I keep finding a small man in my bed
December 9, 2006 10:46 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's 5-year-old son insists on climbing into bed with us in the morning.

He says that he's cold. He says that he's scared. These things are probably true, although he didn't start coming into our bedroom every morning until recently.

He tries to sneak in but he wakes me up every time. I have to get up early for work but he tends to come in before my alarm goes off. I've got TMJ (I grind my teeth in my sleep) and once I'm woken up, I'm up for the day. So if I haven't gotten much sleep by the time he comes in then I'm screwed for the rest of the day.

Although I met him (the son) about a year ago, my boyfriend doesn't have custody of him and so we don't see him too often (about a week out of every month). I don't feel comfortable sharing a bed with him and I'm not entirely sure that it's appropriate to do so anyways.

Even more background: 3 months ago my boyfriend and I had a son whose crib is in our bedroom. We imagine that this has played a huge part in his 5-year-old's newfound desire to visit us in the morning (he's very smitten with his new little brother). Also, my boyfriend and I believe that his son's mother recently moved her boyfriend in and therefore no longer shares a bed with their son, as she'd done for the past couple years.

What can we do to help my boyfriend's son to stay in his room until it's a reasonable time to wake up? During his visits I suffer through days on end getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night. We hope to have a solution by the time he visits again, which should be in a couple of weeks.

We have a dog who would probably help with the "scared" issue but he doesn't prefer kids and will always choose to sleep with me instead of with the son. I'm glad to provide the son a space heater to help take care of the "cold" issue. He already sleeps with his bedroom light on and the door wide open.

I know that this is an age-old conundrum, but I've found surprisingly little help in previous AskMiFi posts (most of those relate to getting infants/toddlers to sleep through the night). Any advice is appreciated.
posted by mezzanayne to Human Relations (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have the lights on in your bedroom? Maybe he's coming into your room to get away from the damn light.

This is not as sarcastic as it sounds, honest. Why is it that he insists on having the light on in his room? Perhaps that has something to do with it.
posted by rossination at 10:53 PM on December 9, 2006

Be generous, if you can - it's the room where his half-brother is
posted by growabrain at 10:55 PM on December 9, 2006

It sounds like he feels like he's missing out on some family closeness...he'll stay in his own bed if you give him some TLC when he's up and awake, so he doesn't feel like he needs to sneak in some cuddling while you're sleeping.
posted by SassHat at 11:03 PM on December 9, 2006

Why don't you try locking your bedroom door?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:38 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's pretty normal behavior. Why does his presence make you feel uncomfortable? If you really hate it, walk him back to his room, tuck him in and soothe him back to sleep. Yes, you are still up for the day, but you were anyway and you may be helping to reduce his rewards for coming into your room early. Mix that with a rule on when he can come in, like after 6 AM. He has a clock doesn't he? You can also offer him rewards for making it until the required time (rewards are better than punishments).
posted by caddis at 11:54 PM on December 9, 2006

How about when he visits, you sleep in another room so you can get a full night's sleep? It's just, it seems to me that this little boy has had a lot of disturbance in his life lately. His dad has a new lady, his mum has a new man, his dad even has a new kid who gets to stay with him all the time, and he doesn't get to sleep with anyone any more, and everyone else does.

So, yeah, maybe it's inconvenient, but I think it's possible that this little boy is lonely and worried and this gives him a closeness he might not be able to access otherwise.

Also, as he enters the schooling system (i'm not sure of the ages this happens where you are), the old "oh, big boys who go to school don't do this" is usually quite effective in changing behaviour.
posted by b33j at 12:30 AM on December 10, 2006 [6 favorites]

I am sorry to be the nth one not answering your question in the way you like, mezzanayne, but having all the family cuddling in the morning, in one room, is a wonderful and beautiful thing.

Can you try to find a way to enjoy this? The little guy wants and needs love, and doesn't want to be the odd man out, all on his lonesome, when the whole family is together elsewhere.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:46 AM on December 10, 2006

I agree with other posters in thinking that he is feeling left out and insecure. He probably doesn't understand why everyone else gets someone to snuggle up with except him. He needs comfort and nurturing. I expect the coldness is just an excuse. If it bothers your rest so much to have him in your bed, can his dad sleep in his bed with him?
posted by goshling at 2:26 AM on December 10, 2006

Does the kid do something getting into your bed that the dog doesn't? It seems like the extra body isn't the problem since the dog doesn't wake you. Maybe he can be more quiet or sleep on the outside with dad in the middle to limit disruption. It sounds like he just wants to be included...

Trying to be more helpful:

Is he going to bed too early? I know there's a temptation to get them to bed early to have some non-kid time in the evening, but then mornings can come a little quickly for my taste. Does he have sufficient toys in his bedroom to keep himself busy? That might be the problem too.
posted by jaysus chris at 3:11 AM on December 10, 2006

Second b33j, goshling, and tho others--this kid has a need and is trying to get it met. Have your boyfriend stay with him some nights, and try to bear it other nights. He'll be watching out for and protecting your baby as they grow up together--some day you'll be glad you found the strength to be compassionate for his situatuation.
posted by Phred182 at 3:36 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Go to bed earlier?

Or: get the kid's father to deal with it.

I'd respond further, but these kind of "divorcees in a relationship with variously-parented kids running everywhere" questions are inherently landmined, so you're probably best off not dealing with it yourself, seriously.
posted by reklaw at 4:09 AM on December 10, 2006

there's an anecdote in this column about parenting from a UK newspaper that might interest you
    Actually, Jack always was the early riser. He was the toddler who'd wake all bright and alert at 6am, sometimes earlier. He'd climb out of his cot and stagger into our bedroom in his terry towelling sleepsuit, with his thumb in his mouth and trailing a large blanket behind him, and climb into bed with me. There he'd lie sucking, occasionally twiddling strands of my hair just so I'd stay awake with him. I remember the sweet, soaked nappy smell, the warmth of his hair, the slightly cold patch on his sleepsuit where the nappy had leaked. I didn't really mind him climbing into bed, but as it got earlier and earlier - 3am was the record - we decided we had to do something. It was the Bunny Clock that saved our lives. "Remember the Bunny Clock?" I tell them. "Remember when we used to have to trick Jack to stay in bed?" A strange, almost embarrassed grin spreads over Becca's face. "When his ears were down, you couldn't get up," she says slowly. "But when they were up, you could. And Jack used to stand in his cot for ages and ages just waiting for them to pop up." "I did not," says Jack.

posted by ascullion at 5:49 AM on December 10, 2006

also, i think b33j's advice is very good
posted by ascullion at 5:50 AM on December 10, 2006

My kids climb in bed with me and my husband every early morning too. They used to want to chit chat. Now they know to get under the covers as quietly as possible.

Some ideas:

1. I would have your boyfriend talk with the child and remind him to tiptoe in quietly. Maybe you can configure the sleeping arrangement so that your boyfriend is sleeping next to you and the child can sleep next to his dad. This doesn't answer your question to prevent the child from coming into the bed, but maybe it would be a solution until he grows out of it.

2. I also love the sleeping bag in your bedroom idea. Tell him about it, and ask him to sleep there if he wakes up early. Maybe make it special and blow up an air mattress.

3. Buy him a set of new flannel sheets and a new comforter for his room that he picks out on his own. If he is sleeping in a Spider Man bed or some other cool character maybe he will stay in longer. Read lots of stories, snuggle with him a bit in his bed before bedtime and remind him to try to stay in bed in the morning. Give him as much attention during the day and evening before bed as possible. Maybe wind down together as a family by playing a short game or reading stories and talking about your day. Have dinner together as a family. I would turn his lights off in his bedroom and leave the hall light on. Bright light is not conducive to sleep, and is a bad habit to get into. If he is afraid of monsters, put a spray bottle of water next to his nightstand. Do a monster spray before bed to rid the room of all monsters. Remind him that he can spray in the morning too.

4. As soon as your new baby is sleeping longer hours, let them share a room.

I have a feeling that a dog or monster spray isn't going to help in this situation. He is probably feeling lonely, confused and left-out. I would show a lot of understanding and love, and try to be patient as possible.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:01 AM on December 10, 2006

also, i think b33j's advice is very good

I agree. This is sounds like a great solution.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:04 AM on December 10, 2006

What's inappropriate about snuggling up with your boyfriend's little guy? Maybe if you didn't feel so weird about it, he could come in without waking you up. Since you're the mother of his half-brother, this little guy is in your life for good. For your sake and his, I suggest trying to develop some maternal-type affection for him. Having a step-mom (and that's what you are to him, legal definitions aside) who insists on not being a mom-type in your life sucks, and it would suck harder if you have a brother that she IS a mom to. My suggestions: 1) Learn to love the little guy as much as you can. 2) Don't sleep in anything you wouldn't feel comfortable wearing if a five year-old were to be in bed with you. 3) Instead of trying to end this cute and natural behavior, maybe try to focus on how it can happen without him waking you up.
posted by gokart4xmas at 6:08 AM on December 10, 2006

Whatever you decide on, make sure you do it consistently. He will eventually relent once you two decide what to do, but until then he will take advantage of the ambivalence and indecision, and rule the situation.

I suggest you make it okay for him to come in sometimes (e.g., on saturday and sunday mornings), but not other mornings. For the other mornings, I suggest doing what caddis says.

Be aware, if you and your boyfriend give mixed signals, you will really have a hard time breaking this habit. There needs to be a strong consistent message.
posted by milarepa at 6:42 AM on December 10, 2006

My daughter started to wake us up on weekends ridiculously early (for a kid who finds 6:30am on schooldays difficult).

She's got a strick screentime limit per day and per week. But we've started that if both of us are asleep, we can't very much be counting screentime so she's allowed to get extra time.

So, she'll be as quiet as possible, turning on her DS, flipping on the TV, sometimes a book or a coloring book or a computer game. It's rarely more than an hour before we get up (I can tell by the distance she'll get through a DVD) but that hour of sleep is exactly what I need to feel calm, wake on my own schedule and not resent parenting. It's also giving her a little freedom, independence and a semi-healthy way to "cheat the rules without harm."

Maybe he needs intimacy, cuddling, etc. Or maybe, if he's being loud and disruptive enough, he's bored. He is five. We adults sometimes overthink these things.
posted by Gucky at 7:13 AM on December 10, 2006

Some parents like their kids to sleep with them. Some parents do not. You are apparently one of the second group. All the advice above, which basically boils down to "Suck it up!", is from the first group.

The problem is simple: he used to sleep with his biological mother in her bed. It was a routine. She has kicked him out. He wants to continue spending time in a parental bed.

My advice: treat it like any behavior you want to change. You are NOT, I promise, scarring him for life by setting limits. Set limits. Be firm about them. Don't be wishy-washy and give in. Remove him back to his bedroom when he tries to come in, and make it known to him that he can't come in before X o'clock. Perhaps a stuffed animal and an extra blanket on his bed would keep him warm and cozy in the mornings. Praise him when he waits until X o'clock to come in.
posted by jellicle at 7:31 AM on December 10, 2006

Ditto'ing gokart4xmas. The child is having his emotional and physical need for comfort and contact met by spending time in bed with you in the morning, which is a perfectly typical and age appropriate behavior for a boy of 5. Stopping this now by putting a foot down and saying "no getting into our bed" or locking the door or putting him in another room or by buying him something ignores the feelings that are driving his behavior, which I'd wager include loneliness and vulnerability, even if he couldn't possibly describe his feelings in those terms.

A lot of things are going on that are changing his life (new relationships for the adults, the new baby, custody/vistation in flux) and he has absolutely no control over any of them. Spiderman sheets or sleeping bags (isolating!) aren't going to make him feel less lonely, or more secure or loved. A locked door simply reinforces to him, at far too young an age, that he is all alone in his circumstances and places far too great a burden on him to learn to deal with his feelings on his own, without equipping him with the emotional basis he needs in order to do so.

These kinds of things are transient. It seems quite likely that when he feels that his life is more settled he won't have such a high need for physical comfort of this kind on a daily basis. If you want to have uninterrupted mornings and a happy, peaceful kid, help him to know that everything is okay, and whatever he's worried about (not seeing mom or dad because of the new relationships, not being loved as much as the baby half-brother, etc.) isn't going to happen, and be patient while it works itself out.
posted by Dreama at 7:53 AM on December 10, 2006

"Even more background: 3 months ago my boyfriend and I had a son whose crib is in our bedroom. We imagine that this has played a huge part in his 5-year-old's newfound desire to visit us in the morning (he's very smitten with his new little brother)."

Or, he's jealous that baby sleeps with you and he doesn't.
posted by jesirose at 8:01 AM on December 10, 2006

Jellicle has it right. If you don't want him in your bed, set limits, adhere to them and give rewards too for the appropriate behavior. It will take a few weeks, but he'll learn.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:51 AM on December 10, 2006

i agree with jellicle and johnnygunn, and had a similar situation as ascullion's story from the paper.

i was an early riser as a kid, and used to wake my mom regularly around 4am. i was awake and bored, and i knew she'd wake up and entertain me, i guess. she finally stopped it by refusing to let me bother her before sun rise. i wasn't allowed to say anything or crawl into bed until the sun was up. i would just lay in bed till i saw sun, or sit by the bed. i guess the latter was creepy, but whatever. i stopped bugging her eventually and started bugging my older brother.
posted by kendrak at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2006

I disagree with jeillicle and johnnygunn, but on the proviso that it does sound as if you're differentiating between "your" child and "his" child.

There's little more unpleasant for a young child than the inexplicable withholding of affection from a parental figure, which is what being thrown out of the room is going to seem like to him.

The otherwise-good advice about limits, and dealing with a child coming into the room applies only when the rest of the child's emotional situation is otherwise stable. Yours apparently isn't.
posted by bonaldi at 10:43 AM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Welcome to parenthood. Sleep deprivation goes with the territory. You can forget about getting to sleep in later than 6am (or 5 - 5:30 am if they have to be driven to daycare) on a regular basis until all the children are old enough to pour a bowl of cereal and get on the school bus by themselves.

His behaviour is completely normal. When he wakes up alone he's going to be bored, lonely and probably hungry. The sleeping bag on the floor is a good idea. Teach him how to tell time if doesn't know already, and explain that if it is before 6am, he needs to either play quietly in his room or he can come into your bedroom and lie on the sleeping bag until it is time to get up.

If he's waking up much too early, say 3 or 4 in the morning, he needs to be put to bed later. I know it's tempting to put kids to bed early so you can have alone time but he only needs around 10 to 11 hours of sleep at his age and shouldn't be taking long naps in the afternoon either.

The overhead light shouldn't be on in his room when he is trying to sleep. It will reduce the quality of his sleep and ensure that he gets out of bed if he wakes up early, instead of drifting back to sleep for another hour. Get him a nightlight.
posted by Ariadne at 12:55 PM on December 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

Could you try switching bed-time snuggles to the evening? I used to lay in bed with my parents for 15-30 minutes before my mom put me to bed, and I absolutely loved it. That seems like it would be a good compromise - he gets his parental-bed time, and you get to sleep in later. Also, maybe you could bond with him a little better in the evening hours when you aren't so distracted by your annoyance at lost sleep.
posted by gatorae at 1:32 PM on December 10, 2006

No one has suggested this yet - move the baby into his room. He'll either learn to sleep through the baby's crying, or if he doesn't, maybe he'll be a bit too tired in the mornings to wake up and come into your room. If you still want the baby with you, move him into big brother's room only when he's staying with you. You might want to get a baby monitor and also tell big brother that he is never, ever, EVER to take baby brother out of the crib.
posted by IndigoRain at 3:16 PM on December 10, 2006

I don't want to seem melodramatic but when I was 7 I was in exactly the same situation as your bf's son. Parents divorced, new baby half brother (two of them actually - one from each parent) and none of my parents' new partners wanted me in their bed even though I'd climbed in between my parents each morning my whole life. They didn't realise the significance of it at the time but it devastated me. I even wrote begging letters to my stepparents asking if I could please climb in bed with them in the morning. I literally felt left out in the cold.

It wasn't the getting into bed, that was important - it was what it meant. Being chucked out added to my feelings of disposession - I didn't belong anywhere. My two half brothers belonged in each house more than I did and obviously needed more attention than I did. it made me feel unloved and unimportant.

I know that divorce is common these days, and my experience wasn't unusual, but it really did take me many years and quite a few hours of therapy to realise that being kicked out of bed didn't mean nobody loved me. (Naturally there was a lot more to it than the bed thing).

I have a two year old who has always slept badly (and who hates snuggling funnily enough) and a tiring job and I know about the misery of sleep deprivation. But I think you might think about how your boyfriend's son will percieve your actions if you refuse to let him come into your bed. He needs love and cuddles. The funny thing is that the more you give him love and cuddles, the less he will probably need them.

He's been through a lot and he's really still very, very young. Please try to grin and bear it for a little while, make him feel loved and wanted and that he belongs, and see what happens.
posted by pootler at 8:59 AM on December 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

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