My 11yo DD is having issues going to sleep at night. She wants to sleep with me and my husband every night. Here's how it got started: A little over a year ago, my husband left us. The separation devastated us both and we slept on the couch for weeks...then eventually slept in my bed together for months. It was comforting for me as well as for her, and it made bedtime much simpler and easier in a time when neither of us had much energy.
Eventually I tried to get her to start sleeping on her own: (1) I needed my own space, and (2) I felt it was better for her mental health...bedtimes were getting ridiculous. She couldn't go to sleep unless I went to bed at the same time, she had to have certain stuffed animals, she had to say "I love you" as her last words before she fell asleep. She seemed to be getting more and more emotionally insecure, so I thought some boundaries might help.
To start out, I told her she had to sleep on her own 1 day/week and she could pick the day. Then a few weeks later, I upped it to 2 days...and so on. This worked for a little bit, but it quickly became a source of stress as she had to figure out which day she'd be the most sad or scared. Our psychologist said I should just let her sleep with me as much as she wants, take the pressure off, etc., and she will eventually want to sleep on her own. We tried that...and it worked for a couple weeks. She slept on her own a few times when she wanted to...and then it was back in bed with mom every night for weeks.
Now, my husband is back in the picture. At first, he slept on the couch but now that we are working on our relationship fully, he is back in bed with me. This has escalated the situation. Her first thought when she was told that we were reconciling was that she wouldn't get to sleep with me anymore. She cares more about that than anything. We have told DD that she can sleep on the floor anytime she wants...and I told her I would also sleep in her bed with her every once in a while or stay in her room till she falls asleep (however, my husband doesn't really like it...he says we're enabling her emotional dependency). Like everything else we've tried, this worked for a while but in the past week, she's wanted to sleep in our room every night.
Here's what bedtime looks like...
She goes to bed at 8 and is allowed to read or watch TV until 9:30...we set this plan up because she thought it would help her to relax and be able to sleep on her own more easily. She is supposed to fall asleep by 9:30 but what happens more often is she stays awake and then comes in our room when we go to bed at 10 or 11. She cries almost every night when it's time for bed. She tells me that she hates bedtime more than anything in the world. I've tried to understand what the deep issues are...she says she's afraid of losing me, of something happening to me during the night...she doesn't think I would leave her like my husband did, but she's afraid I'll get hurt or die or something.
I guess my question for the forum is...what should I do? I can't figure out if this is something where I should take a firm stand and push her to sleep on her own...will that help her to become stronger emotionally or make her resentful and angry? Or if I should just let her continue sleeping with us when she needs to and tweak the bedtime routine (no TV, etc.)? Any advice is appreciated...sorry this is so long!
Have you considered a sleep therapist? We know a family who uses one for their daughter and it's actually made a big difference (and she's a very difficult case.) Might be worth talking to someone with that specialty for some new ideas.
I can't really offer any BTDT advice. My kids slept with us full-time until about 3. They would occasionally come in with us after but both stopped completely by 10. I will say, from our experiences with DS's eating issues, when they build up that much anxiety over an issue, it's next to impossible to "work" on it. I made the mistake for years of thinking if I stood firm, his issues would resolve... like he was just being picky or willful. It took a diagnosis (over-active gag reflex,) occupational therapy and the total opposite approach from me to actually turn things around for him in that regard. I think the "tough love" approach works for most "normal" issues but can backfire when there are physical or deep emotional issues at play.
I think an outside party would be really beneficial. I would stop the night-time TV ritual though. TV actually interferes with a good night's sleep. Book reading is a safer choice for someone who is struggling with sleep. Also, it might be better for her to not go to bed until bed-time. That 1.5 hours of laying in bed before one is ready to sleep can make settling down much more difficult.
I have a fairly simple solution, I think. It's not cold turkey, but I think it will help meet both your needs.
When it's bedtime (I think 8 is way too early for my kids, but you know yours best) you (mom) go tuck her in (and dad can definitely come and say good night, too, but since it's you she wants you have to be the main tucker-inner-er) and lie down with her in her bed until she goes to sleep. Then you get up and do what you need to do. Right now she doesn't feel secure and safe in her room so she doesn't want to sleep there alone. By lying down with her you're helping her feel safe and relaxed. My dd1 is very much like this and that's our usual routine, except a lot of times it's dad reading to her and dd2 and laying down with them until they fall asleep.
Be up front about it and let her know that you need a little more space in your bed, but that she is welcome to come in there if she really needs to or she can call for you and you'll come to her. Sometimes our kids come get in our bed in the middle of the night, but lots of times it's not until they wake up early in the morning and then they come in for snuggles.
I think what your dd is stuck on is being alone and anxious in her bed in her room by herself. If you can parent her to sleep there and let her know that it is OK if she comes to you in the night then she will be more relaxed and more likely to sleep through the night in her bed. If you tell her she has to stay there by herself and has to fall asleep by herself that sets up a situation that increases her anxiety more. By snuggling her to sleep and letting her know she can come see you in the night then you're relieving her anxiety and the more she sleeps in her bed in that relaxed atmosphere the more likely she will be to continue to do so and not need to come to your bed. She's anxious that she's going to be scared. If you can relieve that anxiety she's less likely to be scared. Once she's had success at sleeping in her own bed without being scared and anxious the more likely she is to do it again. If she's scared or anxious when she goes to bed the more likely she is to stay being scared of sleeping on her own. At least that's what works for us the best. Also being very tired (very active day, etc) helps a lot.
Other things that help — having a double bed for dd and a king bed for mom & dad, and mom & dad remembering to lock the door if they need a little privacy. Oh and one drawback, the parent that lies down with the kids tends to sometimes fall asleep with them, too, which is okay, but then you wake up an hour later squooshed and dazed.
"All you fascists are bound to lose" — Woody Guthrie