Battle Fatigue

By Michael J. Weiss, PhD. on May 16, 2011
“Dad?” “Mom?” “Is anyone there?”

Ah, the sound of my youngest calling to us at – what time is it – two in the morning?
My wife is always faster on her feet than I am when our girls call. She swiftly, if exhaustedly passes out in bed with our little beauty. I will only see my wife again in the morning when we’re all ready to start our days.
OK, so here’s the confession. I’m a giant hypocrite. I’ve been consulting to people about how to get their kids to bed for more than 30 years. If they only knew that we only followed my advice most of the time. OK, maybe only half the time.
But, here’s why. Like everyone else who deals with kids waking in the middle of the night, we’re exhausted. So, yes, my wife and I have spent many nights with kids in our bed, one of us in one of their beds, one of us on the couch and the other parent with two kids in one of their beds – lots of different scenarios.
We’ve done a lot of nutty things over the years that I wouldn’t have endorsed. For example, I will lay down with one of my daughters while she is falling asleep. Of course, I end up falling asleep with her.
Friday night for us is “family night” which means all four of us start off in bed together, but often one of the adults leaves in the night for an empty kid’s bed. Our daughters slept together in the same bed for several months, while they were getting more and more comfortable sleeping apart in adjoining rooms. But, the good news is that most nights everyone is in his or her own bed and things go pretty well.
Through all of this variation in bedtime arrangements, something has occurred to me. I’ve got two wonderful kids. They are eight and six years of age and I am truly proud to be their daddy. The fact that we have had our share of good nights and bad nights has not contributed to any major health concerns or psychological unrest. Through all of these permutations, my wife and I have taught our children how to do this great self-relaxation routine, which clearly helps them fall asleep.
We’ve also had some of our very best conversations as we are lying in bed. Frankly, the too many nights that we have been inconsistent in our sleep routines have just not been that big of a deal.
I have some thoughts for parents who, like me, are secretly inconsistent in their approaches to bedtime. Lighten up. Give yourself a break. Don’t make more out of this than is appropriate.
Having said that, getting the requisite amount of sleep – 10 or more hours for most kids and eight hours for adults – is critical to everyone’s physical and emotional health. Anyone who has tried to slog through the day on just a few hours of sleep knows they are short-tempered and ill-equipped to handle the most minor upsets. If that’s you, here are some options. Find the one that fits you and your spouse best, and see what our readers said.

The Ferber Method
Ferberizing, as it’s called, is named for Dr. Richard Ferber at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. This tried-and-true method requires your child to stay in the crib, bed and/or bedroom. Failure to do so will result in a shut or locked bedroom door. This is the fastest, if sometimes frantic, approach that has worked for many people. It can be downright shocking how upset kids can get if you have to leave them in their room against their wishes. This is for the stout-hearted who can withstand the sounds of their children’s tears at bedtime. But the reality is that the vast majority of children get over it within a short period of time and end up getting comfortable with the routines of staying in their bed.

Co-sleeping is when you and your infant sleep within easy reach of one another. This is not the parental bed, but rather, the baby’s crib or bassinet is in your room. Many parents of newborns do this. As the baby gets older, advocates look to move the crib to the baby’s room, though I suspect many end up in the family bed situation by the end of this.

The family bed
This concept is promoted by individuals and organizations who support an approach to child rearing called “attachment parenting”. This method requires a huge bed that will accommodate the family comfortably.
Many proponents of the family bed say that they sleep with only the youngest children, and the older kids eventually transition to their own beds. I’m aware of many who have been successful with this and a few who have had a hard time getting their older kids to agree to leave the family bed.
That said, be aware that there is clear evidence that parents can inadvertently roll over their kids in the night causing real harm, even death. So, I strongly urge people to not sleep in the same bed with their young babies. And never co-sleep if you’re impaired (including medication).
I personally am not a fan of this strategy, but long-term outcome studies of the family bed show that nobody can tell the difference between those who sleep together compared to those who sleep alone. In the meantime, proponents ardently preach its virtues. If it works for you, who am I to disagree? Just realize that you could be setting yourself up for needing to break some tough habits later.

Everyone in their own bed
This can be a slow road for many families. One way to get reluctant kids out of your bed is to have them share a room so they are not alone. Lay down at the beginning of the night to help kids get drowsy, but if you can, try to leave before they are asleep. If not, you are stuck there until they are asleep. If they call out in the night, go to them.
The goal is to leave once they have fallen asleep again, but chances are you end up sleeping next to them anyway. Try to reduce those nights as best you can. This is a tear-free way to go, but you will spend way more time in bed with your kids than you may have originally bargained for.
In the end, you have to find your own comfort zone in how to approach this crucial daily living skill. In the meantime, try not to get caught up in all the nutty and unnecessary guilt of how you choose to do it.
This from a guy who preaches Ferber-izing, but who has slept plenty of nights with his little cherubs. 

Published in June, 2011.

Michael J. Weiss, PhD., is a clinical psychologist specializing in helping families and schools manage developmental differences in children. 

By Michael J. Weiss, PhD.| May 16, 2011

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