Gary Feldman (Medical Director, Stramski Disorders Center, Miller Children's Hospital ) gives expert video advice on: At what age should my child stop co-sleeping? and more...
What is "co-sleeping"?
Co-sleeping is where a child and a parent sleep together in the same bed. There are pro's and con's to it. The pro is that you can be with your child, the child can be with you the whole night, and when your child wakes up spontaneously in the night, they can see that mom is there or dad's there or both are there, and they'll go, spontaneously go back to sleep. The problem is that when the child gets older, well firstly there's a privacy issue, if privacy's important to the parent or parents, and number two, as the child gets older you may come to a point as a parent that you don't want your six year old or your nine year old or your twelve year old to be in your bed and then it might become, it might become a problem because it has become so habitual that to get a child out of the bed can be difficult. I mean, if a child is twelve years of age it's probably not going to be much less of a problem because you can induce a lot of incentives and some other behavioral strategies, but for that's younger, you know a child that's maybe younger than six years, or even younger than eight years, they are so used to this that it's going to be significant work to undo that habit that they have to get them to sleep on their own.
What is "reactive co-sleeping"?
Reactive co-sleeping is when your child is waking up in the middle of the night and you're sick and tired of going to their crib or going to their bed to meet whatever their need is. It is much easier to just pick them up and bring them to a bed, or when the child wakes up and has the ability to climb out of their crib and walks to their parents bed. You're so tired that you grab hold of them and bring them into your bed because we are all so exhausted and we just want to get some sleep. It is not really a good idea to do reactive co-sleeping, because you are not solving the problem. The whole reason why it occurs is because your child is waking up frequently. Your child's sleeping habits are broken. It is liking painting a wall when you've got moisture, and you are just painting over the moisture. It is just going to come through again. It will just be coming up again and again and again - it just doesn't solve the problem.
At what age should my child stop co-sleeping?
There's no real defined age as to when your baby should stop co-sleeping. That really depends on why you're co-sleeping in the first place. That may be your preference. For some cultures, it's more normal, if you like, to co-sleep than for others. I don't believe there's a right and wrong about co-sleeping. The problem is that when you decide not to co-sleep, by then your baby or your child is going to be in the habit of wanting to sleep with their parent. Generally speaking, the younger the child, the easier it is to break the habit.
What do I do if my child resists leaving co-sleeping?
There are a couple of approaches you can do. You can do it gradually or you can do it a little bit more abruptly. For instance, you can say, “Well, you know, Johnny, Mommy will sit with you, she won't lie with you in your bed, but she'll sit in the room next to your bed while you fall asleep.” You can do that and gradually, you can move you chair further and further away. Or, you can do it more abruptly, and say, “You're a big boy. Goodnight”, and turn off the lights, or maybe leave a nightlight on if that's what the child wants, and then leave the room. Now, the child may protest, and in that situation, you're going to – that's where we start our, sort of, sleep training. The sleep training technique really applies to whether it's a small baby or an older child. Now, getting back to this three year old and up, they might start saying, you know their imaginations are very, very vivid at that point, and you know, afraid of the dark and afraid of monsters is a big deal. And, to avert that, you can also do – you can also give the child control over the monsters, too. One of the things is that you can create monster spray. You know, during the daytime, you can get one of these little bottles that you can put water in – and you concoct it, you can put water in, you can put color in, or something, obviously, that's safe, perfume, and get the child involved in creating this monster spray. Or, you can get a recipe that you've created – a monster spray recipe – and get the child involved with you to make monster spray. Then, before you go to sleep at night, you know, he sprays the monster spray, and that deals with the monsters, because monster spray is actually very long acting. It actually works the whole night, and in fact, goes right into some part of the day, too. It's very powerful stuff. Monsters don't dare come into a room where there's been monster spray. That's kind of like a little example of how you can give kids control over their fear of the dark or their fear of the monsters.