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Expert Answers to Parenting Questions

Q: How do I keep my 5-year-old in her own bed at night? She used to wake me up and ask, but lately she has been sliding in while my husband and I sleep. I’m tempted to lock our bedroom door. Any advice?

A: The short answer to this is: You can’t, especially if you are asleep!

Sleep issues are the most persistent conflicts in homes with young children. One reason lies in the vulnerability a child feels when required to disconnect from her primary source of security and comfort – you. Even as adults, when we awaken in the night, the first thing we do is reach to or look for our partner. Often, just knowing where that person is alleviates enough nighttime anxiety to get back to sleep.

There are two critical tiers of sleep and awake skills that children take years to master. First, a child must learn to start in her own bed and fall asleep without parental assistance. This is a huge skill of self reliance that is better learned before age four.

The second requires that a child, over time, develop the ability to awaken and regulate her own anxiety enough to get herself back to sleep. Most children take many years to master this very sophisticated emotional skill. During the time it takes to master this, parents are reasonable to require that a child always sleep in her own bed. However, it is not practical to expect a small child to not need the comfort and encouragement of a brief connection to mom or dad in order to make the transition back into sleep.

That said, ask your child to stop “sliding” into bed with you at night, and to awaken you when she feels that need for comfort. When she does, lead her back to her bed and with a lot of affection and eye contact, tuck her in. How many times? As many as it takes.

Q: My 13-year-old son has a big frame and a lot of meat on his bones. He definitely has a football player’s build. He has become very self-conscious and I’m worried kids are giving him grief at school. What should we do?

A: The most stressful thing for any person, young or old, is being held responsible for something we cannot control. When parents are met with issues like this, that is exactly what we do: We try to control what we can’t in order to help our child.

Instead, show your son how to make a list of things, in any stressful situation, of what he can and cannot control. Teach him to go to work only on the things he has a chance to be in charge of. In addition, show him how to set measurable goals so he feels more in control of what he’s trying to accomplish.

In this case, for example, he should see that he cannot control what other kids say or do. He cannot control his bone structure. He cannot control that he must go to school everyday. But he might stand a pretty good chance of controlling his weight; how he responds to any taunting; how he dresses that large build.

One of the big secrets to successful parenting is always reinforcing to our kids where their power lies. It is never found in other people; only in how we respond to other people.

Suzanne Hanky is a parenting coach and educator with eighteen years of clinical experience. She founded Collaborative Parenting of Richmond in 2012 with two locations. She is the mother of five grown children. 
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