Like the proper way to hang a roll of toilet paper, the location of a sleeping child is a reliable internet fight starter. The experts are tired of squabbling. NPR reported last year that the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics boil down to: We don't think kids should sleep with adults, but we know you're going to ignore us, so whatever.
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Some parenting questions have a correct answer, such as whether to vaccinate (yes), use car seats (yes), or hang babies in window cages (no). Co-sleeping is a muddier issue, and the AAP has advised me not to make your choice for you.
But if you would like to declare the square footage of your mattress the one area in your house untainted by the sounds, smells and fluids of children, I have some ideas.
Lay the Groundwork Early
When our babies were itty bitty, they slept on my chest or in a swing or in a car seat or a glider or a pack 'n' play or a Boppy pillow or a crib or their mother's arms. Sometimes three or more of those locations in one night. Our bed wasn't one of them. Only when they had pitiful colds or ear infections did we waver.
This approach produced short-term pain. Getting up over and over to stumble into the nursery was horrendous. But we took the long view and determined that a kid-free bed was the ultimate goal. By the time they were old enough to question the sleeping arrangements, they never thought to do so. Mum and Dad's bed is for Mum and Dad because that's the way it's always been.
Talk Up the Transition
Generally, you find a sleeping infant where you last placed her. A toddler is a different story. Once your child can escape the crib, it has to go. Keeping it can be dangerous.
When our first child graduated to a big-kid bed, we laid down three rules:
- Once you're in the bed, you stay in the bed.
- If you really, truly need something, call for us. (We were in the next room.)
- You may get out of your bed when you see sunlight in the morning. (We hung blackout curtains over her windows.)
She was a rule follower, and that helped our cause. But setting limits can work, even with high-spirited children, if you pair those limits with an effusive description of the advantages of a big-kid bed. It's great for jumping on and for hiding under. You can pretend to be a fox, burrowing into the covers, or pretend to be a mummy, stretched out straight and stiff. A big-kid bed is spacious and soft. It can be a cliff to sail cars off of and a high castle ballroom for dolls to dance on. Nothing beats a big-kid bed!
Make Your Kid's Bedroom Awesome
Pile stuffed animals everywhere, plug in a night light or two, stack dolls and toys in bins. Hang sparkly butterflies or inflatable dinosaurs from the ceiling. Paint the walls crazy colours. Tack up posters and artwork. If you're handy, build a kick-arse bed. Whatever your kid wants - within reason - to make her bedroom the coolest room in the house. A room she helped design. A room she'll never want to leave.
Then go a step further. Emphasise that within those four walls lies respite from her annoying little brother. Her very own place to draw, to paint, to read, to store keepsakes. A place to be alone and to build worlds of imagination. A place to feel safe and comfortable. A place to be at peace. Asleep. All through the night.
Stick to the Plan
Success happens because of planning in the middle of the day, when you've had a pot of coffee. The middle of the night is when everything can fall apart. Stay strong.
For starters, get those kids good and tired. Even when the weather is cold and dreary, look for activities that require large muscle groups. In nice weather, threaten to assign chores if they're reluctant to go outside and play.
Pick a bedtime and keep it sacrosanct. It doesn't matter if there's a late birthday party or an overtime game or the pope's Midnight Mass. When it's bedtime, it's time for the routine. Bath, pyjamas, teeth brushing, a story and singing. Eventually, these actions will work like Pavlov's bells and the kids will almost put themselves to bed.
When growing pains or night terrors strike, find a way to sleep in their rooms for brief periods. That could be a trundle bed, a foldable foam mattress, a recliner, even a cot - whatever arrangement doesn't leave your creaky muscles kinked and sore.
Make Your Bedroom Boring
The best con men let the mark do all the work. Follow their example. Transform your room into a monk's quarters, but comfier. Somewhere between "spartan" and "lived-in", but entirely "old person". Start by downsizing to a queen, or even a double mattress. Stack 17 books on the nightstand, cover the dresser with photos of dead family members.
No toys. No games. No television, tablets or laptops. If it can play Peppa Pig, get it gone. Limiting your own access to those devices can improve the quality of your sleep, but it will definitely render your domain as lame in the eyes of your child. If she looks around your room and declares it boring, congratulations. You've won the battle before it's begun.