by: Gari Lister
Yesterday’s Good Morning America featured a story on co-sleeping based on controversy a blogger sparked when she admitted to sharing a bed with her six year old son. The piece opened with a clip of a little girl whining that she was scared and wanted to sleep with mommy — and the reporter noted that the “I don’t want to go to sleep” is a syndrome that all parents face.
The story was relatively balanced – but my mommy instincts still went nuts. My children – like so many of the traumatized children I know – aren’t just whining. My 12 year old can sit awake in her bed for hours, even with melatonin and every trick in the therapeutic parent book. She is literally scared to sleep, and sadly that fear has been pretty common across all the traumatized kids I have known. Our family has hosted more than a handful of orphans from other countries, and they were also universally scared at night, although some more than others.
What to do about that fear? Our secret is simple: Mama’s bed is always open when you are scared or sick.
These days, we don’t usually have kids in the bed, but that changes when someone is stressed, sick or especially scared. The cuddling time not only makes them feel safe: it also reinforces attachment. When we hosted little girls over Christmas, we wound up with three little girls in our bed, which led my husband to find space in the guest room. But that was only for a few days.
When our now 12 and 13 year olds were smaller, we realized they were sleeping with us so much that WE weren’t getting any rest because we had no room. And I don’t know about you, but my therapeutic parenting skills go way downhill when I’m not sleeping. So how to balance our children’s need for night safety with a good night’s rest?
We finally invested in toddler beds that we put in our room in addition to the beds the girls had in their rooms; we even sewed blankets to match our bedding. Our closeness comforted them and we were only a few steps away in case of a nightmare.
For children who are too big for toddler beds (our girls managed with them until they were eight), try a mattress next to the bed or even a couch at the end of the bed. The point is to help your children feel safe through the night . . . and hopefully let you rest as well.