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Is sleeping a group activity? How to get kids back in their own beds

Monday - 3/3/2014, 7:22am  ET

Do you end up with a pile of kids in your bed in the morning? An expert says that behavior is becoming more common -- and he has some tips to ease the kids back to their own beds. (Thinkstock)

Switch beds: From your's to their's

WTOP's Randi Martin reports


WASHINGTON - Sleep is a precious commodity for busy parents, but it's hard to get zzzs when the kids start jumping in bed with you.

Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician, professor and author of "Happiest Baby on the Block," says kids sleeping with parents is a trend that is becoming more common.

"As parents are overworked and moving in so many different directions, they feel a little guilty and don't want to say ‘no' to their kids who want to be in bed with them," Karp says.

But is this a healthy practice?

Karp says it can be, as long as two issues are addressed:

  • The parents have enough time to themselves or for intimacy

  • The parents are getting enough sleep

If sleep is what you crave, Karp says transitioning the child from your bed to his own comes with training. First, have your kid nap in his own room. Then, try putting a cot near your bed for your child to sleep in at night, and eventually move that cot to your child's room and use it to lie down with your child while he sleeps in his bed.

Another method that can work? A little bit of a reward system.

"Money or poker chips," Karp says. "If they wake up in the middle of the night and look at that poker chip in their hand, they have a decision to make: ‘Do I want to give this up or get rewarded in the morning?'"

Another key to ensuring everyone gets enough rest is to keep a good bedtime routine.

As the evening progresses, start dimming the lights in the family room.

"You can't expect your child to go from a bright, loud room to total black and silence. Turn off the TV, computers and stop the rough-housing," Karp says.

Also, try some white noise -- something Karp recommends from the first days of life to echo the low-pitched rumblings heard in the womb.

Getting kids out of your bed is a daunting task for most parents -- Is it one for you, too?

Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, some local parents dealing with the same issues offer their advice.

Monster Spray
By Jennifer Lewis Hershman

My three kids are terrible sleepers, and, embarrassingly, we often wake up to find all three of them in bed with us (along with our three dogs).

When it comes to bad dreams, we either hunker down with them in their rooms or let them in ours.

Others have it a bit easier.

I have a friend who is an incredible sleep trainer. She posted on Facebook last week that her 2-year-old took her by the hand at 7:30 p.m. and led her to the crib and pointed at it. He was telling his mom he wanted to go to bed. I was in awe!

This past week, I participated in a Facebook discussion about monsters, nightmares and young kids. My 3-year-old son had a Big Bad Wolf phobia, and a friend's 3- year-old daughter was going through a similar monster phase.

The consensus among the group of parents was to make a "monster spray," made of water, perfume and some sparkles, to spray in the child's room before bed to keep monsters away.

Apparently this method had worked with some success -- especially when combined with a catchy chant and dance.

I can certainly relate to taking dramatic steps when it comes to sleep. This past fall, to appease my son and get him to go to bed, I resorted to standing on our front porch with a wiffle ball bat and our dog, Mr. Chance (a Rottweiler mix), yelling at the Big Bad Wolf to never come back.

My husband got upset, saying that would only validate my son's fears and make it that much more real. But it worked. My son now says Mr. Chance protects him. I'm still not sure whether that was good parenting or not.

Jennifer Lewis Hershman is an attorney, wife and mother of three children ages 5, 3, and 1 month, three dogs and four fish. She lives in Alexandria, Va., and in her very limited free time, she enjoys playing music, baking and creative writing.


Tips That Helped Me
By Tracy Gensler

If you have a child who hates to go to sleep, you're probably guilty of letting him stay up until he is tired. Maybe you're exhausted and frustrated and feel like you never have a minute to yourself.

You want to scream when you hear that mom brag about her son sleeping 11 hours ... in a row ... every night. Of course you don't scream. But you wonder: What am I doing wrong?

You're in good company. Maybe you're like me and you don't do well with caring for the needs of others every waking hour of every day, plus during the night when we're all supposed to be asleep. There I said it.

It doesn't make you a bad parent to want your kids in bed -- their own beds. Maybe catch up on an episode of "Homeland" before going to bed, yourself. And is it really too much to ask for them to stay in bed all night? It's not.

Here are a few tricks I picked up that might help you and your child catch some extra sleep -- with your child in his own bed:

  • Stop drinking and eating at least an hour before bedtime. Digestion can cause sleep disturbance, and having too much to drink increases nighttime visits to the bathroom, most likely involving you.

  • Cut off television watching or any electronic activity at least an hour before bed, too. These activities activate the brain and make it very hard to settle down to fall asleep.

  • Minimize the bedtime routine. Bath, read one book, turn on the nightlight, include a soothing, favorite blanket or stuffed toy and leave the room. Don't make your bedtime routine so elaborate that it extends for two hours every night. The shorter, the better.

  • Does your child wake up in the middle of the night? We all do. Practice self-soothing with a hug. Then, put your child right back in his own bed and go back to yours. Be firm and remember, you're doing your child a huge favor in the long run. Once we learn to self-soothe, we can be better sleepers through adulthood.

Tracy is a registered dietitian and author of "Probiotic and Prebiotic Recipes for Health" and co-author of "The Anti-Aging Fitness Prescription" and a children's novel, "Patalosh: The Time Travelers." She has worked for Bob Greene's The Best and Prevention's The Flat Belly Diet!.com, and has collaborated on over a dozen books. She has also contributed to Good Housekeeping. The children's music group, Imagination Movers, contacted Tracy to say that one of her articles inspired their song "Healthy Snacks." Her kids thought that was pretty cool. She lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with her husband and two girls.

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