Sleep issues for an 11-year-old

Dear Naomi

My 11 yr. old son has been attachment parented from day one.  We wore him constantly and co-slept with him until he was 5 yrs. old although on a separate mattress because he was kicking us. We currently have our 3 1/2 yr. old daughter in our bed with us and my husband spends time getting her to sleep by telling her a fairy story every night. My husband has really been putting the pressure on our son for the last year to leave our bedroom.

Yet, lately, our son has been insisting that not only he should be allowed to sleep in our room, but that mom or dad should be with him in the room while he falls asleep.  

Last month I took my son to the Doctor. (an Organic one at that) to see about his Migrane headaches, anger issues and sleep anxiety.  The Dr. suggested my husband and/or I stay in the room with our son every night to help him fall asleep faster — thus helping the Migranes and anger, and to get him through the anxiety.  He said if we didn’t, that this anxiety would only become internalized, and then manifest itself later in life with a far worse outcome than at present.

So, we have been following his advise…until tonight.  When, because it was the weekend, I wanted my husband and I to be together watching a movie together.  I started feeling fed up with the whole process.  I was ruminating in my head about how my husband and I virtually have no relationship anymore, and if we don’t — whose going to be a good role model for the kids.  And where’s our happiness, etc. etc.  I figured our son was tired enough from the week to go to sleep on his own.  But not so, he went to our room bawling like someone of a much younger age.  And he would not stop.  We let him carry on for 20 minutes.  And then my husband talked to him and tried to get him to calm down.  But he would not until he knew for sure that somebody would stay in the room with him.

I need to mention that our son has absolutely no problem going to other kids houses and spending the night as he is always in the same room as his friend. It is not enough for him that his little sister is in the room with him.  He claims that any person under 6 yrs. of age does not help him feel comforted.

I’m careening between feeling sorry for my son, and being angry as can be that I have no alone time at night with my husband.  I have been wanting to talk to you for years about many different issues in the past.  Please, this one is really important.  I hope you can help us to resolve it soon, before I get too resentful.


C. Gottlieb


Dear C. Bottlieb,

Your son’s need is real and valid. The thought, “He is tired and therefore could go to bed by himself” is simply not true. Reality tells the truth; he wasn’t able to go to sleep by himself. Any mother would be resentful in your situation if she believed that the child is somehow wrong to need what he needs. Resentment is the result of our own thoughts and never of the child’s choices. The good news is; you don’t have to believe these confusing thoughts. This is where the SALVE formula comes in to assist you in staying connected with your child and noticing his real needs. I suggest that you review the SALVE formula in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, and watch my video “The Child Is Right:”

I suggest that you find time with your husband that doesn’t conflict with your son’s emotional needs. You can plan to be with your husband during the day on weekends, or when your child is with friends (specially when he sleeps over.) Your child is not learning about relationships by being evicted so his parents can watch a movie. He learns from the way he is treated. He has no control over his anxiety and he needs you when he goes to sleep. Rather than believe the thoughts that disconnect you from your child, let your kind heart respond to him.

You listened to your wise doctor, and then, all of a sudden you wanted time with your husband and decided that your son could handle it. Your mind confused you. It said, “Being so tired, he can go to sleep by himself.” Notice this Self-talk (S of SALVE) and ask yourself: “Is it true that he can go to sleep by himself because he is so tired?” It was not true. He couldn’t. So when you believed this thought you felt resentful as though your son was trying to thwart your plans to see a movie with your husband. Yet, he was taking care of himself. What caused your upset was wanting something that was not available. How would you be without this deceptive thought, that he could go to sleep alone? You would say to yourself,  “Since he needs us, we can’t watch a movie now.” End of story. You would find another time for you and your husband.

Your child has a valid reason to need you or your husband’s presence when he goes to sleep. It is not for you and I to know what it feels like inside of him. Trust him and respond to his need. His ability to sleep with friends does not make it possibly to sleep at home without your presence. Like he says, he feels safe with another child who is old enough. Trust him. He is telling you about his real experience. His feelings are always valid.

Falling asleep can be scary for children at this age. Your child is also obviously anxious, which could be linked to the presence of his sister in your bed. In spite of your wonderful loving care and attachment, being pressured to leave the room while his sister sleeps with you can be experienced as a personal rejection and exclusion. In addition he may feel really lonely and scared. Who wants to sleep alone, specially while his sister gets to snuggle with his parents in the other room?

Please read my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and use the SALVE formula to be able to understand your son. Your son most likely feels insecure and, in spite of your obvious great care and effort, has self-doubt. Respond to his need and don’t ask him to go against what he feels inside. When you trust him, he learns to trust himself.

Warmly,  Naomi Alodrt