My son has always slept in his crib in his own room. About two months ago he refused to sleep in his room or in his crib. Help!
DR. RUTHERFORD: Sometimes children will go through periods when they’re scared, especially in the dark when they’re alone by themselves. In fact, I think it’s a fairly normal stage.
MOLLY: This was submitted from a Mom in Kansas. She elaborated that her 2 year-old son needs to feel someone near him. “We have converted his crib into a toddler bed, but he still won’t sleep in his bed. He has to sleep with us. This even happens during the day also. He used to sleep fine in his crib for his naps, but now he has to fall asleep on the couch or floor as long as someone is there. I don’t know what to do anymore. So at this point all three of us (my husband, son and I) sleep in our bed. This just isn’t working for any of us.”
DR. RUTHERFORD: It sounds like, for whatever reason, he is needing reassurance that he’s not alone. One technique she could try is to substitute the real thing (meaning the parents) for a stuffed animal or two.
What she could say to the child is, “See this elephant? I’m going to put this elephant at the corner at the bottom of your bed and this elephant is going to watch over you all night and keep you safe while you’re sleeping in bed.”
I would give him a stuffed animal to hold while he’s sleeping –actually place it in his arms– and then I would put a larger one at the the bottom of the bed to be the night guard.
MOLLY: I was thinking that another thing she could do is pick out a night light together that he could leave on in his room. Or, what about if they checked for monsters together before a nap or before bedtime by opening all the closets together, checking under the bed, and taking a flashlight to the corners?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I would think she would want to ask him if he’s scared of something before doing that, because he may not be. If he is, that would be a good ritual to do together.
If he is scared of monsters or strangers in the night, a parent could even announce out loud that they are not welcome in that room and they need to clear out! The parent can even say it to the stuffed animal in front of the child. At this age, a child can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. If he believes the stuffed animals will protect him, that might be enough to settle his mind for sleep. I’ve seen this work over and over again.
MOLLY: Do the parents need to talk about how he needs to sleep in his own bed and not in mommy and daddy’s bed?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I wouldn’t even go there and would rather start with a transitional object first. A transitional object could be a blanket, of course, though I’ve seen it work really well with stuffed animals once children are verbal.
MOLLY: Are there any long-term effects from using a transitional object during his stage of development?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I think transitional objects can be very beneficial as children begin to face the unknown of the world around them. Most people simply outgrow the need for the object and are able to self-soothe when necessary.