End the Midnight ‘Parties’ for a Good Night’s Rest

Q:We know from your parenting books that you are not a fan of children sleeping in their parents’ bedroom. But this has become a regular occurrence for our children who wake up crying in the middle of the night and then come into our beds. Neither my wife nor I think this is a good idea but we don’t know what to do about it.

We have three children, a seven-year-old boy, a five-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. The two older children each have their own bedroom. But no matter which child wakes up first, the other one gets up, too. Then they both come into our beds in the middle of the night. Our son comes into my bed and our daughter comes to my wife. The one-year-old still sleeps in a crib. But he also gets up in the middle of the night needing to be fed.

What would you recommend?

 

A:I cannot imagine how any of you function during the day without a good night’s sleep. When Chazal advised limiting one’s sleep (Pirkei Avos 6:5), they meant excessive sleep. As the Tiferes Yisrael points out, not getting sufficient sleep is “damaging for the body and the soul.”

You are correct about my opinion. It is not healthy for children to sleep in their parents’ bedroom on a regular basis because it prevents them from developing the independence and self-confidence that results from learning to sleep in their own rooms. All children relish the cozy, secure and comfortable feeling of their parents’ beds. And no child would ever choose his own room over that of his parents. Similarly, few young children would voluntarily give up drinking from a bottle and opt for a cup. Eventually, of course, older children would make that transition. If the parents waited for the child to decide by himself, however, it would be much too late and the developmental damage would have been done.

I recall one bright nine-year-old boy who suffered shyness and social withdrawal at yeshivah, which baffled his parents and teachers. He was articulate, personable and above average in intelligence. Nevertheless, he avoided interacting with his classmates during recess. I, too, was puzzled by his symptoms until I learned that he slept in his mother’s bed a few times a week. As soon as that was stopped, the parents were amazed to see how their son quickly rebounded and became one of the gang.

Returning to your family: The reason your children are not sleeping through the night is because you are training them to wake up. By rewarding them with the treat of being able to come into your beds, you and your wife are providing your children with a powerful incentive not to sleep through the night. Your children, therefore, have been conditioned to wake up crying every night in order to cash in on the grand prize of being able to sleep in your beds.

The same thing is happening with your one-year-old. In his case, he is being rewarded with a feeding which, at his age, he really does not need. The stomach of a one-year-old is large enough for him to get sufficient nourishment before he goes to sleep to last until morning.

To break the bad habits of your children you will need to lose a little more sleep for a few days. The benefits to you all, however, will be well worth the effort. First, inform your oldest two children that the days of spending half the night in your room are over. Then, when they wake up at night — which they most definitely will — either you or your wife must get out of bed and escort them back to their own rooms. If they cry from fear — which they most probably will — then you can sit with them briefly to calm them. If they are begging you to stay, then you should offer “to check” on them by returning to their room in two minutes. Repeat this procedure as long as it takes for them to fall asleep.

Initially, it may take 20 minutes or longer for them to fall asleep in their own rooms. Eventually, however, they will adjust. When that happens, begin lengthening the interval to three minutes, five minutes and then ten minutes. Once your children see that you mean business, they will stop waking up at night altogether.

You can use a similar approach with your one-year-old. Tonight, when he wakes up, give him a bottle with water, but no milk. It will take him longer to fall asleep. Eventually, however, he will. And once he learns that the midnight parties are over, he, too, will sleep through the night. Then all five of you will finally get a good night’s sleep.


 

The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.