When lying with your child at bedtime causes more harm than good

by | May 29, 2017 | Sleep Consultant

When lying with your child at bedtime causes more harm than good

Let’s just imagine your child is 3 years old and you need to lie with them to fall asleep, “make the most of that time mum, they’re so little for such a short time and one day they won’t want you there”.  You hope! And I really DO hope you have an older child who learns to enjoy their own space and can enjoy your presence and still be able to sleep when you’re not around.

Have you read those articles? The articles where a Mum or Dad seemingly berate others who don’t appear to enjoy being with their children when they sleep. The authors of these articles are often parents with very strong opinions on sleep consultants, because let’s face it, all sleep consultants promote cry it out, right? Actually that’s WRONG but let’s put that thought aside for another day.

IF YOUR CHILD’S SLEEP WORKS FOR YOUR FAMILY, IT WORKS!

Do you have those preconceived notions? Are you a proponent of the “it’s best to lie with your child; they don’t need to sleep independently crowd”?  If you are, the chances are very high you have a child who CAN sleep without you. I believe the people writing those opinion pieces also have children who can sleep without them. And if that’s the case, and it’s a conscious choice to lie with your child at night, I think it’s a great thing! If your child’s sleep is working for you, it’s working!

I’ve just read an article where a mum said she sometimes begrudges the time she spends lying down with her child at night, but on the flip side she believes it makes her kids more secure. But she also mentioned her child doesn’t always want this, and if they (the parents) are not there then it’s not a problem, their child still sleeps.

BUT WHAT IF IT’S NOT WORKING?

Just consider what it’s like if your child NEEDS you to stay with them so they can sleep. What if they’ve never figured out (or been taught) to fall asleep on their own? What if they just can’t do it?

That means when they wake naturally during the night (as we all do), they have no idea how to drift off again without your help. So they seek you out. That means they’re constantly with you, in your room, or at least one parent has to camp out in their room.

What does that do to your marital relationship? You don’t have together time. You don’t even have alone time to do what YOU want to do. Often you spend ALL night with your child from their bedtime until dawn. There goes your evening and entire night. What does that do to your mental health when you have a child that literally CANNOT happily have a night without you?

TIME TOGETHER IS IMPORTANT BUT SO IS SPACE

I totally agree with the articles out there where Mums and Dads appreciate the quiet time before their children fall asleep and make the most of that time to talk about the day, or just be there. In today’s busy society with our overly hectic lives I commend that. Carving some time into our days to spend one on one time with our children is such an important thing!

But when you have a child who just can’t or won’t sleep, or one who relies on you to feel secure enough to close their eyes and eventually drift off (and we’re talking HOURS here not the average 10-20 minutes). It is incredibly HARD! And the articles and the good advice that is rampant out there about making the most of the time while you can… Well, please let me tell you. THEY HAVE NO IDEA.

NO IDEA

No idea of the concern that surrounds you when your child isn’t sleeping. No idea of the stress it puts on your relationships. That’s your relationship with your child and your relationship with your partner. It can also affect your relationships with other family members and well-meaning friends, because quite simply, they have no idea.

If they haven’t been in the same situation it is very hard to comprehend why it’s a problem. And it can be a problem. Having a child that really can’t sleep at night – and this can be a child anywhere between the ages of 3 and 12 years old, can cause real issues!

As parents you can be at a real loss of what to do. Having a strong proponent of attachment parents telling you it’s no big deal does not help. When you’re as worn down by lack of sleep as you are, you’re not in the best place to make decisions. And there is already an incredible amount of parental guilt that only gets worse to hear other’s say “enjoy it”.

IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK

If you’re in this position, you have a child who NEEDS you to fall asleep at bedtime AND during the night if they wake, I want you to know that you’re not alone. And IT IS OK not to like it.

It is OK that that you don’t enjoy lying with your child night after night. It is the most incredibly draining feeling and it really can suck the life out of you. Not to mention all the symptoms of sleep deprivation that you end up experiencing (and even if your children don’t obviously show it chances are they’re experiencing them too).

WHEN YOUR CHILD IS DIFFERENT

You may have a child with a diagnosed learning difference, or a child with a sensory processing disorder or ADHD or autism. You may have been to specialists who say it’s normal for these children to have sleep issues. And that’s true. Children who have brains that are wired differently DO have trouble with sleep. It is even more important to teach these children healthy sleep habits because they generally WON’T figure it out on their own like other children.  And oh gosh, if you’re parenting one of these children, it’s already tough without sleep issues.

It’s actually quite normal to need to teach a child, any child, how to sleep well. It’s just not something that is talked about much (and I’d like to change that!). It doesn’t have to be extreme; the child doesn’t need to be left alone to suffer…It’s NOT a horrible thing.

IT HAPPENED TO ME

My children were never good sleepers as babies and toddlers, but they did “grow out of it” and started sleeping through the night before the age of 4 years. But then school happened. And when my son reached 7 years of age he refused to close his eyes and sleep. His body would shut him down eventually and he would crash out, but not for long enough. He needed us, his parents, to be there for him to sleep. If we thought he was asleep and left his room, his eyes would flick open and we’d have to start all over again. And then there’d be those times in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning he would be awake for hours!

It was hell! It put the most intense pressure on my marriage (nothing else has compared) and we were all a bit of a mess.

We sorted it out and I went overseas and studied sleep. I realised my children had NEVER been good sleepers, even though they slept at night. I had to teach them better sleep skills. And NOW they are fabulous sleepers! At 9 years old, my son sleeps 11-12 hours each night and he LIKES it (this will only be a big thing to you, if you know what’s like to have a child who doesn’t do this)!

SOME CHILDREN REALLY DO NEED SLEEP HELP

Please, if you have an older child struggling with sleep, or if something about the sleep situation is bringing you down, don’t give up and accept it. YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

Sometimes it’s not ok to have to lie with your child at night every night. Some children really do need help with sleep, a lot more than you may expect. And some children will not “grow out of it” without help. And I’d like to help.

Everyone needs a good night’s sleep. And everyone deserves a chance to say their sleep situation doesn’t work for them. Asking for help is ok!

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Sleep well!

xx