Updated: Aug 24, 2022
In this FAQ series, we asked clinical psychologist Catherine Gallagher “is it wrong to let my child sleep in my bed if they can’t sleep in their own?”
There are very few parenting decisions that are “completely wrong”. When we consider this situation, it is entirely based on the circumstances which you find yourself in. If, in fact, having your child sleep in your bed will help them get a good night's sleep, help you feel slightly more in control, then yes, sometimes letting them sleep in your bed can be exactly the right thing you need to do. Particularly if it has been an unsettling time, they're feeling unwell or something's happened that has frightened them.
The challenge comes when that pattern becomes established. You yourself will know when that behavior becomes more of a regular occurrence. This is when it can be so well entrenched that children can learn that it's not safe for them to sleep in their own bed. As parents, we may say to ourselves that they'll grow out of that eventually, but the worry is that they won't. In fact, they can get used to the idea of feeling safe and secure in your bed, and their own bedroom can start to feel like an unsafe place. Perhaps that is the narrative that their worried brain is telling them.
The good news is we can do something about this. The not so great news is that as the parent, you are going to have to actually decide. When you've had enough, or you are ready to help them to sleep in their own bed, you will have to be really clear in your own mind about it, because it has the potential to be very challenging. You are going to have to take a deep breath, understand what is going on, and then create a plan. Be sure to factor into that plan that you are likely to have some pretty unsettled times while you support them back into their own beds. Whether that is in one fell swoop or in a graded exposure situation, you'll get them there, but it might take some time, and a little persistence!