes the child to calm down will lessen with each time. Just know that with the misery, tiredness, aggravation, worry, and frustration there will be a day when your child will have a structured routine and want to be in their own bed and everyone will sleep much better. Many times, as parents, we must believe in our kids more than they believe in themselves. Getting through this is one of the many milestones you will face in the future. When your child observes a confident parent, who believes their child can accomplish something that they are convinced they can’t, it builds the self-esteem and character in our children.