I've been separated for almost two years. This is probably the happiest that I have ever been in my life, but I am struggling with trying to help my children to become independent. Initially, I had a king sized bed, and all three children were sleeping with me. Now I want them to sleep in their own beds. How can I encourage them to sleep alone without hurting their feelings?
I can understand why you would want your children to sleep in their own beds. However, before you come up with any new family rules, ask yourself these questions:
What need does sleeping with me meet?
Is there a particular reason why the kids are sleeping in your bed? Are they feeling afraid at night? Are they looking for attention? In many cases, they just want to cuddle with you, be close, and experience the security of knowing that you're right there with them. Consider what your kids get out of sleeping together, and begin to think about alternative ways to address those needs.
How can I meet those needs in other ways?
Think about the feelings that your children naturally associate with sleeping in your bed, and then look for ways to build those emotions into other activities you share during the course of the day. For example, you might begin a new habit of reading a chapter book out loud to your kids each evening. You could do this together on the couch or sitting on one of the kids' beds. This allows you to recreate the emotional bond that was being nurtured by sleeping together, while maintaining your boundaries and allowing yourself to have some 'alone time' after they're in bed.
What helps my kids respond to change?
Think about what works for your children in particular. Some kids do best when changes are enforced with firm consistency right from the start. Other kids seem to do better when they have the opportunity to ease into transitions like this one. If you feel that gradual steps toward independence would be helpful, consider allowing your kids to sleep on your floor in sleeping bags for awhile. Keep in mind that there's no "right or wrong" answer to this. You know your children - and yourself. If easing into the transition will help each of you maintain the new rule with greater consistency, then look for ways to honor that.
Am I ready to enforce a new rule right now?
You can be sure that your children will resist your attempt to create a new boundary and make every attempt to get back into your bed. Do you have the resolve at this time to be consistent in enforcing this new rule? Giving in to whining, crying, or tantrums will only reinforce that strategy as a way to coerce to into changing your mind any time your kids wish to influence you. Therefore, make sure that you're absolutely determined to see this through before you announce the rule.
Why do I want my bed to myself?
Any time we introduce change at home, it helps to be clear about why we're doing it. It will also help you to build up the resolve you're going to need in order to make this change happen. So spend some time thinking about why you need to have your bed to yourself again. Be assured, too, that your need for space is perfectly legitimate, and creating the opportunity to get a better night's sleep is going to also result in greater patience and energy - two qualities every single parent needs to make life work well. At the same time, this is also an excellent opportunity to talk with your children about each of your needs and to discover new ways to meet them.