For many moms, getting your toddler to fall asleep can be a long, daunting process that never completes. You spend hours upon hours—upon hours—helping your child drift off to dreamland, only for them to wake up crying, forcing you to try all over again. You use all different types of techniques you’ve read in parenting books.
But, for some kids, all they need is their mama to lie next to them, even if that means you’re frustrated and drained.
Whether or not you should stay with your kids until they fall asleep is a hotly debated topics among experts and parents. Some say that laying with your kids will hurt their sense of independence. Others believe it will help forge a closer bond.
Or, in some cases, there isn’t much of a choice at all: As certified sleep specialist Rachel Gorton said for Motherly when her son began having trouble falling asleep, “I could let go of the expectation that my son should be a completely independent sleeper. Or I could continue to allow myself to feel frustrated that he wasn't responding the way I wanted.”
But what do researchers say about lying down with your kids until they fall asleep? It seems the opinions are mixed.
According to the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, one of three common sleep problems in young kids is the need for help falling—and staying—asleep. This could mean lying down beside them or driving them around in your car in order for them to catch some shut eye.
The child, in turns, learns to associate the person or activity with going to sleep, thus “becoming their pillow,” and may be unable to fall asleep if their “pillow” is missing.
This is known as “sleep-onset association,” according to experts at the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.
Your child may want you next to them because they love you or because they’re scared or worried. Scour the internet, though, and you find other experts who say teaching your kid to sleep on their own, and to self-soothe, is vital to their growth and development. There’s a concern that children will become dependent, and unable to function on their own.
But that’s not necessarily true: Research shows attachment is not harmful to your child. According to a 2012 study published in the Korean Journal of Pediatrics, sensitive and responsive parenting helps your kid become more confident, more independent, more stable and more secure.
Conversely, the authors of the 2012 study suggested parents who are detached—both at bedtime and otherwise—limit opportunities for exploration and inhibit their kids’ ability to “develop their potential and stable personalities.”
This, of course, isn’t to say that every parent can or should lie down with their kid until they fall asleep. That may not be what’s best for that family. But, as Gorton said from both her professional experience and experience helping her son re-establish better sleep habits, you just have to follow what your loving heart says is best for your child.
“It’s reminded me of the crucial role I play in my son's life, not just at bedtime but as the person who gives him confidence throughout life. I am his constant,” she said. “I am the person he looks to when he is scared. My child simply feels safe with me. So for now, I can give him the peace of mind that all is well, that he can relax, that he can breathe deeply and go to sleep.”
Embracing that truth, mama, will help everyone have sweet dreams.