Getting Kids to Sleep in Their Own Beds
My entire adult life, I’ve cooked dinners the old-fashioned way. Thaw the meat, cook it on the stove or in the oven, and plan my entire day around how long the whole process is going to take.
I didn’t love it (I actually hate cooking), but I’ve never wished for anything different because that’s all I’ve ever known.
That is, until the Instant Pot came along.
Oh, man, I want one of those babies more than I want life itself. (Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but only slightly.) Cooking dinner over the course of three hours was totally fine before until I found out other people were cooking that same dinner in seven minutes.
Now, every time I pull out a skillet, I’m resentful and whiny.
That’s exactly how kids feel every time they have to lay in their own beds at night after they’ve discovered that they COULD be sleeping with mom/dad.
Before they knew there was another option, they were probably okay with it. Sure, they might not have loved it – they might even have cried for you to come sit next to them – but they wouldn’t have been crawling into your bed because it wouldn’t have been an option to them.
But once that glorious barrier was broken… once they’d experienced the good life… there was no going back. After that, they knew there was something better to be had.
And that “something better” was going to become their new ideal.
Every time they have to sleep in their own bed now, all by themselves, lonely and bored and forced to self-soothe, all they can think about is that fast-cooking Instant Pot.
So how do we reverse the cycle once it’s begun? Is it even possible?
As miserable as it sounds, the only way to reinstate the former ideal is to, once again, make it the only option. Sleeping with mom/dad cannot be a choice they have.
Let me put it this way, if I knew that buying an Instant Pot would cost me four or five thousand dollars, I wouldn’t even think about it anymore. I’d go back to cooking dinners the way I always have, and I wouldn’t be resentful of the amount of time it takes.
It would become my norm again because that would be the only option that is practically available to me.
Sure, I could technically still purchase that $5,000 Instant Pot, but buying one would require sacrificing my family’s car. Or our mortgage payment. Or Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and friend time.
None of those sacrifices are even close to tempting, so the Instant Pot would no longer be a desire of mine. I’d be perfectly content with what I had.
The cost of your child sleeping in their own bed needs to be so high that it no longer becomes an option for them. They need to no longer want it.
Or, to think of it another way, the reward for your child sleeping in their own bed needs to be so high that they desire it more than they desire the comfort of sleeping with you.
What does your child want more than they want your physical comfort at night?
(No, I am not against co-sleeping. I know that children require the comfort of their parents. I do believe, however, that there comes a point when a child needs to learn to self-soothe. The age at which they do so is your choice.)
For my youngest daughter, what she wants more than my comfort at night is waking up to praise and a piece of candy (or some time on her tablet). That’s more rewarding for her than climbing into my bed and being squished between me and my husband.
For my oldest daughter, though, there is literally NOTHING she desires more than snuggling next to me at night.
However, there are things that she would like to avoid more than she would like to avoid sleeping alone.
She hates sleeping by herself in her bed (always has), but what she hates more than that is losing her toys to the dreaded donation box. If we find one of her toys in the middle of the night and remind her that it will go to the donation box if she comes to our bed, suddenly she’s perfectly content going back to sleep on her own.
There are moments in life when she needs our comfort. If she’s sick or has had a scary dream, she will probably need me to hold her hand while she falls asleep.
But the option of laying in my bed can’t be on the table. It just can’t.
(The ONLY exception in my house is when one of them is throwing up in the middle of the night. I let them lay with me because I have this insane fear that they’ll choke to death on their vomit while they sleep.)
Other than that, you’re in your bed, kiddo.
It’s helpful for children to learn the skill of soothing themselves because they’ll need it all the time. They’ll use it at school, at daycare, while spending the night with a friend, everywhere basically. They’ll use it their entire lives.
They need to form attachments to their parents, and they need to be able to trust that their parents will care for them and comfort them when they need it, but as long as your relationship with them is within the bounds of “normal,” you can trust that they will be okay during the night.
So what do your kids want more than they want to sleep in your bed? Or what would they avoid more than they would avoid sleeping alone?
I’d love to hear everyone’s answers! Try it out and tell me how it goes.
(See notes below)
NOTE: The thing that your child wants to avoid should NOT be corporal punishment. You cannot threaten to physically hurt them if they come to your bed so that they’ll avoid it. That will damage their ability to form appropriate emotional attachments that involve trust and boundaries.
SECOND NOTE: The thing that your child wants to gain should NOT be a bribe that you cannot sustain each and every day. You cannot offer your child a new toy every time they sleep in their own bed because you can’t realistically keep that up every day. You’ll set yourself up for failure and frustration.
Cummings, W. (2017). Getting Kids to Sleep in Their Own Beds. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/childhood-behavioral/2017/12/getting-kids-to-sleep-in-their-own-beds/