I recently married a woman who has a 4-year-old son and we cannot get him to sleep in his own bed. Before we were married, he had been sleeping in her bed with her since she divorced a couple of years ago, but now he’s not willing to move to a new bed, or comes back in during the middle of the night after we put him in his own bed. I totally understand that he’s struggling with the change of me being in the home and taking over his bed, but it’s making it tough on my wife and me. Any suggestions on how we can make this transition smoother for him?
You can only imagine how confusing and distressing it must be for this little guy to get kicked out of his bed and moved to a new bedroom. This is just one of many adjustments and transitions he is going through as his mom marries and begins a new life. While I don’t think he should set up permanent residence in your marital bed, I think it’s wise to have a transition plan in place to help him adjust to all of the changes.
Right or wrong, it’s critical to honor the message his mom’s been sending to him for the past two years that he belongs in her bed. Kicking him out without honoring the deal she arranged with him only creates more problems for everyone. Instead, think of ways you can help him make a gradual transition to his own bed.
It’s not going to work if you try and logically reason with him. First, he’s 4 years old and logic doesn’t work with that age group. Second, his struggle isn’t logical; it’s driven by his need for security and comfort. If you don’t address his need for security by being there for him, he won’t transition.
The best way to do this with small children is to set up a new routine. Instead of just sticking him in his new bedroom alone, you can adapt the current routine of having him sleep in your bed and blend it into a new routine of transitioning to his bed. While I don’t know what will work best with his particular temperament or personality, I do know that if you’re patient and consistent, he’ll eventually move over.
There is no need to punish him or set ultimatums with him. He’s not in trouble and he’s only doing what he was allowed to do for years before you showed up.
You can also invest in making his room a special place for him by getting wall hangings or other furnishings to help make it his own. You can transition the routine into his bed while he’s awake and let him experience the security of his room with both of you in there with him. Over time, he’ll adapt to the new surroundings and you’ll have your bedroom back.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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