“My 5 year old won’t go to bed unless my partner and I also go to bed. She has been like this from birth and now it is driving me insane.”
This is a very common situation because children love the companionship of their parents. When co-sleeping has been a long-term practice, this is what your child has come to expect as normal. They don’t understand the reasoning behind you wanting to turf them out of the sleep space that satisfies all of their emotional needs, they love, and feel completely safe in.
Attempting to dissuade your preschooler from the family bed is sure to evoke significant anxiety, confusion and a range of undesirable behaviours from screaming, tantrums, and simply flat out refusal, to 101 reasons why they need to be in your bed with you beside them.
For some families accepting the 8.00 pm bedtime curfew is the easiest option, especially when early morning wake ups are likely!
Too much of a good thing can have consequences
The ideal amount of sleep for adults is between 7-9 hours so 8pm to bed could potentially mean you wake at 3 am, way too early to be starting your day, and more likely to mean a lot of tossing and turning trying to convince your mind to ‘go back to sleep’.
‘Sleep Begets Sleep’…old wise words!
For young children whom need 10 to 12 hours sleep, tossing and turning, frequent waking throughout the night and then waking at the crack of dawn, usually is the result of sleep debt.
Have you had one of those nights when you slept so badly and then think you will ‘crash’ out the following night, only to find you have another bad night?
Blame sleep-debt! Lengthening sleep hours, leads to deeper sleep and less awakening. Many a parent knows that when their child sleep pattern improves, they seem to crave even more sleep.
The big bed move…When is the time right?
Lets face it, it’s your life so trust your gut feeling. Waiting for the transition to occur naturally is ok if you are getting the sleep you need.
But if you find yourself wishing for your bed back, and years of sleep deprivation has caught up with you, NOW is the time to win back your healthy mind and body and patience.
One of the things about making changes is that it triggers a certain amount of stress, and that is the single biggest factor that you will want to keep to a minimum.
Stress elicits the release of cortisol, aptly named the ‘stress hormone’, which is going to make settling to sleep more prolonged and likely the reason that you ‘give in’, as the sleep becomes a huge battle. But moving on from bed sharing for older kids is all about consistency, building confidence and developing a sense of trust that all will be well.
Choosing a Strategy
1. Depending on age, a strategy that works well is the weekly sleepover. Invite them to a sleep with you on a night when you know it wont matter if your sleep is disturbed and you can have a quiet day relaxing, to help recover the sleep deprivation. Friday or Saturday night is often a great compromise and you can even make an educational game of it.
Make a ‘days of the week poster’ and have your preschooler put a sticker on each day, counting down to the actual sleepover date. Make the night a special event: a new story, favourite meal, lots of cuddles, etc. It will give them something to look forward to and help them adapt to the new sleep situation.
2. Cold turkey: tonight you are sleeping in your own room!
If this is your game plan, some preparation is essential, because there will be tears. Let your preschooler know about the coming changes and invite your child to help set up the new room. A visual plan can give them a sense of knowing what is to come and help alleviate anxiety. Invite them into conversations about the changes and how they feel and how you feel. You might tell them how much you love bed sharing with them but you don’t like waking up tired and grumpy. Now is also a great time to discuss the ‘intermittent’ sleepover strategy’.
A systemised and consistent approach will make the transition easier for them and you. Routine is a no brainer. Keep it short, cover all excuses, genuine and inventive that your little person may come up with in order to prevent them sleeping in their own space. Be kind, supportive and firm…sometimes you just have to be!
When the bedtime routine is over, and it’s time for lights out, this is often the tears and tantrums stage and a time when your child will need substantial emotional support. Sharing your bed was all about providing emotional support to your little person. Don’t expect them to not require it when they are in their new room. They are most likely to going to need a whole lot more support, for a time!
Speeding up their ability to fall asleep faster and sleep deeper is all about helping them feel safe and secure. Remember it can take weeks to break old habits. Patience, consistency, love and support will win any day, over poor routine and sleep space inconsistency. Music is a wonderful tool to aid relaxation and provides a can be used as a lifetime when over stressed. A cuddle friendly toy can also be a much sought after comforter for brief wake ups when you are not right there.
Whatever plans you make for big kid transitioning, the best results will come with less stress, gentleness and consistency.
Sleep is an essential ingredient for great parenting. Don’t stay in sleep debt to long.
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