Staylistening helps our son get past his feelings about change
author By Emilie Leeks,

Our oldest child (8) has Asperger's Syndrome and, as is often the case for people on the autism spectrum, he tends to be quite anxious about change. We focus on connection and honesty to build and maintain trust between us, and transitions are managed with a little extra prior warning, along with a few reassurances during the process, and things generally go smoothly enough.

However, today we obviously didn't get the delicate balance right! We had decided that we wanted to be more connected at night as a family, so we wanted our children to have the option of sharing a family bed. Our children start the night together in one room, and gradually through the night 1, 2 or occasionally all 3 of them wander through and end up in our room. We don't mind this in the slightest (see below for more reading on the subject of cosleeping if you're interested), but we were struggling a little for space on nights when they all came in!

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Not our actual new bed

We discussed the options of how we might arrange the beds over breakfast, and the children listened and occasionally chipped in with their thoughts, but everybody seemed up for the idea of us being able to sleep together. So whilst my other half took the children out for the morning, I spent hours emptying, cleaning and rearranging our bedroom, ready so that we could fit all of us in there if the children felt they would like to sleep in with us.

There was only really one way to arrange the beds that meant we could all sleep on one level, but we had briefly mooted the idea of bringing in the bunk beds, and having our oldest child sleep on the top. But we'd ruled it out because we really wanted it to be a flexible, open space, where people could pick and choose their neighbours for the night - we didn't want him separated from everyone else, looking down on us from on high, as that would kind of defeat the object!

Unfortunately that was the bit that had stuck in his head - so when he saw the level sleeping surface I had spent hours arranging, he expressed his disapproval extremely strongly! He shouted that I should put another mattress in, and that he wanted his own space (beds were still available to them in their own bedroom if they wanted this, so this wasn't a problem), and screeched about the fact that the bunk beds hadn't been included in the plan. Now, by this point in the day, I was very tired, and added to that I was very downhearted that all my hard work to make us a more connected family had completely flopped as far as my son was concerned! I started to respond to him quite crabbily, but luckily my husband was in a better headspace than me. He said to our son that he was sorry it was hard for him, and listened as our son spoke crossly about the plan and about what a stupid idea it was. I wisely kept out of it!

Our son then took it into his head that he would measure the remaining corners of space in the room, to see if he could indeed fit another mattress in - which ended up being a resounding no! He went to my husband and cried (which is unusual for him) about how stupid it all was, and how he didn't want the room to be like this, and how we should put it all back. My husband just listened, occasionally warmly saying things like 'We aren't going to put it back right now' and 'We're going to give it a try like this'. He listened for only a few minutes, and then our son said he would share the bed if he could sleep in a particular spot. We said that spot wasn't going to work (there wouldn't have been room for us adults!), but that if he shifted round a bit then that would be just fine. He accepted that with no problem, just asking if he could lie the other way on the bed, which was not an issue.

Then, almost as suddenly as his emotional release had begun, it was over! He excitedly brought in his pillow, blankets and teddies, then brought in a stool as a bedside table for his book and drink. He even made another small bedside table out of toy construction materials for his clock, because there wasn't quite room for it on the stool! He said that he was excited to be sleeping like this, all together, and was then supremely cheerful for the rest of the evening - reading to his little sister, giving his little brother cuddles, and even, when he settled down for the night, saying that he loved the new arrangement!

I am so glad that my husband mustered the energy to make sure our son felt listened to in that moment of struggle - our son managed to release some of his fear about the new situation, and then was able to recognise that it wasn't so scary after all - and even enjoy the experience.

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Our actual new bed

Further reading:
Cosleeping (sharing a bedroom) or bedsharing (sharing a bed) is not right for everyone, but if you are interested in learning more about this practice, and about night-time parenting in general, have a look at these articles:

- Why Young Children Protest Bedtime

- The gentle African way to your baby sleeping through the night

- Cosleeping Around The World

- What is Normal Infant Sleep? (Part III)

A word or two about Journeys in Parenting; a responsive parenting community

Emilie is a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor, and was a paediatric speech and language therapist in her former life. She provides support and coaching for parents via the Journeys in Parenting community. Emilie lives in Berkshire in the UK with her husband and 3 children.

Journeys in Parenting is a community group for parents, carers and parents-to-be, who want to find out more about parenting in a responsive and peaceful way. The community offers information, advice and emotional support for this hard work we do as parents. The vision of the group is to be a safe space, where parents are supported in guiding their families in ways which: are respectful to children; meet the parents' needs; and lead to a more peaceful planet for all.

To work one-to-one with Emilie , request a free 15-minute trial call here or visit the website for more details

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