Monday, November 30, 2020
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My 10-year-old has started sleeping in my bed. Am I wrong to allow it? | Life and style

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Before lockdown, my 10-year-old daughter slept in her own bed every night without any problems. She is an intelligent, happy girl, albeit a bit shy. She eats well, has good friendships, and loves life. We have talked about coronavirus to try to alleviate any fears she may have, and we are very open; I feel she knows she can talk to me about anything.

However, during lockdown she started to want to be in my bed every night. Her great-grandmother died in January and she says she misses her. I didn’t think she would be affected too badly by her death, because she had met her only a handful of times – so either her death has affected her more than I thought it would, or she is using it as a way to show me she needs me without telling me the real reason.

When I put her to bed in her own room she shouts down to me, asking when I am coming to bed and for a cuddle. When I do go upstairs, I cannot bear to have her feeling upset or alone, so I allow her into my bed. I don’t mind, because I am a single mum. When I was a child, I cried myself to sleep, frightened most nights, because I had unavailable parents. But am I doing wrong? Is it possible she really is grieving for her great-grandmother, or do you think there may be an issue she isn’t talking to me about?

There may be an issue she isn’t discussing, and she may not even be aware of it, or the death of her great-grandmother may have triggered something. How did you handle the death? She may also be worried about you dying, or about you in general. An event like this can be very destabilising, even for adult children.

When children suddenly want to sleep with their parents, it’s easy to think it’s because they are frightened for themselves, but sometimes it’s because they want to keep an eye on their parents. I note you are attending to her needs, but who is attending to yours?

If you are a regular reader, you’ll know I am an advocate of attachment parenting. There is nothing wrong with wanting to comfort your child in the day or the night (I’m always amazed by parents who attend to their child’s every need during the day but feel this shouldn’t extend to night-time, when everything is scarier). But we must also be aware of who we are parenting: our children, or the child in us whose needs were not met when growing up. Because the ultimate aim is to raise children who are independent and feel loved.

I consulted child psychotherapist Alison Roy. She said that allowing your child to sleep with you isn’t an issue per se – many children do this and then return to their own beds when they’re ready – but there are a few things to be aware of.

Talking generally, she said that, “Children might keep getting into bed when certain needs aren’t being understood [and met] during the day.” Roy asked about daytime and what happens. “If you can, try to spend more time with her during the day and be very present when you are with her.” She also asked if you two had had any difficult conversations about grief and coronavirus. You didn’t say what was discussed – did you keep it fairly superficial? When having these conversations (not before bedtime), talk about the practicalities: for instance, what happens if you get ill (other family, support network, etc). Might she also be worried about school?

It can be tempting to avoid mentioning these issues, but remember these feelings don’t go away if they are not discussed; they just fester and come out in other ways. And if you show your daughter you can talk about these things, it shows her how to broach difficult subjects, too.

Roy also suggested a good question to ask is, “How can I help you feel safe at bedtime?” And that when you put your daughter to bed, instead of going straight downstairs, save up some tasks to do upstairs so she can hear you – putting away laundry, say.

So are you doing something wrong? No. But be aware that if allowing her come in to your bed is an easy fix for something else – maybe for both of you – then you do need to dig a little deeper.

• Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

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