I recently chatted with a single mom who works long hours. Her 5 year-old wakes in the middle of the night and climbs into her bed. She wanted some suggestions and some reassurance that the “snuggle time” they got (and the loss of sleep for both of them) wasn’t a bad idea. Her son’s behavior makes perfect sense if you look at things from his perspective. By doing that, I had a suggestion for her that didn’t involve anyone losing more sleep and seemed to make her feel better about her situation.
Her son gets very little time with her during the work week. He is practically still asleep when she drops him at daycare and he doesn’t see her again until 8 pm. This schedule is not going to change due to her job and her commute. A large portion of his desire to snuggle is probably the realization that she isn’t doing anything else ( housework, texting, etc) and so he gets her full attention in the middle of the night. That desire for her undivided attention is not abnormal, and neither is her desire to snuggle with him. The disruption in sleep and the loss of the opportunity to soothe himself back to sleep is the issue.
My suggestion? Carve out an evening period, even 10-15 very specific minutes, for just him. Plan on it, and allow him to plan on it. Make it clear to him by saying something like “This is our time. Nobody can call us, no one can come over during our time. We get to have fun and it is just for us. Even if Grandma calls, I won’t talk to her during our time. She will have to wait until it is over.” Saying this in a serious voice, then proving to him that she means it, night after night, should make him feel like the most important thing in her life. And he is.
When bedtime comes, the rule about going back to his own bed if he wakes and wanders has to be stated too. I would recommend a reminder that the sooner he sleeps, the sooner tomorrow comes and we can have another “our time” at night. He may need some support at first to settle down, but she told me that he generally falls asleep quickly at bedtime. The middle-of-the-night issue has been the problem.
Most children need to have enough activity, enough rest, and enough attention throughout the day in order to manage a successful night. By giving him a small but 100% pure dose of delicious mother love she may just be able to get enough sleep to get through her very full day as well!