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Bedtime Advice

March 3, 2010

O.K. – I almost screamed this morning as I was watching a news report about children sleeping in their parent’s bed.  The report showed a couple who had hired a sleep expert to help the parents with getting their children (both over the toddler stage!) to sleep in their own beds. I was truly appalled by the over indulgent approach. Without even calling her, I know just what my grandmother, Medora #3 – or M3 (I’m M5) – would say: Have loving, kind but firm rules and then expect the children to mind you and them.  Children are no different than the rest of us in that they feel more secure and stable when they are led with confident and competent authority. Think of a well run corporate entity and you’ll understand what I mean.

Parenting styles fall into 4 basic categories: Permissive, neglectful, authoritarian and authortative.  Child development experts will tell you that the best style is authoritative (and all of the Medoras would agree).  Authoritative parents use  non-punitive discipline (i.e., they don’t beat their children into submission!) methods setting clear guidelines, rules and standards which outline the consequences of bad behavior while balancing things by recognizing and respecting their child’s need for individuality. Study after study has shown that children of authoritative parents are  the most socially competent,  exhibit the lowest levels of problem behaviors and mature into functioning adults.
Over the past 50 years of so, I believe that one of the biggest parenting problems is that too many  parents have chosen the permissive style.  Permissive parents expect less in the way of good/mature behavior, often making excuses for their child rather than realizing that they are doing their child no favors.  Additionally, they tend to allow the child more self-regulation and more  age-inappropriate decision-making . Children in permissive households are often the ones in charge and the family is “child centered”.  In the case of an only child, this can be particularly disastrous as the child is then raised to believe that the world revolves around them.  Think of the disappointment experienced when they have to face the fact that the world does not.

The simple truth on children sleeping with parents?  There are exceptions, of course to any rule.  And, a kind and loving parent will know when to make an exception. But you also need to know that families are stronger when the focus is on the couple – i.e., the couple love and care for each other, putting their commitment to each other first and foremost.  This model of unwavering trust and commitment is one of the best teaching laboratories, providing stability and security for children.  And part of that commitment is ensuring that you have a time and place for intimacy and rest.  Generally, that place is and should be the parent’s bed – their common refuge. Single parents especially need a place to be able to relax and rejuvenate as the demands on them are greater as they aren’t shared with a partner. So, decide on a way or ways to kindly, lovingly encourage children to sleep in their own bed. But begin from the get-go – not when they are 5 as it will be MUCH harder. If doing so makes you feel bad or mean, remember that effective parenting is not about you or your feelings.  Rather, it is about the end game of parenting: raising children  into independent, fully functional, self-supporting, contributing, caring, responsible adults.

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