For many years, my husband and I shared our bedroom with our two kids simply because it was the only bedroom we had. We lived in a tiny apartment we had moved into when our eldest was just a few months old. At that time, we both preferred to have our baby a few steps away. It made diaper changes so much easier.
Eight years later, we wanted our bedroom and our life back. I missed being able to go to the bathroom at 1 a.m. without stepping on a Lego. (And don’t even ask about our sex life. Thank God for their weekend visits to the grandparents.) We moved to a larger house where both of them could have their own rooms. Our eldest loved the privacy and space for his Star Wars collection. Our daughter hated it. Every night, she would still creep into our bedroom. “I’m scared,” she said. “I’m lonely.”
The Internet offered a lot of good advice: buy pretty bedsheets, give her a stuffed toy, give her a nightlight or a flashlight to play with, fill a cologne bottle with “Monster Spray” so she’ll feel safe (and maybe fall asleep to the smell of lavender).
If these work for your child, good for you! They’re worth a try. My sister-in-law bought her daughter Disney Princess blankets and curtains, and there was no looking back. But after spending about P10,000 on a nice bed and Pinterest-worthy bedroom décor, my daughter was still knocking on our doors at 1 a.m. “I had a nightmare.”
Yelling at her to go back to her room did not help. Reasoning with her worked even less. A scared child doesn’t think she just wants a hug. “The best approach is to discover the underlying cause or causes for your child's behavior. At some level she knows why she doesn't want to sleep in her own bed, even if she isn't able to articulate what she is feeling,” says Dr. Alan Greene.
But you won’t get answers by asking her outright, and definitely not at 1 a.m. Dr. Greene suggests play-acting with dolls, but my daughter did not respond to that. So I asked her these questions:
She didn’t answer right away, and I would drop it then ask again another time, in the nicest and most patient voice possible. Her teacher (who I’d consulted in a panic because who else knew her well enough to give practical advice) said she’d never tell me what she felt if I sounded angry. When she finally answered, I could see what a big bedroom felt like in the eyes of a preschooler: she felt cold, the airconditioner made the curtains flare which creeped her out, she missed the sound of her dad snoring (yeah, that made me laugh, too) and felt the room was “so quiet it was weird.”
So we made a list of what she didn’t like and thought of compromises and ways to make it better. We ended up with a transition arrangement that worked really well for us:
I stayed with her until she fell asleep.
I made her a bedtime playlist on Spotify that played on loop.
She could keep her lamp on.
We got rid of the curtains.
She said she missed the fun and company of all of us sleeping together, so once a week we have a family movie night where everyone camps out in the room. It’s like a family sleepover, and the only day where I allow food in the bed.
Were there setbacks? Oh, yeah. The first few weeks I had to groggily get out of bed, lead her to her room, and stay there until she went back to sleep. It was like having a newborn all over again. But after two months she had embraced the concept of having her own room.
You know what I didn’t expect? Missing her knock on the door or hearing her say, “I can’t sleep without you, Mama.” But that’s parenting for you. You spend months trying to get them to be on their own, and then feel happy and sad when they are.