Our five year old has regressed to sleeping in the “family bed” since the birth of our new baby. How can we get him back into his own bed without him feeling left out or jealous?

—Need Space

Dear Need,

One of the great thing about 5 year olds is that you can actually sit down with them and work things out together. Logic develops between 4 to 8 years, and five year olds are so wonderfully inquisitive and trying to see the inter-relationships between all things that they are ripe to see this issue from the perspective of the “Big Picture”. This does not mean though that you can sit down one time, have a little chat and be done. Instead try this:

  1. Recognize that it is just a phase. Your five year old is revisiting the place that offers him love and security. So although this is a problem for you, for him it is exactly what he knows to do to get his love and security needs met. Since he is only five he still might be under the mistaken belief that since this is how you and the baby are bonding, he too needs to “act like a baby” to have special time with you. Use the three steps in the process of learning:
  2. Arouse his interest: Name the activity. “I notice that you are sleeping in our bed.” Decide what you will do, NOT what you will try to make him do: Back off the issue for the time being and use the indirect approach. “I’m going to go to the library and get some books on this subject, the librarians are so helpful! Do you want to come?” Even if he doesn’t, go yourself and get the books. Read them to your spouse as all of you are settling into bed if he is not interested. Do this several nights. Avoid the temptation to use the book as a spring board to launch into a diatribe on your agenda to get him out of the bed. Instead say “Hmmm.” and leave it at that for the time being.
  3. Offer opportunities to actively process the experience. “Sometimes I feel so much energy in my body that I need to (run, dig, ride bikes, scribble). Remember to focus on yourself and your responses to how many changes a new baby brings, not on his. Talk about how things have changed for you with friends and family in his presence. “I love the baby so much! I can’t imagine him not being here. And sometimes I miss the way things used to be. Just the other day I felt so sad about it that I cried!” Give yourself permission to grieve what was and thereby give and model that permission for your five year old.
  4. Help him become aware of the knowledge he has gained. Have direct conversations about all the things that have changed for you and ask for his input. Use humor so that you are able to laugh at the things you are doing to take take of yourself around the new baby. Use that same humor to help him laugh at the things he is doing.
  5. Find solutions together. Have a family meeting. Use a talking stick, talk only when you have the stick! Be sure to start the meeting with everyone sharing their gratefuls or complimenting other family members. Present YOUR issue: “I need help. My issue is that ____is back in the family bed. While I love you very much, I want to find other ways for us to share close time together because I need more personal space and privacy in my bed. ” Don’t expect your son to jump up and say “Great! I’ve been thinking the very same thing!” He might say he doesn’t know what to do. Offer scheduled times for just him and each parent to be together. Once the schedule is set KEEP IT! Decide on a date that he will “move out”. Enjoy every moment until then and using his developmental tendency to be a magical thinker, make up a “Magic ritual” to help him “graduate” to his bed.