You put your head down for a night's sleep after a long day of work and family time. You know you're blessed, but you also know you're exhausted. After a refreshing night's rest, you'll go again. Parenthood is tricky, and you never totally "nail it," but you're chalking up the wins, and that's something to be proud of. You smile and close your eyes.
Your eyes fly open. "Yes?"
"I had a bad dream, Mom. I'm scared. Can I come in here?"
How can you say "no" to that? Your protective instinct is too strong to answer in anything but the affirmative. So you budge over and make space, and say "It's okay sweetie, you're safe. Nothing's going to get to you."
Most parents experience this at some point. Most of us, as kids, were the ones who had the bad dream and asked to get in with our parents. You grow out of it eventually, so what's the harm?
So, What IS The Harm?
It would be harsh to have a flat rule that a scared child can never come to their parents in the middle of the night. Remember when you were a kid and the dreams that you had? At that age, you have more difficulty separating dreams and reality.
So when you dream about ghosts or monsters, you get to thinking they're in there with you. And of course, you're going to reach out for the great protector. The problem comes with a breaking of boundaries. If a kid feels they can come to your bed for a sound reason, eventually they'll come in just because they feel like it. It's bad for you, but it's worse for them, as it stops them feeling comfortable in their bed.
What Do You Do Instead?
The most important step is to make their bedroom irresistible to them. Set up a comfortable bed. Look at sites like mattress-inquirer.com/best-rated-memory-foam-mattresses for the best mattress. Fill the room with things they love.
If they have a bad dream, of course, you don't just roll over and tell them it was just a dream. But instead, lead them back to their room and sit with them until they fall back asleep. This will normalize the room and stop them from feeling like there is a threat there. It's not just best for you; it's best for your child too.
Give The Child Their Power
A child who cannot sleep for any number of reasons will, of course, look to their parents first. And that's as it should be because you will do anything to make them feel protected. At the same time, it is a chance to help them feel grown-up. Kids love to feel more mature, and you can help them along with this using techniques such as http://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/the-parent-coach/help-your-child-with-mature-social-skills-better-self-control/.
Choose your words carefully. Don't use negative phrases like "You can't keep coming to Mommy and Daddy at night." It's better to say "You've grown so big now, and at your age, you get to have your own bed and sleep in it all night!". It's all about the spin you put on it. Although it won't be easy at first, before long they'll be sleeping through most nights, and feeling proud of doing so.