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Since the pandemic began, my child has started to climb into bed with me more frequently. How should I handle this?
Co-sleeping is not inherently wrong and does necessary cause problems as long as the child is healthy and over 18 months of age. A child may come into a parent’s bedroom because that’s where they’re more comfortable, or because they’re anxious and scared. Being in close physical proximity promotes safety – for some children that means being in the same room and for others it means being in the same home. With all of the COVID-related changes and free floating anxiety we are all experiencing, parents can be a little more flexible in terms of addressing their child’s needs. A short term course of co-sleeping in toddlers is not a problem, and getting back to prior sleeping arrangements can be implemented in a few days.
One of the most powerful tools we train parents to use is to acknowledge their own feelings. Telling your child, “I am fearful now” can be tremendously powerful. The comment alone is a way to help you cope, and having your child watch you deal with that can also calm and reassure them. Acknowledging that you’re struggling and talking about what you’re doing to cope can benefit any children and, in particular, anxious children.
The good news is that most sleep habits and rituals can be modified in the short term. If your child needs a night or two in bed with you to re-regulate and feel secure, that’s okay.
We also recommend nesting. This is where a child might sleep in the parent’s bedroom but not in the parent’s bed. Parents can set up a little “camp” for the child in the parent’s bedroom. They can also set up a tent for a little more privacy. Teaching a child a routine to set up a ‘nest’ in their parents room can be rehearsed during the day – for example pulling out a mat or having a sleeping bag on the floor – and doing so independently can help everyone sleep better.
The one exception is if your baby is under 18 months or has health problems. There is general agreement among pediatricians and public health policy makers that co-sleeping poses risks to infants.
Get more sleep tips from Dr. Lewin on this episode of Pandemic Parenting, a Facebook Live event featuring Barbara Harrison.