Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to keep kids in their own beds, and other uses for duct tape

It would work have to admit that much.

I wish that this was a topic I have perfected, but it isn't.  I was asked for advice about this one this week, and I'm not certain that I am really fully qualified to give it. 

Only one kid was in my bed this week, and it's been the 2 year old.  Which, for us, is huge progress.

We've had to use different strategies with all the kids when it comes to keeping them in their own beds at night.  

How you handle it is going to depend on a lot of factors.  Namely, the age of the child, the pattern of their behavior, their reason for coming into your room in the first place and your ability to think rationally at 2am.

From the time all our kids were newborns, they were put to sleep in their own beds awake as often as possible.  They got used to laying there awake and were taught from birth to go to sleep without being rocked or nursed.  Assuming your kids are no longer newborns, you can't exactly go back in time and start over, so this piece of advice is only helpful to parents who aren't done having kids yet.

Also from the time our kids were newborns, we were wimps.  Though they would start out the night in their beds, they would end up in ours by morning.  It was just easier to have them sleep with us when they were little.  Whenever Tom (and yes, I said Tom....he was always the parent on nighttime retrieval duty) would go get them, they just got to sleep with us for the rest of the night. 

I don't believe in letting a baby cry it out.  I just don't.  A toddler, maybe.  But not a baby.  They need to know you are there for them when they cry.

Since we've always let the kids sleep at least part of the night with us, we knew that we'd eventually have to break them of that habit.  While we've never been full co-sleepers, we have to admit to a modified version of it at a minimum.

Aidan was my easy one.  Once Ashley was born, we told him that he was more than welcome to come into our room at night if he felt like he needed to, but he had to sleep on the floor.  Two nights of that, and he was content to stay in his bed. 

Ally was easy too.  Up until about a year ago, she'd still occasionally come into our room at night, but she likes to sleep way too much for a crowd.  She never really needed much motivation to stay in her bed either. 

The other two....well....

AJ still gets in our bed every night, but he is officially going to bed in his room now, which is a huge milestone.  He got a new firetruck bed from Grandma and Papa, which helped.  It has higher sides and he feels more confined in there without actually being confined.   For his naps, I will sit in his room until he is asleep.  At night, we peek in on him until he is asleep.  He stays there until he wakes up in the middle of the night, then comes in.  At this point, we are grateful he is sleeping at least part of the night in his own room and will savor that victory a while.  At some point we will work on him staying in his room all night, but not right now. 

Ashley has been my challenge.  Shocker, I know.  She goes through phases.  She will be fine in her room for a while, then all of a sudden need to sleep with us for weeks at a time.  There is usually something that triggers her cycles, and it's about being aware of them.  She is an anxiety ridden child and cannot be reasoned with in the middle of the night at all.  Once she is up, she is just sleeping with us....or everyone in the house will be woken up.  And I'm not interested in that at all.

For a long time, we'd try to walk her back to her room, and she would just cry.  This sometimes happened 3 or 4 times a night.  Then we tried the sleep on the floor thing like we did with Aidan. Abysmal failure.  She screamed.  

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have no patience at 2am and cannot listen to screaming children in the middle of the night. 

What we have done with her, which is thus far working (knock on wood) is this.  We bought her some LED lights that mount on her bed.  She is afraid of the dark and can turn them on or off whenever she wants.  Her bed doesn't sit snug up against the wall, and she doesn't like the feeling of the gap being there, so she crams it with books, stuffed animals and extra pillows.  Finally, we resorted to bribery.  I told her that if she stays in her own bed all night for a week, I will take her out for a special treat.  Let's just say she is highly motivated by that since it seems to be working. 

We can only try and talk to her about it during the day.  Once it's dark and she is scared, it's not anything that can be reasoned with. 

Ultimately, I look at it this way.   If you sleep fine with the kids in your bed, why fight it?  They are only little once, and it won't last forever.  There will come a day that you will miss snuggling with them, promise.  If you truly can't sleep with them there, then you have to be willing to try options to get them out of your room.  Realize that anytime something happens in their lives, they may come wandering back into your room at night again.  If they are afraid of something, that fear is legitimate and needs to be addressed.

As parents, we can really only ever sleep as well as our children do.  I don't claim to be an expert in this department, but I know what has worked for us. 

In summary:

- If possible in your case, start good sleep habits at birth.
- Talk to them about it during the day, not at night.
- Make their rooms feel safe and comfortable for them.
- Look for alternatives to sleeping in your bed (like the floor).
- Age appropriateness in expectations.
- Acknowledge that there will be times they still need you at night, no matter how old they are.
- Address fears.
- Don't be afraid to use bribery when desperate.
- No, you can't actually use duct tape.

Good luck to you all!

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