We’re co-sleeping with our twin 21-month-olds since they’ve each stopped soothing themselves to sleep (one at 15 months and one at 18 months). My husband and daughter sleep in our room and I sleep with my son in a bed in the attached nursery so it’s like we’re all in the same room. I don’t mind the arrangement as much as my husband does. We also have to lay down with them at night to soothe them to sleep. If they wake up and we’re not in bed with them, they cry or come find us. My daughter falls asleep quickly. Some nights are good but some nights she wakes up crying and sometimes stays up for an hour or two. During the day, the children nap together in the same bed the nursery.
We already have a relaxing bedtime routine. They have a consistent daytime routine including nap and bedtimes, they both have a lovey item other than my husband and me, we use a fan for background noise and their room has blackout shades. Now we’d just like them to soothe themselves to sleep. Is it smart to try to re-teach self-soothing while continuing to co-sleep? When would be an ideal time to try to get them in the same bed in terms of age and development and then eventually in their own bedrooms?
These changes in children’s sleep often correspond with new developmental milestones (walking, talking or developing imaginations) or disruptions in routine (starting childcare, or increased family stress). It’s very common for predictable sleepers to suddenly refuse to go to sleep or start waking in the night.
For many families, co-sleeping (sleeping in a family bed) can be a joy and reinforce important family values. As you’re experiencing, though, co-sleeping isn’t always part of the parenting game plan: often it’s a fall back strategy. Sleep is crucial for all of you, and bringing the child to bed gets everyone back to sleep as soon as possible.
Difficulties arise when the child prefers what the parents thought would be a temporary arrangement. From your twins’ perspective their behaviors make perfect sense – they like being snuggled close to you at night and like knowing that you’re right there when they fall asleep and if they wake up in the middle of the night. They’ve developed a rational soothing strategy. It’s you!
I suggest that you and your husband find some daylight hours (or minutes) to discuss a mutual vision for your family’s sleep arrangement. You have several choices: continue with the current co-sleeping plan, create a full-fledged family bed, or replicate the napping strategy at night in the nursery or another bedroom. What’s essential is for you both to agree and stick to your chosen plan. Also remember that these situations always get worse before they get better. If you do make a change, start implementing it during a relative lull in your daily lives (no houseguests, no travel, etc.). Better yet, schedule a few naps for yourselves.
A special consideration for you as a couple: right now you’re both co-sleeping but not with each other. That arrangement may work for the children but may not be the best long-term arrangement for the two of you. The greatest gift you can give your children is a strong and loving partnership. Either a family bed or separate parents’ and children’s beds put your relationship back in the mix.
February 26, 2010
February 23, 2010
Unexpected Change in Behavior
I have 4 1/2 year old triplets. I have two girls and one boy. Fortunately, they were born full-term and have been developmentally 'on' since birth. My concern is that recently one of my daughters has been very sensitive to even the slightest redirection. For example, if I tell her to sit down for a 'break' after she had been fighting with her sister; she cries and hides her face. If I ask her to get on her pajamas before snack, she’ll cry. Now she’s getting weepy at preschool. She even told us that she didn't want to go to pre-school anymore but without explanation. Any suggestions? We haven't had any significant changes at home or at pre-school and can't seem to put our finger on the cause. Is this a typical 4 1/2 year old phase or is there something deeper going on?
Good for you for adding “investigator” to your parenting job description. Any time there is a change in a child’s behavior, looking for changes in routine is a great way to start searching for answers. A change in teachers, increased marital tension, a parent traveling more often or even a grandparent visiting can trigger an unanticipated reaction in a child. Sometimes events that adults view as positive—like talking about kindergarten, planning for summer camp, or switching bedrooms—can shift a child’s sense of confidence.
As part of your investigation, it might help to spend a couple of hours with her at preschool. Sometimes children show their vulnerability at home even when the difficulties are at school. Sit on the floor and observe her school experience from her perspective.
Having three siblings the same age gives you a good idea of how broad the range of normal is for any age. You already know that siblings can have completely different temperaments and methods of communicating. But sometimes the depth of our children’s emotional expression can surprise us. Siblings often take on different roles in the family which can become more pronounced as they grow. One child might be the resident comedian while another acts as the family’s emotional barometer.
Even knowing all of this, there’s still the question of what to do when she’s melting down or refusing to go to preschool. Think about how you can validate her needs while maintaining her confidence. For example, when she is falling apart over a simple direction, calmly reflect on her feelings and then give her two nonthreating options. “You are sad today. Should I help you or do you want to put on your shoes yourself?” If she continues crying, you can say, “It’s okay. I’ll help you.” At preschool, you might even revisit the reassurance strategies that worked in separation situations when she was a toddler (“I’ll be back when both hands are on the eleven.”)
If the above suggestions miss the mark, I encourage you to find good tools and educated partners. There are a variety of screening tools that help caring adults measure a child’s social and emotional development. The “Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social Emotional” (ASQ:SE) is one that I use. It’s basically a 15-minute parent questionnaire which asks you—the real expert—to weigh in on your child’s ability to settle herself, follow directions, communicate, eat and sleep, play independently, show her feelings and interact with others.
Your preschool, school district, pediatrician, or public health department will likely have this or other screening measures on hand, plus a helpful staffer to administer it. If the screening reveals that your child is stepping off of the path of normal social and emotional development (such as social withdrawal or anxiety), then the staff person should then be able to refer you to a local expert in early childhood mental health for a formal diagnosis and intervention. Treatment for a four-and-a-half year old with anxiety, for example, might take the form of a few sessions of you and your daughter chatting and playing with a licensed family therapist.
I hear from parents who have been through the above steps that the only “scary” part is the first part: considering the possibility that their child may need outside help. After that, they report, they report feeling relieved to have a partner and a plan to help their child get back on track with their developmental tasks of maintaining relationships, managing emotions, and learning.