A 10-Year-Old Won't Sleep In His Own Bed And Climbs Into His Parents' Bed At Night. What Should Parents Do?

John Walkup, M.D., Johns Hopkins

Question: A 10-year-old cannot sleep in his own bed and climbs into his parents' bed in the middle of the night. How should parents approach this situation?

Answer: When I hear about a 10-year-old who can't sleep through the night and crawls into his parent's bed, I think about a couple of things. There's a group of families in the United States who really believe that its' important to share the parents bed with children at all times.

Through, you know even late stages of childhood development, that this is an important value for closeness and intimacy. On the other hand, many families really don't really want their child in their bed at night and they find this to be a problem that they want to solve.

There's two ways to think about this. The first is that this is a youngster who has problems with their falling asleep ritual. So if this is a youngster who as part of his falling asleep ritual falls asleep in his parent's bed, his father carries him into his bed and then he sleeps through the night, when that youngster wakes up again, he's going to climb back into his parent's bed to replicate, if you will, that falling asleep ritual.

The other cause of this is really separation anxiety. And 8, 9, and 10 is really when separation anxiety hits young people and its very important to understand, that if this is separation anxiety that's causing this youngster to not sleep well and to seek his parents in the parents bed in the middle of the night, to seek a clinical referral.

So again, talk to the pediatrician about getting a mental health referral and make sure that you go and work with a mental health professional who has experience in the treatment strategies for separation anxiety disorder.

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