True Parent 5
Wanting to meet your child’s needs—especially at night—and not knowing the best way to do it can be really hard! And concerns about how current situations will impact his future are something every parent can relate to.
But there’s a balance between looking to others for comfort and being able to comfort ourselves. As parents, we want to incrementally help our children learn to strike that balance, which will help them grow into confident, independent, happy people with healthy relationships.
So what does this have to do with nighttime snuggling? Learning to soothe himself at night—without seeking physical comfort from you—will give him confidence in his ability to comfort himself when faced with other painful situations.
How do you do this? Slowly, and planfully. Have a chat with him. Talk to him about the importance of quality sleep for everyone. Talk to him about the importance of learning how to get himself back to sleep at night. It’s a life skill, and an important one. Make a plan. Have a bedtime routine that includes plenty of snuggling. Decide on a time in the morning when he can come snuggle for a bit. “Anytime after 6:30” might work for you. Talk to him about things he can do at night when he wakes up and feels like seeking you out—what things can he try?
Remind him that self-talk is helpful: “I am safe. This house is safe. My mom and dad are just down the hall. I have all the tools inside me to get back to sleep.” Learning simple meditation and breathing techniques can also be effective. (I recommend the book Sitting Still Like a Frog, by Eline Snel.) Ask him what he’s tried in the past. He likely has a list and will tell you they don’t work. Encourage him to try again and possibly come up with new ideas.
And lastly, come up with an incentive plan. Does he earn allowance? Does he earn screen time? Have those freedoms tied to the responsibility of staying in bed at night. “You can earn five minutes of screen time for every night you stay in your own bed.” (Or something similar.) Talk about what would work for him—then make an agreement, and follow through on it.
This process is a good one to experience. It’s full of learning moments for everyone. And, in the end, it meets the goals of adding life skills to his tool box, while allowing you to have moments of connection where you discuss a plan for gaining them. That’s a win for everyone.
Tracey Biebel Johnson, LCSW, is a family therapist with a private practice in Portland. You can find out more about her, and read more of her writing, at PracticalParentingPDX.com.