Help for the loneliest kid you ever saw.
January 27, 2015 10:03 AM   Subscribe

My five-year-old gets really sad, every single night, about the fact that he has to sleep alone. How can we help him?

My son is very social and extroverted and has hated being alone, especially at bedtime, since he was a baby. For the first few years of his life, my husband or I would lay down next to him until he fell asleep, but it could take hours and everyone was miserable. We finally got him to start going to bed on his own when I got pregnant, but it still takes him a long time to wind down and there are endless stalling tactics. For the past few months now, he whines/cries every night about how terribly unfair it is that he has to sleep alone when I get to sleep with daddy and his baby brothers (15-month-old twins) get to sleep together. I'm not usually vulnerable to the "it's not fair!" whining of little kids, but seeing him sob about how lonely he is at night is breaking my heart. I'm not opposed to him sleeping with us in theory, but the time I spend reading or watching tv in bed before I pass out is the only thing keeping me sane sometimes, and anyway, his little body somehow manages to take up our entire king size bed and we spend the evening clinging to edge of the bed and trying not to get kicked in the face.
Does anyone have any suggestions for handling this or helping him?
posted by logic vs love to Human Relations (46 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered a cat?
posted by corb at 10:09 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: We have two, but he's allergic so they aren't allowed in his room.
posted by logic vs love at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2015

Get a dog.

That dog will be your kid's best friend for years, and at 5 he's old enough to do some basic dog care, which will teach him some responsibility, too.

If your family can't swing a dog, then some other kind of pet (fish in a lit aquarium, or maybe a hamster since they're nocturnal and your kid can fall asleep watching it play in its cage).

My childhood would have been a lot less lonely if my parents had let me share it with an animal.
posted by phunniemee at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2015 [36 favorites]

Can he share a room with his brothers? Can he sleep on a twin mattress on your floor, rather than in your bed? Can you make a one-night-a-week treat of sleeping as a family, in your bed or camping out on his floor or everyone falling asleep in the living room and then taking him to his bed? Can you give him a monitor where he can hear you in your room (before you go in an turn it off in an hour or two)?

Remember the Mommy Mantra - "It's just a phase".
posted by vignettist at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Can he share a room with his brothers?
posted by katemonster at 10:16 AM on January 27, 2015 [8 favorites]

Would sounds maybe help? Since I was very small I have been comforted by the sound of a loved one watching t.v. in the other room while I was going to sleep.
posted by CheeseLouise at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2015

Best answer: Put all the kids together? We had to move our 12 month old into his 4 year old big brother's room for what we thought would be a few nights but to our surprise they loved being together. It make bedtime a little more complicated (the baby goes to bed first and an hour later when it's time for big brother's bedtime, pajamas and stories have to take place in mommy and daddy's room. Then we sneak into his dark room and tuck him in while his brother sleeps) but it's working great. The baby actually started sleeping better once he was in his brother's room. Admittedly it might be substantially more complicated to do this with twins.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2015 [10 favorites]

Oh yeah, the other thing to suggest might be a reverse baby monitor setup so that he can hear you puttering around while he goes to sleep.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:18 AM on January 27, 2015

Could you keep his door open?
posted by royalsong at 10:27 AM on January 27, 2015

Nthing a dog, then. It does seem kind of shitty if everyone in the house gets cuddles AND cats and he's the only one who's totally solo and can't even pet the cuddly friends in the house.
posted by corb at 10:29 AM on January 27, 2015 [24 favorites]

Buying a dog seems like a big commitment to sign up for in response to what seems like a temporary problem. Putting him with the twins seems like a better option. My two girls starting sharing a room when they were roughly those ages. They are now 3 and 7 and both are still very happy with the arrangement.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:35 AM on January 27, 2015 [17 favorites]

I had odd going-to-sleep anxieties when I was a kid (I had a lot of "missing out" anxiety especially), and my mother finally gave in and let me play books on tape, which is probably why now I cannot listen to an audiobook and lay down at the same time, or I'm gone in 2 minutes. I listened to the same few tapes over and over, so they became extra soothing.

If you wanted to go the extra mile, you and his other parent (heck - grandparents, friends, relatives who don't live nearby) could record yourselves reading or telling stories for him to listen to. That could be a thing that's very special for alone-bedtime, only for him (maybe one day he will choose to hand these recordings down to his brothers), so he knows that all these people are thinking of him but also want him to get lots of healthy sleep.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is why I had to share a room with my brother for 10 years. He never grew out of it btw, his entire life he only lived alone for one summer and he hated it.
posted by fshgrl at 10:48 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Isn't this kind of the whole point of teddy bears or [insert stuffed animal/creature]? You can have your kid name it and give it a story to make it more person-like and make him feel like he's not alone.
posted by greta simone at 10:55 AM on January 27, 2015 [14 favorites]

Teddy Bear.
posted by Carol Anne at 10:55 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would make his bed a really fun place for him to be.

Like, if he likes camping at all, I would set the bed up with soft flannel sheets, put a tent over part of the room, add some twinkle lights and maybe some crickets from a noise machine, and a hibernating teddy bear. Of if he likes space, I would set up the bed to look like a spaceship.
posted by mochapickle at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bigger bed?

Have him sleep at the foot of the bed?

Spare mattress on the floor?

Kids sleeping alone is, when you think about it, unnatural. It's nice for parents, if you can make it work, but of course kids find it terrifying to be alone in the dark.
posted by musofire at 11:10 AM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

The best solution is to have all three boys sleep in the same room. More room in the bed (and privacy!) for you and hubby.
Oh, and nothing wrong with adding a teddy bear and/or tank of fish. The squeaking wheel of a hamster's cage was soothing when I was a kid.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:18 AM on January 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I like the ideas above about dogs and all the kids sleeping together, but just to throw something else out there -- if you're willing, you could stay in his room but use a laptop with headphones, backlit e-reader, or turn on a small lamp while you read a book. You could also set a time limit, like you'll be there for no longer than half an hour. I do this with my kid. He's comforted and I don't mind sticking around since I'd probably just be zoning out with my laptop anyway. (Just to clarify -- not physically in bed with him, but in a chair/on the floor.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 11:22 AM on January 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get him a nice mat he can sleep on in the twins' room. I had to do this for my youngest. Bed Bath & Beyond sells twin size memory foam mats that are comfortable enough for a kid (at least my kid) to sleep on and rolls up easily in the closet.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:34 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe there's something about his room that is anxiety-producing for him. Could you flip his room with another room in the house?
posted by vignettist at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2015

There are a lot of good ideas so far. Another one is to promise you'll check in on him every 10 or 15 minutes or so after his bed time. And then do it of course, at least until he's sound asleep.
posted by Leontine at 11:40 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does your son have any sense of being the older one? With his very own room? We have sometimes used that "older kid" status to cultivate and motivate some some transitioning in our house.

Older kids get this, babies have to do that. Mommy and Daddy sleep together because they are married (but would love to have their own bedrooms!), the babies are just babies and have to sleep together because they are babies. Big boys like you get to have their own room and their privacy and a place for their toys and alone time when they want it. Make it "a big thing" and more special by buying him some "big boy" things for his room.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:02 PM on January 27, 2015

Agree with posts that suggest allowing your son to sleep with the babies if he prefers. I think getting into the habit of your having to be in the room with him, however, isn't such a good idea (I fell into that with my son and it took forever for him to learn to sleep alone -- he's our only kid).

I feel differently from Grinxtdr, however. I think that's deceptive. I'm married and don't wish to sleep alone. The babies don't have to sleep together because they're babies, but, rather, because they're twins and get to sleep with a sibling.

Imposing the "big boy" thing when he's actually a scared little boy would not be a good idea, in my opinion.
posted by DMelanogaster at 12:07 PM on January 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

To clarify, you would not impose the big kid thing by any means (which is why I asked up front if he has a sense of that older kid status). If it's not something that the kid already cares about, it wouldn't work anyway. That's only for kids who are motivated by that sort of thing, "I'm older, I do different things than younger kids."
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:17 PM on January 27, 2015

Teddy Bear.

posted by Thorzdad at 12:19 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Poor little guy! I'd be bummed to if I was him. Nthing sleeping with his brothers in a big puppy pile (actual puppies optional).
posted by pennypiper at 12:33 PM on January 27, 2015

How about a bubbling fish tank with overhead light? Just make the tank big enough so the fish don't overheat.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:35 PM on January 27, 2015

Best answer: We're going through the same thing with our four year-old. His 18 month brother wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to sleep in our bed [which we are working on stopping] and our 4 year-old feels left out. I am loving the book Too small for my big bed which is helping. However, he does share a room with his little brother so once we manage to get the 18 month-old to stay in his bed all night he won't feel so left out so maybe try a combo of the book and a mattress in the twins' room?
posted by biggreenplant at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2015

Does he have separation anxiety or abandonment issues? I have always enjoyed being alone (probably because being alone = no issues triggered) until I actually started living alone in my twenties, which was awful and hit me very out of the blue. If he does have these issues and they persist over the next few years, maybe you should try addressing them instead of working around them?
I do agree, however, that not liking to sleep alone is not unnatural. After all, it's fairly recent in human history. That said, he should, after a certain age, at least be able to.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:45 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

My brother spent a few years sleeping on the floor in my parents' bedroom around that age. It sounds like you need some time to yourself at night, but perhaps it would be possible for your son to go to sleep on your bedroom floor at his normal time, you have your reading/tv time on the couch, and then you go to the bedroom just to sleep.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:10 PM on January 27, 2015

I had a fishtank around this age, and it was really surprisingly comforting. I loved having the glowy light at night and watching them swim around. I also had a dog and several big soft stuffed animals, so definitely see if he would like to try having a fishtank and/or cuddly friends in the bed with him!
posted by barnone at 1:12 PM on January 27, 2015

Does he have stuffed animals? I am an only child (and my room was way down a hallway) and I always slept with my bed crammed full of animals. Now when my fiance is gone I pile stuffed animals in the bed.

Also my parents always made a big show of saying goodnight to "everyone." I seriously remember them saying "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite, and that includes everyone." (I had a zillion stuffed animals all over the room so it wasn't practical for them to name every one.)
posted by radioamy at 1:20 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not sure if this would help in this case since it doesn't involve cuddling, but when I was a kid and didn't like falling asleep alone, my mom would sit near the foot of my bed doing paperwork or something quiet on her own.

The deal was that there would be NO interaction, no talking (save for some emergency) just me falling asleep and my mom sitting (not on the bed) doing her own thing.

When I started babysitting I did something similar with the kids - I sat on the floor in the doorway between their room and the hall, doing homework.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:27 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

NThing dog if you can make it work. Our 11 yr old poodle mix (no shedding) and my 7 yr old son have slept in a pile together since the boy left his crib. It is the sweetest thing and he sleeps like a rock. She (the pup) will come let him know when she's ready for bed, always around his bedtime, and they hop in bed. Now that he's older, he'll read for 20 minutes or listen to a podcast but nods off fast. Dogs and boys are the best combo.
posted by pearlybob at 1:28 PM on January 27, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great suggestions so far! He helped make his Very Special Big Boy Bed when we switched his room to prepare for the babies, and he has an endless supply of stuffed animals including a Very Special Bedtime Buddy we made at the build-a-bear place on his last birthday, but they haven't helped a bit. We've considered having him share a room with the babies or sleeping on a mattress near our bed, but he specifically wants someone to cuddle with him, so I don't know if that will work...but it's probably worth a shot.

He doesn't have any separation anxiety in general (he couldn't say bye to me fast enough on his first days of preschool/kindergarten/whatever, the little stinker), he just REALLY doesn't like being alone. On the times we have tried to stay with him in bed, he seems to take even longer to fall asleep because he just wants to talk forever ("Just one more thing! This is the last thing, I promise!" times infinity). But maybe keeping him company in his room while reading on my own quietly would help.

Otherwise, I guess we'll...throw a bunch of animals in his room and shut the door? That should do it. (We're seriously considering a dog, but worried he might develop allergies to dogs too.)
posted by logic vs love at 1:30 PM on January 27, 2015

They get a giggle, usually, but they make these pillows that're shaped like a curved arm and part of a torso? It's treated like a gag for lonely single adults, but I've noticed sometimes when my anxiety is in high gear that I sometimes wake up turned sideways--with my reading pillow behind my back. I think some of those sensory inputs are hard-coded as "safety" kinds of signals. What he's going to find comforting will probably best be something to figure out by observing how he interacts with others. Sound, stuffed animals, could fill the same niche. If he's the sort to like firm hugs, you might find he likes a weighted blanket, although they've kind of expensive to just try. (Does he like the sensation of having a bunch of blankets piled on, even if it gets too warm? I guess that'd be the best indication.) Some people need an environment free of stimulus to sleep, but other people really need some level of input or they go crazy. All that extrovert stuff suggests that he might be a kid who needs a higher level of baseline input.
posted by Sequence at 1:32 PM on January 27, 2015

From what you're saying, his sleeping alone was a new thing that happened when his new siblings came along, too, which might have made it extra difficult--dealing with mom and dad's time being subdivided by TWO new brothers PLUS having to get yourself to sleep alone is hard! You might try reading Siblings without rivalry for general advice on approaching this kind of conflict. Generally the writers advise against doing the whole "this is what you get because you are the BIG sibling," which can lead to regressive behavior as older siblings try to get their needs met, and then resentment as little siblings get older and get big boy beds and such, too.

When your son says "It's not fair," take it as him communicating his needs to you. It's not really about what the little siblings get (fair isn't always equal, after all, and he'll never have a twin to share bedtime with). It's about what he needs, as an individual. I'd talk to him about it: "You really liked having mommy or daddy lie down with you at night, huh? It must be difficult to fall asleep alone now. What would help you?" And then together, you can brainstorm what he needs to be able to go to bed peacefully.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:46 PM on January 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

I recommend just keep the status quo and stay strong. Honestly, there are all sorts of things that my kids want and don't get, and if I just present a strong, calm, kind, firm demeanor about it, they accept it as the way it is. Sounds like you are of the same mindset.

Sleeping alone in a room is really what is best for a restful sleep, IMO. I'm a fan of silent dark for sleeping, and I've encouraged my children to appreciate that as well. I think it allows them to go to sleep faster and relax more without distractions. I think stuffed animals are great--for my needy son, he has maybe 20 in bed with him which means that when he wakes in the middle of the night, he's not screaming "WHERE'S PUPPY?!" which as been a problem in the past.

Good luck. Sleep is so important for kids and parents!
posted by tk at 4:40 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

My kid, an only child, had this problem. I tried to tough it out, her dad overruled me and said he'd stay with her until she fell asleep until she was 20. And he practically had to (me, too).

So consider an experiment in which you or hubby cuddles with him for 10 minutes and then gets up to leave and checks on him every 10 minutes until he's asleep. No talking, just checking.

Learning to go to sleep alone is an important skill. If my advice doesn't work, then you've got a bunch of other great suggestions.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:39 PM on January 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Tricky situation! You sound like the right balance of compassionate + practical. I like Bella Donna's suggestion above. Playing CDs helped my kid a lot (we sampled tons from the library and my collection. She likes Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, Frozen soundtrack). Also, would you consider bribery? E.g., if he falls asleep solo then the next morning he gets some kind of treat: a pencil, toothbrush, new socks, stickers, etc. Stuff you may have given him anyway. But only if you are willing to keep it up..and possibly use it on the other siblings when they get older. Good luck!
posted by leslievictoria at 7:47 PM on January 27, 2015

This sounds sibling related to me. What a tremendous adjustment he's made, becoming a big brother to two TWINS. I know my 4-year-old (with an 18-month-old brother) had a resurgence of sibling issues (similar to post-new-baby issues) when his brother became more mobile. It was a twofold problem: First, my attention was diverted more strongly, because I was trying to keep the baby out of trouble, and Second, the baby was getting into his stuff all the time -- suddenly he couldn't build a castle out of blocks, or leave his water at the table, or sit quietly in the living room without his brother getting involved. This re-emergence of siblings jealousy stuff happened both when the baby learned to crawl and when the baby learned to walk. One form it takes is whininess, fearfulness, and regression. I wonder if your child might be going through something similar? What kind of attention has he been getting from his parents during the day/not at bedtime? If he doesn't feel like he's getting enough love and attention, it'll be even harder for him to separate at bedtime. I *know* this is hard with three kids, and even harder if both parents work, but I wonder whether ten minutes of focused parent time/day would help. At the AhaParenting blog they call it Special Time -- ten minutes of one-on-one parent-child time every day with no siblings, phones, or any other distractions.

Good luck. Your kiddo sounds sweet.
posted by linettasky at 8:28 PM on January 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I adore dogs, and I love dogs in families, but please don't assume a dog will gravitate towards kids, especially young ones. Dogs often hang with the feeder and walker, so often a parent.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:17 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Last year, when my son turned 5 and I was sick of sharing the bed with him (for all the obvious reasons), we had it all planned and he was actually game for it. We did a bribe sort of thing, he got a coveted toy for making it to a target of three weeks. He understood this was not over after three weeks but was ok with it.

But then like at the beginning of the third week of him sleeping alone in his own bed, one evening as I kissed him good night he sobbed and I asked him what was up, and his reply was so similar to your son's: I cry because now I will be lonely in my bed every night for the rest of my life!
I nearly joined him in crying. I was devastated. The guilt and all for wanting my own space in my own bed (my husband has his own bed room for medical reasons) and my eveing to myself...
Spontaneously I blurted out: but you will have a friend to share your bed when you are old enough for that. Wrong thing to say, as he asked how long, and I had to honestly say with 17 or 18... so wrong answer. He is good at math. That evening I joined him in his bed.

He has never particularly cared for stuffed animals, although he has some lovely ones. But then he never went for substitutes - he hated/rejected his pacifier as a baby. So that was out. So were pets - my husband does not want animals in the house, so no opition.

This is a year later, and he continued to sleep alone in his own bed, what worked for us was this:
his single bed is now in my bedroom (space permitted it, looks a bit like furniture srage but I can live with it). This may not work at all for you.
We made a list of all the advantages of him FOR HIM (not me) of sleeping in his own bed. It was surprising for me to.
Among the advantages he found were:
he can take off his pyjama without me noticing.
He can play with himself (this was one of the main reasons I wanted him out of my bed - I felt it was wrong him lying next to me playing with himself, and although it was not often I disliked it immensly and it was hard to explain to him why I disliked it, as to him it is not (yet) a sexual thing, only self comfort)
He can lay across the bed, dangling his feet, kicking
he can sleep upside down with feet on pillow
He can put his finger up his nose unnoticed
etc etc, you get the drift. We listed all the stuff he did in my bed which drove me batty as the things he can now do without me complaining.

Also, I bought him a hot water bottle (one of those in a fleece liner), which he likes to cuddle in his arm.
I told him this was a special treat for those not sharing a bed.

In addition he is allowed to listen to an audio book (of the soothing variety), but not on a loud volume. This works fine because he actually always chooses the same ones over and over and puts him to sleep. If he is still awake once the CD ends (not often), I wll lay down with him briefly to cuddle and it is only minutes because he already is alsmost asleep from listening.

He is allowed to join me in my bed if he is scared and so far has not abused it.
And in early morning, maybe 6am or so he can join me in bed, or if my husband is home daddy, to enjoy the last hour before getting up.

Now I have it easy, I only have one child, so I hope you find somethign that works among all the excellent tips above. Just wanted to elt you know you are not alone with this!
posted by 15L06 at 1:28 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

One thing that worked for me as a kid was being permitted to read with a bright flashlight in bed. I couldn't read great but I'd curl up with a big collections of Peanuts and muddle through. It was like having friends around. Worth a shot if he's starting to learn how to read!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:24 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

On the times we have tried to stay with him in bed, he seems to take even longer to fall asleep because he just wants to talk forever ("Just one more thing! This is the last thing, I promise!" times infinity). But maybe keeping him company in his room while reading on my own quietly would help.

This is where you have to be a bit of a hardass. He's 5, he's smart, he's capable of logic. You tell him that you can stay with him for up to X minutes after lights out, but only as long as he stays quiet as a mouse.

If he talks to you, you will have to leave, because {choose the reason more likely to resonate with him}
a. You have some very important work to do and he is interrupting you
b. It seems you are keeping him awake

If he's not asleep within X minutes, you explain (in advance), you'll check on him every 10 minutes afterwards (and then 10 can become 15 etc etc).

Basically, make your presence contingent on his following the ground rules. But of course explain and discuss and negotiate the rules in advance when everyone is calm.
posted by telepanda at 7:00 AM on January 28, 2015

« Older Breast Reduction (New Zealand)   |   Need Suggestions for Men's French Cuff Shirts Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.