Is there a right way to deal with a sleepless child who wants to share mum’s bed?
A Hong Kong mother seeks advice on helping her daughter stay asleep, having discovered from friends a wide variance in how they handle the issue, from indulgence to hiring a child therapist
The domestic helper who looked after my younger daughter for the past four years left our home six months ago. My daughter appears to be adjusting well because, rather than hire another helper, I have personally stepped in to fill the void.
I know that she is thrilled to have so much of my time and attention. However, something different may be happening subconsciously. I mention this household change because I believe this to be the trigger point for a new occurrence in our home.
Three months ago, my daughter started coming to me when she woke up in the middle of the night. Since then, she has made a regular appearance two or three times a week. Because this has not happened in the past, I find it quite endearing to be pulled out of slumber by the pitter-patter of her little feet as she scrambles to my bedside.
With full knowledge that my daughter has lost her best friend and constant companion, I am sympathetic to her nighttime visits. She doesn’t fall asleep in my bed, so when I’m sufficiently conscious, we return to sleep in her bed, where she is safely lulled back to sleep. In her bed, I doze off while lying on my side, cramped with my back against her bedrail.
Here is where we stand on this arrangement: my daughter prefers to sleep with me. I love to cuddle with her but do not enjoy the sore back and interrupted sleep. My husband firmly believes we need to fix this “problem”.
Turning to my friends for advice, I was surprised to find that many of them accommodate their children’s needs, and some even embraced the opportunity to have this special cuddle time. A number of friends repeated the old adage, “Children grow up so quickly.”
In canvassing my friends’ family sleep habits, I encountered a wide spectrum of scenarios. On one end were friends with giant-sized family beds for parents and children to share every night until the children left for boarding school. On the other end was a friend who was so concerned about his child’s nightly visits that he brought in a child therapist to get to the cause and put a stop the fitful sleep experienced by everyone involved.
In between are the majority of friends who don’t mind the occasional visit but prefer to have children sleeping through the night in their own beds.
Our home is well-stocked with books about going to asleep. We have the classics that my daughter loved when she was a toddler: Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and Peggy Rathmann’s Good Night Gorilla. There is my current favourite, Tell Me the Day Backwards by Albert Lamb, and my daughter’s current favourite, The Champion of Staying Awake by Sean Taylor.
We also have the newly acquired The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep by Swedish behavioural psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin. Specifically created to induce sleep, Forssen Ehrlin spent three years perfecting his innovative technique with the right words to help children relax and drift off to sleep, ideally before even reaching the end of the story. Thousands of parents have attested to this book’s effectiveness.
Now, if only someone could write a good children’s book that would help children to stay asleep.
Annie Ho is board chair of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong (bringmeabook.org.hk), a non-profit organisation advocating for family literacy by facilitating easy access to quality children’s books and empowering parents and educators to read aloud with children for future success in school and life