Mistakes were made.
March 12, 2019 1:40 AM   Subscribe

We have successfully parented our ten-year-old into a kid who cannot fall asleep on her own. Looking for your experiences and ideas. We know this will not go into the Parenting Hall of Fame.

So this became a thing early on. Mr. Anon always sat with her until she fell asleep. It has escalated. Now, a lot of nights, she crawls into our bed at bedtime and stays there. That was snuggly for a few nights in February. Now it's a new prob.

We never did cry it out, and while I appreciate that there are people likely to say 'send her ass to bed and if she comes out yell at her' or whatever, that's just not us so if we could skip that, I'd appreciate it. We aren't going to do that and it would backfire in a huge way, because she would dig in her heels and become hysterical and we would wind up taking three steps backwards.

We tried a lot of things early on, but to be honest I didn't totally feel supported in my 'little bit at a time' efforts. There is (well, was) a part of Mr. Anon that cherished these early childhood moments of reading to her until she fell asleep. I was less enamored of those moments, but she fell asleep quickly enough that it wasn't a big deal.

We are currently trying, for the third time, a carrot approach where if she falls asleep on her own three times this week, she gets a video game accessory she really wants.

So far we are unsuccessful.

Her complaints/the issues:

1. She's scared. I asked of what. She said her room. I said what's the worst that could happen? She said someone could break in. I said our scary barky dog would never let that happen and furthermore, we are very safe. Didn't help.

2. The full length mirror gave her the creeps. We removed it.

3. Her bed did not give her a good view of someone coming into the room. We moved the bed and rearranged the room.

4. The bed is uncomfortable. (We will be adjusting this tonight by putting a couple of comforters on top of her mattress, then the sheet on top of that.) I think sometimes she has been over-heated, so we will also cut down on the top blankets.

5. She is lonely and would rather be with us. I do not have an answer for this. I think it's understandable.

6. We all go to bed and get up at the same time. Upstairs around 8 or 9, read, fall asleep, up around 5 or 6 for the grown ups, she gets up around 7. So there is this group traipsing upstairs that is at this point highly ritualistic. We get into bed, all of our animals join us, we read...okay, I admit it's a little bit fun. But that doesn't mean I want it to continue until she is menopausal.

7. Sometimes it is cramped and I would like to be with my husband and I get overheated and sometimes I just want to rant about the fuckwit president with my husband. Or even have sex!

8, Our bedroom and her bedroom share a wall. We are literally around the corner.

9. We have pets but haven't been successful about getting any of them to stay in the room with her. If we could figure that out, it would be an option but the dog has her preferences and the cats have theirs.

10. She has a flashlight, a really good teddy bear she likes, nightlights, and we'd be fine with her leaving the light on all night if she wanted. She is/would be allowed to read until she passes out if that's what she wants. She has lots of books and enjoys reading.

11. Lastly (sorry) the issue is really more the beginning of sleep and falling asleep on her own. Coming in in the middle of the night happens sometimes but we could live with it. (Last night it took her 1 hr and 45 minutes to fall asleep while Mr. Anon hung out with her in her room.)

Nothing works. 'You're a big girl now' has no impact--she feels no urge to 'prove' she's a big girl. She shrugs stuff like that off like it's water. She knows how old she is.

She understands learning to sleep alone is part of growing up. She feels anxiety and pressure about it, because she doesn't really want to do it but knows she should and I think a part of her wants to, but she can't quite make herself do it.

She is an only child. Her best friend is also an only child and lives the same way. Other friends share rooms with siblings. So there is no one to point to and say 'X does Y' and furthermore she wouldn't care because she's a totally different person.

She's a bit anxious and is seeing a counselor. She is okay with staying home alone while we run to the grocery store or being separated in a store, etc.

She is experiencing some of that pre-teen self-esteem roughness we tend to hear about, but is generally able to articulate her feelings. She's smart, artistic, and has a great sense of humor. She's awesome.

Nonetheless I want my sweet precious angel out of her parents bed.

Any ideas are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried the distance method? That is, fall asleep with her in her bed and then go to your own bed once she’s asleep, and then slowly inch away night by night? So that after a while, you’re on the floor, then halfway across the room, then out of the room? I imagine this might help with gaining independence and confidence in sleeping alone (tends to work for younger kids). Also, has she started having sleepovers yet? I wonder whether social pressure might push her into more independent sleeping. You say her best friend has a similar set up—do they have slumber parties where they can go to sleep without grownup assistance?
posted by stillmoving at 1:51 AM on March 12 [7 favorites]

Can you go away for a week "in an emergency" and leave her with a babysitter who is enough of a stranger to encourage your daughter to sacrifice and go to bed alone? Then you can come back and celebrate how brave she is and then make family bedtime a special occasion for great grades and help in cleaning the house?
posted by parmanparman at 1:56 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

My whole parenting friend group was a family bed, never-cry-it-out, non-Ferber culture. (So was I.) And then everyone had a version of this problem with an older kid. The one thing that worked was getting a twin mattress for the parents' floor. Your kid is old enough to hear that you can't get enough sleep with three in the bed and it's making you feel tired and grumpy and not well in the daytime, and she has to sleep on the floor mattress because you matter too. (This is something to remind yourself is good for her to hear, and not just good for you: you're actually modeling how to take care of yourself by claiming your bed space).
It's much easier to move them from your floor than from your bed back to their own room though it can take a while.
The other thing is that a lot of kids just need a parent to hang out for a while to fall asleep even at age ten. It might be better than having her freak out and insist on sleeping with you. It won't last forever and you get your bed back. She won't be doing that at 13.
Good luck.
posted by nantucket at 2:15 AM on March 12 [37 favorites]

Has she ever been to a sleep-away camp? It could help build her independence (and friend group) while also forcing her to sleep alone. She could even do one over spring break.

Honestly it sounds like you and your husband don't mind the status quo, or at least not enough to overcome the tugs on your heartstrings. So you could just ride it out as is until she becomes and teenager and realizes how totally uncool you guys are.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 2:16 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]

Part of the problem could be that you have made your bed a place where family life happens, not just sleep. This early bed time, that is completely removed from falling asleep, may be contributing to the problem because why wouldn’t she want to be part of that. Would you be open to varying that routine, not move upstairs until you actually want to sleep and chat or read downstairs for example.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:18 AM on March 12 [46 favorites]

This suggestion may seem off-the-wall, but our son was unable to sleep alone his whole life until age 10, when we tried a weighted blanket (his is from here but others are available). Without the blanket, he was anxious every night, and would call out for us for an hour or so after bed time. With the blanket, he falls asleep quickly and easily and says "it's like being snuggled".
posted by beniamino at 2:38 AM on March 12 [35 favorites]

My child had similar problems, and what ended up working for us was setting up a portable DVD player or laptop with a youtube playlist up—I made one that was lots of things like videos of animals, fireworks, light shows, etc. Nothing with a plot or any real excitement, just something that had a calming soundtrack and vaguely entertaining visuals. It was enough of a distraction that they were finally able to self-sooth when they woke in the middle of the night, and could fall asleep without me. They're sixteen now and still listen to music or podcasts while they're sleeping, but they have otherwise normal, healthy sleep in their own bed.

We also bought a weighted blanket, which I don't think would have been enough on its own, but it did seem to be a soothing thing, and might be worth looking into.
posted by mishafletch at 2:43 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Audiobooks or other listening material (comedy?) might help with some aspects.
posted by trig at 2:48 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

I agree with trig. The only way I can fall asleep is by watching or listening to something I know by heart that is just interesting enough to distract me from my brain and its anxiety. For me, it's been TV shows that I've seen a million times and short audiobooks.
posted by bendy at 3:13 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

+1 for the weighted blanket and listening to podcasts or another quiet source of noise. Anxious brains often need something to focus on, and having human voices around helps combat loneliness.

As an anxious kid, I frequently turned my clock radio on low while going to sleep and it helped a lot. I still listen to podcasts and/or “soothing sound” generators from time to time. It’s awesome.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 3:27 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

If you have never read the Ferber book it could be worth your while. Even if you don’t implement the methods in the book my memory is that it talks about how sleep associations and habits are made. Will make you feel more knowledgeable about sleep.

I have used a “gentle” Ferber method and not be in “cry it out” mode and solve some similar sleep problems (I just did this with my anxious kid who is older than yours.)

My method is going in regularly and reassuring. Returning them to their room. Gently and kindly. Reminding them that you are there and will be there. Remind them that they can still fall asleep when they feel scared. So you are still on a team together. The team has a new goal which is training her body to fall asleep.

If any of that sounds like your jam then you can mefi mail me any questions if you wish.
posted by creiszhanson at 3:29 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

On preview I see the podcast recommendation. Our 11 year old daughter does this with her echodot. That part is great because it means no screen or device to get the podcast going.
posted by creiszhanson at 3:31 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

My daughter had slept on her own until her anxiety developed at about this age. The best help to transition her back to her bed turned out to be Bob Ross. She watched him paint in our room for several weeks and then we put a TV in her room. She needed something to focus on, and in her case this worked. Good luck.
posted by saffry at 3:37 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]

Please think twice about tv or youtube: Screens are incontrovertibly bad for your sleep - "Even dim light can interfere with a person's circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect"
posted by smoke at 3:38 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]

Is there something happening in the rest of her life (school, activities, friend drama) that's making her anxious? 10 seems a little old for monsters and boogeymen, unless she's projecting some other fear.

Does she like bedtime stories? The accompanying snuggles might be better than a podcast or show (which has the screen issues smoke mentions). Once she's asleep, go back to your own room.

Please don't send her to sleep away camp if she's an anxious kid. That's not ripping off a band aid, it's pushing her off a cliff. Or at least that's how it'll feel like to her. The slumber party idea is a great one though.
posted by basalganglia at 3:43 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

There is a free app called Insight which has children’s meditations on it. My own 5 year old non sleeper is listening to it right now. It has definitely helped. There is a half hour meditation about a unicorn which is long enough that she falls asleep in the middle of it. Maybe try that one.
posted by Jubey at 3:43 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

I’d ask yourselves whether you’re teaching her—inadvertently, of course—that anxiety should be managed by external changes vs. internal work. The moving the furniture around thing seems a bit too far in the direction of anxiety avoidance, instead of anxiety management. Obviously, no one needs to be calm in every situation! And she’s still quite young. But there’s something to learning that it’s okay to be a little anxious sometimes and that no one else is completely responsible for managing your anxiety for you.

I mean, I get the hysterical crying thing comes from what feels like a genuine place to her but it’s not healthy to have a 10yo and her anxiety completely driving the bus. Sleep may not be where you put your foot down but you gotta put your foot down sometimes or she’ll learn that the only way to manage Big Feelings is to get her way.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:47 AM on March 12 [68 favorites]

Sorry, I should loop that back to the question. Anyway, I think a frank discussion of this situation with her therapist is in order. If it’s something she wants to do, it might be worth having all four of you sitting down and making an action plan for it. And acknowledging that it may be very hard but also that you feel like she can do it, and sticking to that even if she gets really emotive about it. Sometimes as parents we are tasked with the near-impossible: watching our children suffer, knowing we can fix it, but letting it happen. This might be one of those times.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:08 AM on March 12 [15 favorites]

From a very long distance, this isn't routine child-won't-sleep-issue and seems more like a manifestation of the anxiety (I was not surprised to see that as I read down), and needs to be part of the problem list and treatment plan you're developing with the counsellor - unless you clearly flag this as a manifestation of anxiety with them they may not address it.

This is an online CBT program for children with anxiety that developed in Australia so I don't know if it's popular there, but you could have a chat with your counsellor to see if there are any similar online resources locally that they know of or if they think this might be right for your family: http://www.brave-online.com/about-brave-online-program/who-is-brave-online-cbt-for/

"tough love" techniques like going away for a week don't fix anxiety.
posted by chiquitita at 4:22 AM on March 12 [10 favorites]

You sound like such a lovely family! I wouldn't be defensive about this at all.

No real insight here, except that my five year old goes to sleep to a bedtime stories podcast (bedtimestoriesfm). It's great and it makes her feel less alone. When the story goes off, we put on familiar songs.

But I also suspect the real "problem" is the family bedtime, which sounds amazing btw, but would make it hard for her to go to sleep alone when she literally knows her parents are going to sleep right next door. There is no way my kids would tolerate that! I generally say, "I have to go and clean the kitchen" or "Now's when I take a shower" -- i.e., she knows that it's her time to go to bed and my time to go do other stuff that she is not interested in. I'd try hard to find a way to separate "we all go to sleep" from "you go to sleep," though I can see why you'd be reluctant to do so!
posted by heavenknows at 4:39 AM on March 12 [9 favorites]

I think 10 is a great age for her to start taking some ownership of her coping strategies and also to start contributing to family life. So I would give her a timeframe between 3-6 weeks and ask her to come up with a plan, possibly with her counsellor, that results in:

- her sleeping in her own bed, at least until midnight
- a bedtime routine that takes no more of a parent’s time than 10-15 minutes

Then help her implement it.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:46 AM on March 12 [8 favorites]

The other thing I would think about is separating her inability to sleep from your need for adult couple time together. It might be time to start having dedicated alone time for a couple of hours every evening, time in which she is not expected to sleep, but is expected to stay alone and do a quiet activity. After this time, she could rejoin you for sleep. This could get you a lot more of what you want. Expressing your needs is healthy and something important to model for girls, especially.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:50 AM on March 12 [24 favorites]

I think the easiest fix here is bribing the dog. Get some good high-reward treats - like a lot, like one of those bags that has hundreds of them - and train your dog to sleep at the foot of her bed. It is easiest if you put a blanket the size of the dog on it and train the dog to sleep on that spot, after a few weeks you can remove the blanket.
posted by corb at 5:27 AM on March 12 [10 favorites]

I'll just add how it went for us. Eldest daughter had to fall asleep in parents' bed, next to Dad (me), until about age 10. Then I'd carry her to her bed. We tried all sorts of approaches to get her to sleep in her bed, for years, but gave up eventually – it simply became my time to read & listen to music (she also needs music to fall asleep). What made it easier was that her bedtime was earlyish (8–9pm) and she liked my music. I found it a pleasant ritual. (Wife and I go to sleep anywhere from 10-12.)

It ended when we swapped the children's room and my office, and she accepted I couldn't carry her downstairs to her bed. For a month or so I sat in a chair in her room, but made it clear this wasn't comfortable. So she accepted me sitting next door on the sofa which, again, is comfortable reading time for me. That's our current system (she's 11). It helped that the room change was seen as a "growing up" step. I notice her growing more mature in other respects too, but not as a consequence of the sleeping change, rather the other way round.

In summary, everything was nicer when we adapted to what's comfortable for her. It meant bedtimes weren't a battleground, and it wasn't necessary to keep probing her fears. I'm sure I'll cherish it as a phase of childhood that strengthened my bond with my daughter.

Footnote: she has a younger sister, but the presence of her sister in the room (bunk beds) never made a difference. Her sister falls asleep quickly, she always took longer.
posted by snarfois at 5:30 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

I agree that you're kicking her out of fun family cuddle time, which feels lousy. So you can stop having fun family cuddle time, or let her participate in it but disconnect it from sleep entirely.

My son has special bedtime playlists that we curate and he listens to till he's asleep.

I also like the idea of bribing the dog.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:36 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

This was totally me as a kid (yes even at age 10). I was scared of the dark and no amount of night lights or flashlights was going to change that. I went to sleep away camp every year and was fine.

Honestly, getting in my past selve’s head- it totally bullshit that you guys get to share a bed and have all the animal and I’m (your daughter) is expected to sleep alone! My parents were asking me to do something that they didn’t do! Sleep alone! That generally isn’t modeled by adults on tv (or even kids who share a room).

I would definitely try the you sleeping on an extra mattress and getting further away method as well as getting the dog to sleep at the foot of her bed. I would also recommend an audiobook on a sleep timer (if your local library uses the app Libby, it’s freat for that) as that makes me feel like I had people around. This may be different for you all but I’m also not above half (or even a quarter!) of a melatonin gummie to get me to fall asleep occasionally.

Honestly, I think the thing that really stopped me was just starting middle school and dealing it wasn’t a “thing kids my age do” and stopping for that reason.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:37 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

I wasn't quite the same age as your daughter (I was 5 or 6), and we had never done the co-sleeping thing, but at one point I absolutely insisted on my mother sitting with me until I went to sleep. What finally worked for my exasperated parents was giving me one of those microwaveable heat pack things to keep in the bed. I think the sensation helped ground me, if that makes any sense. I never had an issue again, despite being a very sensitive child (and adult, haha).

(FWIW I was definitely Ferberized, and as a very small baby/child had no issues going to sleep in my own bed, so...kids, who knows?!)
posted by peakes at 5:38 AM on March 12

Try checking-in on her periodically. Put in her bed and say, I'll check on you in two minutes. Set a timer for two minutes, and when it beeps, go in and check on her. Then make then next timer for four minutes. When it beeps, go in and check on her. If the time increments need t be really short at first, so be it. Continue lengthening the time as you can, and as the days go by, hopefully you can create longer and longer timers until she falls asleep.

This worked with my child, but he's having a relapse after a school break and other disruptions to his sleeping habits. I need to implement it again. Thanks for the reminder.
posted by Leontine at 5:42 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

We have some of this issue, and also with an only child who totally has a good point that the grownups get to snuggle all night long (I was also this kid, but my mom was a single mom so she just went with it for a really long time). We stopped making our bed the "cozy evening ritual" space and made his room this way instead--we have a rocking chair and his bed, and he and one parent do all the same stuff but not in our room. I think part of the transition even involved using our sheets and blankets since he thought those were cozier, but he's gotten okay with starting bedtime in his room. We stay with him when he falls asleep but enforce a lights out/no more talking time, and have been slowly leaving the room for a few minutes to brush teeth/wash dishes/fold laundry, and occasionally he even falls asleep while we're not in the room! But not usually.

If we wake up and he's in our bed we take him to his room right away. One or the other of us ends up sleeping in his bed occasionally for an REM cycle or two if he wakes up in the night. This is imperfect but it's better than no one getting sleep--it's an intermediate point and it sounds like you might need a few more of those.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:47 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Try one weekend of exhaustion. Leave the house early and stay moving all day, have your meals out, see a late movie and walk home after. Basically make it so she is really looking forward to a rest. I come from a family where everyone listens to talk at night, radio, podcasts, classes whatever. I don't recommend starting that habit. When I was ten I had a thing for Strauss waltzes, maybe find what music works for her. Let her get way over-tired and then sit with her and listen to some music until she falls asleep. Hopefully once you cross the great wall of insomnia a few times she might feel better on her own. Or get her a kitten.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:57 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

n-thng the mattress on the floor or cot in your room approach. Both of my daughters did this at age 10. I told my kids they can sleep on their own in their room, or in my room. They can decide. Now they both (almost) always sleep on their own with no problems at ages 12 and 14. I say almost always because when they are sad or not feeling well, they come back to our room. This actually makes me feel like a parenting win. It means in their chaotic, hormonal middle-school life, they take comfort in me as a parent. In the next few years there is going to be a constant push-pull from your child as she develops into an adolescent. You may find that you like it when she returns at night because she pushed you away all day.
posted by turtlefu at 6:00 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Slightly similar situation. I think a good step is letting her sleep close by but get her used to not sleeping with you. Make her a bug out camp in your room. A cozy spot on the floor with a little flashlight lantern? (For my 5 year old it was a toddler bed at the foot of our bed). That way she gets to come in but gets used to sleeping without a warm body next to her.

(Our schedule for our 11 year old (co-slept, always prefers to be with adult at bedtime) is dimmed red light, still read to him every night, and fireplace sleep sounds while reading and all night.

And when I was justifying co-sleeping to myself (I think it was the right decision) I reminded myself that these kids evolved needing to sleep somewhere safe - close to someone that can protect them. I am not fighting thousands of years of evolution so Ferberize folks are happy (which is the right way for many). So if sending your scared kid out of the cave and into the night at 10 feels weird - I get it! Just make the step of having her sleep in her own spot and I think it's a really big step. I think it will make the next step easier and and that she will be ready for it soon.

Good luck!
posted by beccaj at 6:09 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Just echoing the option of a floor bed instead of getting in bed with you. That has been useful for us. Our five year old really just wants to sleep with someone, and giving him a non adult-sleep-disturbing option has been helpful.
posted by emkelley at 6:24 AM on March 12

Incrementally increase the distance from her bed over the course of 2-3 months. Start sitting on the bed, move to a chair next to her bed, then further away, then in the hall door open, then partially closed. Then check on her every five minutes, then ten, then thirty. The Sleep Lady (sleeplady.com) gave this strategy in her book - our daughter was around 4 when we did it. Please try it.
posted by mzurer at 6:30 AM on March 12

I was one of those anxious kids who was late to sleep through the night on my own, so first of all, reassurance: one way or another it *will* happen. I hope it's sooner, and that this thread helps get you there, but in the worst case scenario at some point she will, on her own, want privacy and will stay the heck out of your bedroom. You will not be still falling asleep every night with your college-age daughter.

The things I'd have suggested (mattress or featherbed on the floor, shake up the Family Bedtime Ritual for everyone, quiet radio playing while she falls asleep, bribe a pet to stay in her room and/or shut the pet in) have already been suggested so I won't belabor them, but those were all part of the eventual Getting Me To Stay In My Damn Room project. They did eventually work, along with the passage of time and some saintly patience on my parents' part.

I should have had a child therapist in retrospect, but did not. Since your kid does, that seems like a really excellent resource that you should take advantage of, and get their advice since they know your specific kid better than we do.

FWIW, I am now a grown-ass 40 year old woman who can sleep in her own bed, with or without a partner or cats (though the cats do help). I maintain a deep attachment to having Exactly The Right Bedding to make my bed good to sleep in, and sometimes if my partner is out of town I play the TV or music very low as a bit of background noise that helps me drift off. It can still be a little hard for me to fall asleep sometimes, but once asleep I sleep like the dead. I'm still anxious as shit but I sleep well and easily if perhaps slightly fussily about my sleep conditions in a way that bemuses my partner but that isn't exactly a hardship for him. (Oh, no! You have to put up with really cozy bedding and a great mattress for my sake! Poor guy.) Your kid will grow out of this! Do what you gotta do to get yourself through this period in a sane fashion, and that may very well include asserting your own need for boundaries and private grownup time and space, but ultimately, this will be a self-solving problem eventually if you don't happen to hit on the right combination of things for your unique kid before then.
posted by Stacey at 6:33 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

This is something that someone in my family worked on with the help of a counselor for the child in question. The family member tried EVERYTHING else in the book with the kid but counseling was the ONLY way. This was a medical, mental health issue that needed to be solved with professional help. I know you said your daughter is in counseling but to what extent are you working on this specific issue?
posted by capricorn at 6:58 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

This was me as a child (I should probably apologize to my parents next time I see them). I don't think there was any one thing that flipped the switch from me sleeping in the family bed to sleeping on my own, but I will repeat what others have said above and that it will eventually happen. Part of my problem was that it did (and still does) take me a long time to fall asleep. So if I was in my own bed I'd lie there and lie there with my thoughts spinning, and eventually say "nope, this isn't working" and then jump back into the family bed. The floor-bed sounds like an excellent compromise, and I'd teach your daughter some relaxation/meditation exercises for falling asleep so she's not ruminating about how much it sucks being alone in her bed. Good luck!
posted by Rora at 7:48 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

There's a lot of great information here, and I won't belabor these points, but I'd encourage you (as some other folks have) to check in with the counselor - it is entirely possible that your kiddo is experiencing real life actual factual insomnia, and it's coming out in "can you move the mirror" "I'm scared of intruders" etc, because she's 10 and she just doesn't know how to say "look, I just can't get to sleep" (which turns into "everyone else is asleep and something might harm me while they're asleep").

I was that kiddo, complete with (what I see now as) unfounded fears about intruders, aliens, witches under my bed (10 is not too old for any of that, especially for what sounds like a bright, thoughtful kid who reads a lot), and it turns out I just had insomnia. Childhood was full of nights staring at the ceiling going "everyone else just passed the hell out, why can't I sleep" (my sisters pass out as soon as they hit the pillow. So does my wife. Bastards. :) ). I've struggled with sleep into adulthood, with real life mental health implications (insomnia and mood disorders have much the same effects, especially when you've been underslept for years). So, not to catastrophize, but check in with your mental health professional about whether this might be "I really can't get to sleep" and not "I know I should, but I'm resisting."

Good luck to y'all and to kiddo - sleep is so important and so hard.
posted by joycehealy at 7:51 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]

Try to think of this as not the same as baby sleep issues. 10 is old enough to worry about big scary things, just like adults do, and plenty of adults have trouble with anxiety keeping them from sleeping.

What helped our kiddo when he had a spell like this was therapy. Once a week for a few months he got to talk to an unrelated adult about what bothered him, and work on coping therapies.

There's the obvious things too, like getting enough exercise and eating better, that you can check. You can also try melatonin.

It will not last forever. She will grow past this.
posted by emjaybee at 8:19 AM on March 12 [3 favorites]

Our daughter slept on a twin mattress in our bedroom from around age 6-9. I never worried about it because I knew it wouldn't last forever. A few months ago she expressed some interest in moving back to her room. We redecorated her room, gave her lots of control over her new space, and now she's happily sleeping in her own bed.

I think this is sort of a developmental thing as kids become a bit more aware and anxiety can develop. I think they just also feel more comfortable close to the family. For millennia, humans shared sleeping spaces. Asking young children to sleep in a room by themselves is a modern convention, far less than a century old.

Your mileage is going to vary of course. Lots of great ideas above. Just find what works for you and your family. Your kid will grow through this.
posted by gnutron at 8:27 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

Reading your post, two things jumped out at me:
1) You and your partner need to get on the same page. If you aren't aligned and ready to 100% commit to consistently follow the same rules, you are not going to get anywhere.
2) John Hodgman has said on his podcast "You will not win an emotional argument with a logical response." Your child is coming from a place of emotion. Trying to "solve" that with logic like moving the bed ain't going to cut it. As someone else said above, it's probably a good idea to talk to a therapist about how she can manage her anxiety (with your help, of course).
posted by dotparker at 9:04 AM on March 12 [6 favorites]

This was us. We have a pretty small house, so he wasn't far away from me either. He was seeing a therapist and they talked about this a bit. Also here's what I did:

*I picked a date and said "on this date, I'm not sitting in here with you any more until you fall asleep. When this day comes, I'll sit in here with you for five minutes. Then I will continue to check on you till you fall asleep." And I did that.

*He required a TON of checking-in-on at first. Like all the time. But I did it, as often as he needed me to. He would either say "check on me in two minutes" or call me in, and I went in.

*When he fell asleep without me in the room I made a huge deal out of it. "WOW I knew you could do it!"

*He has a ton of stuffed animals on his bed (in a very particular order) including some under his bed.

*Sleeps with a light on.

*If he was asleep when I looked in his room, I would mention it in the morning - like "hey, you should have seen how you were sleeping at 11:00 when I checked on you" or "I put your blanket on you in the middle of the night, because it fell on the floor" so he would know I was checking on him even when he didn't ask.

He still doesn't fall asleep right away every night - although he often does just fine - but now I can go about my business. He gets up and goes downstairs and hangs out with his father if he needs to. For me, he can go to sleep when/how he likes, as long as I'm not involved.
posted by lyssabee at 9:17 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

I assume you’ve asked the counselor? What does s/he say? This is, like, exactly what they’re for. We had different issues, but I know that our kids’ therapist helped with sleep issues ALL the time. She had a plan for everything, and would tweak it after each appt depending on what was working. Ask for help there if you haven’t already!!
posted by zibra at 9:36 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Read to her in her bed. No more reading in your bed. Start with a generous amount of time (as timed by an external timer on your phone.) Gradually scale it back to whatever seems reasonable going forward. (Once it's a reasonable amount of time - one chapter, or ten minutes or whatever - you may find you treasure it.)

Remove all the incentives to her getting back out of bed. If she does get back out of bed, don't let her into your bed. Be boring.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:00 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]

I'm also an only child who was never left to cry it out, and was incredibly close with her parents as a child. My mom would read out loud to me every night, and as I got older I would sometimes read to her. One thing my mother did for me when I was pretty young was to actually record herself reading our favorite books. I had audiobooks with my mother's voice reading me Swiss Family Robinson, Peter Pan, Pollyanna, and on and on. I don't remember if this was specifically to encourage me to fall asleep in my own room, as she started doing this when I was maybe 5 or 6, but I think it was. If reading together is part of your family rituals, perhaps something like this might make it easier for her to be in her bed alone.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 10:16 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]

I think points #1 and #3 deserve a longer look. Did she recently see a scary movie or news items about break-ins? Around her age, I was traumatized by the school fire safety film and for months slept with my parents because I was afraid the house would burn while I slept. (We did kind of live in a firetrap, so that fear was not completely unfounded.) But somehow, after a few months, I either found a different distraction or oblivion set in or something, and I just stopped sleeping in their room. But for the meantime, do you have any kind of home security system that would alleviate the fear of someone breaking in?
posted by sageleaf at 11:17 AM on March 12

Agree that moving furniture, mirror etc is too accommodating of the excuses without addressing the head issue. You both want completely separate things so can you have an honest discussion about that? Come up with a family plan like anything else? Say, we start with 2 days a week you sleep on your own, because we need evening time. We can snuggle the next day. Rather than all or nothing from the start.

Distractions are great. If you don’t want tv then a fish tank with a light on is also very calming!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:04 PM on March 12

When I was young, I had a lot of the same fears of someone breaking in. Every night, my parents would promise me that “nothing bad will happen tonight.” Like, solemnly promise, every single night. Now, I realize (and realized then, too) that that’s not actually something they have control over or can promise, but I trusted them and hearing them say it helped. I also had a bunch of stuffed animals and I would arrange them over myself so I was “hiding” and if anyone did break in, it would just look like a bed full of stuffed animals.
posted by Weeping_angel at 1:25 PM on March 12

Progressive relaxation (focusing in the sensations in my feet, then ankles, then calves, etc.) puts me to sleep so fast, even when my mind is racing or I'm worried about something. Body awareness techniques are useful for anxiety as well, might be worth discussing with the counselor.
posted by hannahelastic at 1:33 PM on March 12

I think you have some great ideas. Just another couple of weeks points to consider.

Have you thought about getting another dog that would be hers entirely? She picks, trains, bonds and the dog sleeps in the room?

Also, I was always against crying it out. Then my son wasn't sleeping still. The approach that I used was not at all about yelling at him (which perhaps you meant more as a turn of phrase anyway). Instead, I set some new expectations. This is what we are doing and this is why. I actually did full extinguish where you don't go back at all because I was that over everything, but Ferber recommends checking at regular, decreasing intervals. When you check, you are loving. You are supportive. I adapted Lansbury style attachment stuff and would say I know you really want us to do x instead. I know you're sad and scared, but we love you and we are right there in the next room and we believe in you.

I just share that because there's more humane ways to approach sleep training than I realized until the bad habits had gotten to a point I became open to it.

I agree that the parents should think about changing the ritual. Don't go to your room until after she is going to to sleep in hers. Move family quiet time to right after dinner.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:59 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]

Is she getting enough exercise? That can be a useful way to manage anxiety, and it sounds like anxiety is driving her inability to get to sleep.

It might also be good to move family cuddle time out of the bedroom and into the living room downstairs, even if it means going to bed just slightly later, just to break the association between your loving attention and your bed.
posted by mai at 4:29 PM on March 12

Stop blaming yourself. I was and still am a terrible sleeper, despite the fact that my parents went full Ferber when I was very little. My brothers are amazing sleepers. One of my twins is amazing, the other is a lot like this, despite the fact that we treated them alike as babies.

I read a lot of books about how sleep works as an adult, and it really crystallized that some people just are poor sleepers, and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. It might be just how she is.

Read up on sleep and sleep hygiene with her. Let her read the books too. Sleep is also incredibly succeptible to the placebo effect, so add things like pillow spray if she likes it.

Good luck!
posted by Valancy Rachel at 5:24 PM on March 12

A couple transitional suggestions:

-Instead of just sending her to bed, institute some kind of ritualized bedtime routine and put her to bed. You can still read to her at that age — old classics like Treasure Island are pretty soporific. (And you can do pirate voices.) Or other YA fiction — but I'd pick something stodgy bc boring and sleepy. Slim down the routine as she gets more comfortable. Yes, this will likely become work and start to suck before you can retire it completely, but it's still better.

-Stay up after she goes to sleep so she feels safe, and so she can't come get in bed with you. As you're not there. At least until she stops inventing reasons to see if you're really still up. Yes, this will kinda suck too, but probably won't last as long.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:48 PM on March 12

Have you read the book Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene? I feel like the collaborative problem solving approach in that book might be helpful.

I wrote a bunch of thinking aloud type stuff, because (as a parent to a co-sleeping three year old, among other reasons), I am sympathetic. But I'm not sure I have much to add beyond what that book says and some of the other ideas here. Best of luck.
posted by slidell at 7:38 PM on March 12

I’ve been there! We used a wonderful workbook to deal with some of these issues: What To Do When You Dread Your Bed. Highly recommend. We also use a small dose of melatonin if our kid is having trouble falling asleep (at our pediatrician’s recommendation).
posted by Empidonax at 7:43 PM on March 12

We're working with our kid on this right now. It's hard. He wants snuggles! We've set up a schedule for which nights he sleeps in his bed and which nights he sleeps in our room -- this is a slow transition. Regardless of where he sleeps, we aren't snuggling him to sleep anymore. This is from a book that I can't remember the name of, unfortunately, but it has to do with needing to re-train his sleep associations. So, for our kid, we're sitting very close to him while he falls asleep instead of in bed with him. Mostly this involves listening to him yell that he's scared over and over again until he falls asleep, calmly re-asserting, "I'm here. You're safe," the whole time. And lots of validation: "I know learning to fall asleep by yourself is a new skill. I am confident that you can do it, and I will be here to support you while you learn this new skill." As this eases up, we'll start moving farther away from him -- very, very slowly -- until we're no longer in the room. (I say we: my spouse and I do not do this together; we take turns.)

Your mileage may vary; your family is different. This is what's working for us so far, to get a little bit of sanity and adult time in the evenings. I have another friend who had an issue very similar to yours, and the only thing that worked was making the dog sleep in the same room as her kid. I wish you luck!
posted by linettasky at 10:55 AM on March 13

This is the book! It's aimed at parents of babies, but has a section on older kids that I found extremely valuable for our situation.
posted by linettasky at 10:59 AM on March 13

This may be an unpopular answer, but maybe this is a good opportunity to teach her to tolerate bad feelings. You could pick a CBT for kids workbook and talk about some of the different strategies for managing bad feelings (progressive relaxation, thought substitution, etc. come to mind, but there are lots more). She can choose the ones that don't sound too awkward to her and make sense for who she is, so she has some choice in the process.

It's okay to be stressed. As parents, we don't have to protect our kids from all stress, we just need to get them ready to be adults who can cope with the stressors they will inevitably encounter in life.
posted by unstrungharp at 1:21 PM on March 13

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