Taking Back Your Bed

When the subject of sleeping came up, Aaron's father rolled his eyes. Aaron - whose real name is something else - was a healthy four year-old, and his father thought that it was high time he stayed in his own bed at night. Aaron disagreed. He was happy to fall asleep in his big-boy bed, after the required stories, prayers, and kisses. But by three in the morning, he would usually find his way into his parents' room. He would snuggle up between them, plant his little knees in the small of his father's back, and fall back asleep. His father wouldn't. He often ended up on the couch, literally kicked out of his own bed.

It's natural for young children to want to sleep with their parents. Co-sleeping is the norm in most places around the world. The urge starts early. Years ago, researchers created a small teddy bear that "breathed," slowly inflating and deflating. They tried out their invention in the newborn intensive care unit. Sure enough, even tiny premature infants managed to wriggle over so that they ended up sleeping next to the thing. Given the choice, most children (and most adults) prefer to have a warm body next to them.

But, natural or not, co-sleeping is not for everyone. And often, it is just plain inconvenient. Parents often have mixed feelings about having a child in bed with them. Aaron's mom, for instance, kind of liked having her "baby" close to her. But she could see her husband's point of view, and together they decided to make a change. The trick was, how could they get Aaron to cooperate?

There is a simple solution to this dilemma, but it's not easy. The answer is, Persistence. Aaron had a habit. To break it, his parents had to undo the connection in Aaron's mind between crawling into his parents' bed, and falling blissfully asleep. They simply had to walk Aaron back to his own bed, tuck him back in, and kiss him goodnight, every single time he showed up in bed with them. It's hard to be so consistent in the middle of the night, but consistency is the key. If Aaron's parents let him stay in their bed, even just once a week, his habit would continue, stronger than ever.

I'm happy to report that Aaron's parents were even more relentless than he was. It took about a week of bleary-eyed treks back to Aaron's bedroom. After that, Aaron stopped his mid-night bed hopping, and they all slept happily ever after. Especially Aaron's dad.