Co-Sleeping With Your Children

For those of you who are lost on the subject, co-sleeping refers to children sleeping in their parents’ bed during infancy and early childhood. It also incorporates the distaste for the common method of “letting babies cry.” These parents are usually advocates of breast feeding and constant attention.

Last week, I met with a mother who was concerned about her child’s emotional development. He is eight years old, and he cries every morning before school and causes problems in class until she gets called to pick him up. She’s been home schooling him up until this year, and is now considering pulling him out of school completely and continuing to teach him from home.

“What do you think is causing these problems,” I asked, obviously concerned. What I found out shocked me to the core; it was no wonder the child was unusually attached to his mother. She was still letting him sleep in her and her husband’s bed, and he was still breast-feeding.

Obviously, this is an extreme case, though I have heard of children breast feeding up until their tenth birthday. They eat other foods, of course, but their mothers feel that the nutritional value of breast-feeding supercedes that of their regular diet. It is an uncommon practice in the United States, but believe it or not, it still happens.

Regardless of breast-feeding, however, I was just as concerned about the co-sleeping situation. Her son – we’ll call him Brian – had never been forced to sleep in his own room without an adult present. For a toddler, that is one thing, but an eight-year-old child? We are taught through Youth and Family counseling classes not to judge anyone’s parenting practices, but I was having more trouble than usual.

As parents, we want to be as supporting and nurturing as possible. When our child falls down, we want to pick him up; when he cries, we want to hold him close; when he is angry, we want to make him feel better. This is especially true of our first born as we are new to the parenting world, and we don’t ever want to neglect the needs of our offspring.

The problem lies in the extremes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with comforting and consoling our children. We should always be there when we are needed, and our reactions should fit the age of our child. Certain things that are allowed for toddlers should not be acceptable for the pre-schooler, which is where some parents run astray.

I did not co-sleep with my daughter. She went from the crib to a bed with rails to a twin bed with no rails, and it worked out perfectly. When she cried at night, I went to see her and waited until she fell asleep again, which was all she needed. By the time she was a year and a half, she cried out for me only once a month or so, and by the time she was two, only when she had a nightmare. I understand that some children are better sleepers (and eaters and criers and players) than others, but I did exactly what my mother did with my siblings and me.

Honestly, I don’t see a problem with co-sleeping up to a point. If a toddler is having trouble sleeping, then coming to the parents’ bed might not be an issue, as long as it doesn’t continue for months on end. Children should be taught that they can sleep on their own, and I’m going to tell you why.

First of all, you might eventually run into a situation like the mother and the eight-year-old that I mentioned before. Children who are two dependent on their parents will later develop separation issues, which will eventually turn into a big problem

There is also the fact that the social development of children is dependent upon developing a sense of independence. How can your child ever hope to create their own individual personality if they are constantly dependent on your presence? They will eventually begin to cling to other influences in their life – such as friends and teachers – as they grow up, which can lead to unhealthy obsessions. I’m not saying that this will definitely happen; I’m just presenting it as a possibility that should be avoided at all costs.

You must also be concerned about your relationship with your spouse. Couples who do not have time to themselves eventually grow apart, and if there is a child sleeping between you night-after-night, there is no way for you and your spouse to be intimate. You won’t have a chance to communicate effectively beyond the sensitive ears of your child, and one or both of you will begin to resent the separation.

When making a decision about co-sleeping, it is imperative that you consider all of the angles and choose what is best for your specific family. Gauge the ability of your child to begin to sleep on his or her own, and try it a few nights to see how it works. If you have been working at it for months, and your child continues to cry for you every night, eliminating the possibility of your getting any sleep, let him or her cry. It is obviously going to become a chronic problem, and if you give in every night for months or years, your child will never learn.

This isn’t insensitive or uncaring; it is important for your child to learn to live, play, and sleep by himself.

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