In this episode, sleep specialist Eileen Henry and I discuss a common challenge: how to get your child to make it all the way through the night in their own bed.

Eileen helps us unravel this complex issue by addressing:

  1. Assessing the Situation: When to let it be and when to make a change.
  2. Understanding Motivations: Identifying whether the desire to reclaim your bed is for personal space, relationship reasons, or concerns about your child’s development.
  3. Balancing Needs: The importance of ensuring everyone gets quality sleep and how this impacts overall family wellbeing.
  4. Setting and Holding Boundaries: Strategies to help your child transition to their own bed while maintaining emotional security.
  5. Attunement and Emotional Health: Teaching kids to recognize and respond to negative emotions in a healthy way.
  6. Practical Tips and Tools: Using physical boundaries like gates, incorporating dress rehearsals for bedtime, and the power of storytelling and play in easing transitions.

Whether you’re struggling with co-sleeping, managing separation anxiety, or just seeking better sleep for your family, this episode is packed with practical advice and compassionate support!

Eileen (00:00:00):

When it comes to room sharing, bed sharing, co-sleeping, there are three kind of simple factors parents can assess. First of all, the safety factor. I think that’s really easy to make the bed safe is everybody getting the sleep they need. That’s where it starts to waver and wobble. And then does everyone want everyone there? That’s really important.

Dr. Sarah (00:00:31):

The stakes around sleep can feel so high if you, a toddler or older child has been sleeping in your bed, whether they’re starting out there or they’re just finding their way in during the middle of the night and you are ready to get them to sleep in their own room, how do you do that? So I am so excited to have Eileen Henry back on the podcast this week to talk about just that. Eileen is a RIE associate and a pioneer in the field of child sleep consultants having helped thousands of families find sustainable sleep for almost two decades. She’s the founder of Compassionate Sleep Solutions and the author of the book, The Compassionate Sleep Solution: Calming the Cry. She’s also the first person to come on this podcast three times because she’s just that amazing and I cannot get enough of her. So in this episode, we are going to discuss practical and relationship-based sleep solutions that you can use to help your child start sleeping more independently. Because knowing exactly when and how to hold these boundaries with warmth and firmness can really lay the groundwork for building distress tolerance and overall wellbeing throughout their life. Whether you choose to have your child sleep in another space than you, or you don’t feel like it’s a problem and you don’t need to fix it, I promise this episode is going to be full of really useful strategies and ways of thinking about our relationship to sleep, our child’s relationship to sleep, and all the things in between.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hi friends. We have a very welcome guest returning for the third time. I think this is the most anyone has returned so far to the podcast.

Eileen (00:02:55):

I’m touched.

Dr. Sarah (00:02:56):

I know. Welcome Eileen Henry. I’m so happy to have you here.

Eileen (00:02:59):

It’s great to be here with you, Sarah.

Dr. Sarah (00:03:02):

You really are the person in my head when I’m dealing with sleep stuff with my kids and my kids are now five and six and a half, and I still have sleep Stuff that I deal with. Your voice is what’s in my head almost always when I have to think myself through some stuff.

Eileen (00:03:19):

I hope it’s a combination of kindness and humor.

Dr. Sarah (00:03:23):

It is. That gets me through. It gets me through for sure. Good. But I wanted you to come back today because we’ve done a couple episodes and if you haven’t listened to the episodes, Eileen, I’ll link them in the show description, but definitely go back. It’s a really, really helpful way of thinking about infant sleep, toddler sleep kind of more broadly. But one of the sort of specific challenges that we get asked a lot about, I get comes up a lot in my work with families is when you have an older kid, maybe they’re a toddler, maybe they’re older and they’ve been coming into your room at night, they can go to bed independently in their room, but they come in the middle of the night and you’re, there’s a wish to kind of reclaim your bedroom and you want to get your toddler or your older kid to sleep in their own bed. And we could talk a little bit about the different variations of how this can show up. I think for some kids, they are sleeping in mom and dad’s room or their parents’ room the whole night. Sometimes it’s just they come in and they don’t want to go back to their room and hey, we’re so tired and we’re just not going to deal with it. And sometimes it’s a problem and sometimes it’s not a problem. And so we could talk a little bit about that too.

Eileen (00:04:41):

Great. Yeah, if it’s not a problem, say if it’s not a problem, don’t fix it.

Dr. Sarah (00:04:46):

Yeah. I’m firmly in that camp with you too, so maybe we could talk about that first. What are some considerations parents might want to contemplate when they’re trying to determine is this worth it to go through this adjustment, this transition to get my child to sleep in their bed? I think for some parents it can be driven by a genuine desire to have a different identity and role that they’re aligning with in their room. Maybe I want to have prioritize my relationship with my partner and I don’t really want to be worried about a kid creeping in the middle of the night or maybe I need to prioritize my sleep because I’m not sleeping well with a little foot in my face. And then I also think there are other types of drivers for some of this decision that are a little bit more fear-based, a little bit more anxious that are like, if I don’t make my child transition into their own bed, then they’ll never, or they’re not learning to separate or it’s going to do something kind of bad for their development at some point. And that I feel like maybe we can kind of speak to all of those and…

Eileen (00:05:57):

Oh, yes, I love talking about the decisions we make as parents out of fear of the unknown and as human beings, right?

Dr. Sarah (00:06:09):


Eileen (00:06:10):

It’s a common thing. And when it comes to our children, the stakes are even higher. We don’t want to damage them, we don’t want to harm them, but we are going to piss ’em off. We are going to disappoint them. We are going to frustrate them. And that’s just a natural part of the discord of human relationship. And I think that’s a healthy thing for our children to apprehend while they’re in the home, in the safest environment they’re ever going to be in. But it’s okay if they get disappointed. It’s okay if they get frustrated. It’s okay if they get a little sad that that’s okay because they’re all human feelings. So how can we do that in healthy relationship and healthy attachment?

Dr. Sarah (00:06:54):

Yep. That’s the question. And I think first this idea of identifying what is the driving sort of force behind my wish, transition my kid to their own bed.

Eileen (00:07:11):

And a lot of what I get from parents is I’m not sleeping and I can tell my child is exhausted. So those are the two things. If sometimes, not always, but sometimes when human beings and family members and get what they want, when we seek and satisfy what we want, we don’t necessarily get what we need. So who are we protecting?


I think protecting quality sleep is really a worthy health and wellbeing goal. So if we see the child’s at five o’clock trash running into walls and biting the dog, we’re like, okay, we got to do something about this. Or maybe the child, they can handle more interruptions. The child’s going to have a nap in the day and maybe we can’t have a nap in the day to make up for the lost sleep. And so is claiming our own sleep, our own stability in sleep for our wellbeing that leads to us being more resourced and more present for our children. A resource human being is better be around.


I mean, my children, when they see me, they’re like, wow, did you not sleep tonight? I think, did you not sleep last night? I think I’m going to have breakfast in the other room. Give her a wide berth. Yeah. So we want to be mindful of that. And then we’re modeling these skills of health and wellbeing, of touching sleep because I haven’t met the person. When we look at coaches in therapeutic situations, even as therapists, we don’t a health coach who’s a dietician or a nutritionist, exercise, it’s not like we get that down and we never have to touch it again. Even the experts, a person who specializes in relationship therapy, we touch our relationships. We have to go and nurture and go back. It’s not something that stays stable throughout a life. Once we get the habit yet, we’re good to go. Not life interrupts. Life interrupts, humanness, interrupts growth. And so when we’re looking at the child infancy through toddler, the most dynamic growth in change human beings ever go through, we are supporting health habits in kind of an entropic system. And so how do we nurture that and move it along that over time the child learns the basic health skills and what do parents want? And when it comes to room sharing, bed sharing, there are three kind of simple factors parents can assess. First of all, the safety factor. I think that’s really easy to make the bed safe. Even as a newborn or an infant, we can make that safe. So we tick that box first is everybody getting the sleep they need? That’s where it starts to waver and wobble. And then does everyone want everyone there? That’s really important.

Dr. Sarah (00:10:42):

That’s a really important thing to consider. It really is.

Eileen (00:10:46):

Oh my gosh, we want our children to learn where they’re wanted. And if they start to feel like, I think there’s some, because children are really great at tuning in to the emotional current, like that emotional, the underlying emotions of the family system. And they may not know how to process that. They don’t have the complete brain to identify all their like, oh, mom’s a little upset because of that thing happened. Oh, okay, I get it. And have empathy. They’re just like, what’s going on?

Dr. Sarah (00:11:21):

No. Yeah, they’re just feeling it.

Eileen (00:11:23):

They feel something.

Dr. Sarah (00:11:23):

They feel it.

Eileen (00:11:25):

And there’s two things that children can really smell in us and it’s uncertainty and dread. Boy, when they tune into that, it’s like, ding, what’s going on here?

Dr. Sarah (00:11:40):

And how many times has there been maybe one person in the partnership when the, when they hear that door open? Just maybe both, but definitely there’s usually one that’s like that dreads, that dreads seeps in. Oh man, I’m going to get a foot in my face.

Eileen (00:11:58):

Here we go.

Dr. Sarah (00:11:59):

Or, here we go. Or I feel thwarted. I wanted them to be in their bed and they’re not. So now I’m actually feeling thwarted. And that leads that feeling of, but our kids can sense that. And again, I think to your point, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t or can’t have those feelings, but if we’re having them, let that be a signal to us that we need to modify something so we can help address our own feelings. Because our feelings matter as parents quite a bit and they impact the kid.

Eileen (00:12:30):

And also it’s attunement. And there’s a lot of talk in the field right now about attunement and we want attunement to be strong and positive. We also want our children to be able to attune to negative energy because when they leave home, that gives them that good spidey sense of, oh, this doesn’t feel right because there’s some negative energy going on under here and I think I’m going to back off and assess it before I die in or I’m going to turn tail and walk out. I think they learn that in the home through when they’re attuning to negative emotions. And then we look at the child and go, you’re right. This doesn’t feel good. This is not working. That we can affirm in them. You’re right, I’m really frustrated. Oh boy, okay, come on in and we’re going to have to talk about this or do this a little differently because this isn’t working sweetie.


And then we either make them their own nest. We can make them their own nest in the bedroom where their boundaries around their nest. That’s cool. A lot of clients do that. They have a child for good reason. I have a client right now whose child, the family goes to a place in the forest where the family members have cabins and they put a monitor in the room within the cabin and they put the children to sleep. And then the grownups go out and they meet at a grownup cabin and have grownup time and grownup talk and the kids are sleeping and they have monitors. Well, the monitor went off and it didn’t work. And that was the night the child jumped out of the pack and play, got out of the cabin and walked through part of the woods in search of the parents and it scared her. So there’s a repair piece that’s a different repair for that child now she’s like, I’m afraid you’re going to be gone. Are you going to come back? Are you going to come back? It shattered her sense of self in a bigger context. So there’s a bigger repair to do.

Dr. Sarah (00:14:47):

Right. But it can be repaired, right?

Eileen (00:14:49):

Absolutely. Going to the scene, the crime this weekend, I call it, I say, ah, it’s the scene of the crime. So repair there, give her some story and play. There’s a 10-year-old cousin, she worships, get that 10-year-old involved in a story of like, we’re all here for you. You’re safe here. We’re going to sit with you and you can’t leave the cabin this weekend. There needs to be more repair. So she understands that we rebuild that sense of you are safe and secure in the reality, the environment and it repairs, but she’s going to need a little more time.

Dr. Sarah (00:15:25):

And now I’m imagining that there are, that’s a relatively unusual situation because we’re not often in the woods. Exactly. But I could see that playing out even just in your home because how many times have you slept through the monitor going off or your kid was genuinely needing you? And again, we’ve talked on this podcast before about the differences of like, I’m protesting, I’m frustrated. I need you. I am in severe panic distress, right? There’s grades…

Eileen (00:15:58):

Out of my zone of tolerance and I’m out of it and I can’t calm myself down.

Dr. Sarah (00:16:06):

And obviously the younger child is the more scary going into that space can be because they haven’t had as many other experiences of like, okay, even when things are scary, I can reestablish safety with these people. They’re building that. It’s new, but older kids, if you have been doing the work of attunement and repair and building that secure base and they’ve experienced separations, they’ve experienced failures of you not rescuing them and learned that you’re still come back, right? There’s been rupture and repair enough times with older kids that they get it. They get that not all fears are going to turn into forever fears or crises that are unending.

Eileen (00:16:56):

I think that is crucial sending children out in the world with that ability, that they go out into the world with a realistic understanding of human relationship and they’re able to, they know the difference. And these are two different circumstances. The difference between feeling safe and being safe. Those are two very different realities. And we want them to know when they feel safe and they are safe and more importantly when they feel unsafe and they might be unsafe and to know, because sometimes we feel unsafe, but we’re safe.

Dr. Sarah (00:17:44):

And I think that’s probably going to be a linchpin in helping kids to make transition to sleeping in their own bed because it might elicit the fear of being unsafe, the feeling of feeling unsafe in a context where we know, and even they probably on some level know, I’m really safe. I feel unsafe, I feel scared.

Eileen (00:18:06):

And honestly, I think that’s a healthy thing for children to, again, I use the word apprehend because they’re so embodied.


When they have an experience and confront something, it’s a full body apprehending of that. And I think that the reality, we hold this reality for them that this is the safest and securest we’re ever going to be able to keep them really in the home, and it’s about a decade once they leave home, we want them to know how to keep themselves safe in a sense. Once that brain’s fully developed and they’re 10, 11, 12, and they’re coming into the tweens, some of their safety and security is on them being able to keep themselves safe, knowing what to, I’m thinking I was just in London and every time you’re on the tube, but see it, it sorted that public service announcement. See something funky, see it, say it sorted. And we want them to have that ability when they leave the protection of the home tube, the safety of that container, of the environment. And part of it is apprehending those feelings of insecurity in the secure environment.

Dr. Sarah (00:19:33):

Trying it on.

Eileen (00:19:34):

Trying it on, and we coach them through it or help them through it, support them through it, and give them enough reassurance that they know we’re holding that reality. You’re safe and secure. We’ve created this sanctuary for you, this bedroom, and you’re safe and secure here. You have everything you need and the boundary is going to hold for you.

Dr. Sarah (00:19:58):

I like that. That’s a very middle path too, because whenever we’re talking about sleep stuff, it can be very polarizing and it can kick up a lot of feelings for people.

Eileen (00:20:07):

The polarization is the atopic du jour. I mean, you’re just going to polarize everything. I guess. Let’s do it with sleep too.

Dr. Sarah (00:20:15):

Talk about parallel processes, right?

Eileen (00:20:18):

I love that.

Dr. Sarah (00:20:19):

But in the world of sleep, there is, and I think we can, even if we don’t perhaps view ourselves as living in a very polarized end of either camp, let’s say we’re not completely extreme. There is absolutely no wiggle room from the get go or the other extreme of we are completely together at all times. There is no separation. I think most people listening to this podcast find themselves somewhere in the middle. They might swing to one end to the other here and there, but for the most part, most people, right, think of a bell curve. Most people are somewhere in the middle. And I think for most parents, they get a little confused like, well, am I supposed to not cause the distress and the separation and keep that safety? Am I supposed to force it so that they experience the separation and realize it’s safe? I think we can get in our heads about it.

Eileen (00:21:24):

We can, because the gray areas can lead to uncertainty, confusion, ambivalence, and that’s where the child is already there. They’re ambivalent. They have both positive and negative feelings about moving away from the secure base. So I think it’s a very rich ground to meet the child in those conflicting feelings. I want to do it myself. Get away from me. Wait, I want to crawl back up inside of you. Be with you all the time, get away. Come here. Go away. In grownup relationship, that would be called an ambivalent attack. Whatever, push me, pull you, come here, go away. Yeah, it causes dissonance.

Dr. Sarah (00:22:15):


Eileen (00:22:16):

It’s difficult. So meeting them…

Dr. Sarah (00:22:19):

But, in a child, it’s so developmentally appropriate.

Eileen (00:22:21):

It’s so right on. They’re still where they are. And we can meet both. It’s in preparation. It’s in preparing them that we sit ’em down and depending on how verbal they are, we sit ’em down and talk to ’em or we do that physicalized. I like dress rehearsals, maybe because I came from a performing background in a dress rehearsal, man, when you showed up to a theater and you didn’t get a dress rehearsal, talk about terror stricken performer.

Dr. Sarah (00:22:49):

That’s a really interesting.

Eileen (00:22:51):

It’s a B or C house, and they can’t afford paying all the musicians for the dress rehearsal. So here’s your blocking, here’s your score. You hit that mark and you’re just like, oh my God, if I miss the mark and miss the orchestra, the whole thing falls apart. It’s just terrifying.

Dr. Sarah (00:23:08):

And the stakes feel really high when in the performance, the lights are on and the audience is there. And the child version of this metaphor or analogy, I mix those up all the time. The stakes are high when the lights are out and it’s nighttime and we actually have to do this. And so this idea of a dress rehearsal, tell me more about this. Do you actually have families literal to really get in jammies and get practice going bed?

Eileen (00:23:35):

Yeah, the parents are the director and the child is the classic Hollywood self-centered…

Dr. Sarah (00:23:42):

Diva! My dressing room. Those cookies don’t look right to me.

Eileen (00:23:51):

I’m ready for my closeup, right? So yeah, so it’s rewriting the drama. However the dramas unfold, we rewrite that with the child. And so I do it through story and play, but this is the part that’s really specific because story and play, preparing the child and story and play could become really gimmicky. We’re going to make this so much fun that you’re going to love it. We’re going to get you the car bed and the carriage. And it’s kind of like a hype session. And that children see, right? If they see through dread man, they see through hype, they’re great BS detectors, they can see right through that stuff. And so it’s an authentic construction of the child’s interests in bringing them in. And some of this, I got client years ago said, do you know Gordon Neufeld work? Because you’re really in alignment with him of how we prepare children and also Dan Siegel children process things in play.


They play with fear, they play with sadness, they play with anger, they play with all of that. So we do a physicalized dress rehearsal, and some children are, I had one of each, my daughter was fantasy creative, and my son was reality dude, all his play, it was make believe play, but it was in reality. Cars, planes, trains, automobiles were doing work. Bob the builder, Thomas the train. It was reality. So I prepared them differently and the dress rehearsal, walking through it, we let them touch their physical environment. This sanctuary we’re building for them where they’re going to go to self-regulate, as long as they’re in the house and they’re teenagers, they’re going to go there and it’s a great, oh, yes, we love that. When the teenager goes in their room and then comes out and they come out, it’s like, Hey, let’s cook dinner or whatever.


So we want them to touch the elements of the environment. So if there’s a gate up, I think mostly I come from the rye background, and we’re big on physical environmental boundaries. And I’ve thought about it over the years, and I think it helps children embody boundaries by meeting the physical boundary. They know the dog in the backyard’s protected by the gate and the fence. They know the playground. It’s school. There’s a gate, there’s a fence. So they associate gates with safety, security, and protection, but we can also weave it in to the dress rehearsal and they can touch it. They touch the gate. They have a part in that gate, like little boys will put stop signs on the gates or, oh, they love that caution tape that you go to the hardware store and put caution tape up, and it’s just to remind you that this is the barrier.


It’s like the garage door for cars. They go in the garage, it’s like the stall gate for the pony and the nest, and they close the gate, and that keeps all the animals in the barn safe or a garden gate. So they embellish the environment, they get to touch it and physicalize the environment. So then they wake up in the night and they’re all disoriented and they’re just running through the pattern of habit of just get out, get to them, get to them, and they apprehend that gate and it’s like, oh yeah, I was a part of that. I’ll put that sticker there. I touched it. They still don’t like it, but…

Dr. Sarah (00:27:39):

It’s important I think to say explicitly.

Eileen (00:27:44):

Yeah. But it’s pretty quickly that when boundaries hold, they do like, okay, close the gate. Closing the gate becomes part of the ritual.

Dr. Sarah (00:27:54):

Which I like that. I think because people can get, people have, again, polarized feelings about gates, right? Oh yeah. And I think I come from the rye background too, and if you guys are curious about RIE, it stands for Resources for Infant Educarers. And it’s like a parenting philosophy that’s really about what I think is helping create a really secure attachment relationship from the beginning. That is both the value is placed on really seeing the child, but also really having boundaries between the child and the parent from the beginning with tremendous warmth and attunement. It’s not this either or, right boundaries or warmth. But if you’re interested in there episodes, I’ve done that. Talk more about it. We can link those. But I think also because I come from that RIE parenting background, my kids were familiar with gates from a very early age. Mine too. I also know that families who’ve never used gates and then think the idea of putting a gate in their toddler’s room or even their, and I feel like this could be a conversation about older kids too. I have a five-year-old who still comes in my room at night. A gate wouldn’t really stop her.

Eileen (00:29:15):

Not at five. No.

Dr. Sarah (00:29:16):

No, she can open it because we use it for the dog. Now she’s like, oh, this thing. But to your point though, the gate isn’t really about stopping the child because the parent is forcing some sort of barrier. You are using it, and I think an important distinction, you are using it collaboratively with the child as part of a larger frame that they understand and has a different narrative and a different symbolism and a different purpose. And I think so. It’s never what we do, it’s how we do it.

Eileen (00:29:52):

There you go. Thank you.

Dr. Sarah (00:29:53):

So I think that’s important though because people hear gate and they might be confused, oh, I just put this gate up and now there’s a thing. It’s like, I think what you’re saying is this integration of the gate as part of this larger way of resetting the expectations and resetting the frame of bedtime and having the gate be a part of a larger thing.

Eileen (00:30:16):

A larger thing, right.

Dr. Sarah (00:30:18):

Is important.

Eileen (00:30:18):

Another equal interesting process with Barry is I get parents say, well, we’ve been closing the door to the room since our child was little, so we’ll just close the door. And then when your toddler opens that door, then what I find in toddlerhood, there’s a moment where most toddlers will ask for a light in their room a night. They want to see the room because as they’re developing, they’re increasing their words and their language. They start, shadows start to move. Things start to happen. They’re starting to make connections in the day and in the night and the darkness and all of that. That’s a really human instinctual. Feelings come up at night and a door that was closed early on is too much isolation in toddlerhood that feels, uh wait.

Dr. Sarah (00:31:20):

Yeah, well, their world’s bigger. You know what I mean? So when you’re really little, little, little, your world doesn’t really extend that far beyond where you are located. And for toddlers who really understand, there’s all these rooms in this house and people are in different rooms, and now the door feels very different.

Eileen (00:31:40):

And toddlers are like a 3-year-old, a three and a half year old. How they take to this situation is very different. I have toddlers of that age who will negotiate a compromise. I don’t want the gate close, and so therefore I’m going to stay in the bed. I had a toddler recently whose mom used to say, I don’t want the door closed. She goes, well, you’re opening the door. I’m coming out and it’s time for you to rest, and it’s time for me. She works after he goes to sleep, she goes, I’m going to be up working, so I’ll come and check on you. I’m there and if you need me, I’ll come. I’m doing my grownup work. And she says, so we’re going to put this gate here for you. It’s a reminder to get back in bed, but you can come to the gate and I can see you there and I can come and give you a kiss. We talked to them about what the new protocol is as well. And so he said, I tell you what, I tell you what, if you keep the gate open? He wanted the gate there to see the gate, but he didn’t want it in the door. And she trusted him and she just leaned the gate against the door, against the wall outside. And she goes, well, it’s here to help you if you need it, but let’s give it a try. And he would come and stand at the threshold and call her and she’d come and give him a kiss. You’d get back in bed. She’s like, I’ll come check on you after you’re asleep. I’ll come check on you in separation anxiety.


And it falls into this ambivalence about the positive and negative feelings about leaving the secure base. That’s where separation anxiety can come in. And the best thing you can do for an anxious person is just tell us when. Just tell us when you’re going to be back. Don’t leave it open and out there or vague. See you in a few minutes to a child with time. That’s not an element yet in their cognitive ability to calculate time and future, especially after I do X, I’ll come back. I would give them something concrete in action. Again, embodied children relate to, I’m going to go do a load of laundry and then I’m going to come back. So it gives them something concrete and we tell them when, so they don’t have to. I learned that from Gordon Neufeld. He said, the brain doesn’t go from work to sleep. It goes from work to play to relaxation to sleep. If they’re working to get us, that’s activating. If they don’t have to work and they know when we’re going to come back, it helps them calm down. It really makes a huge difference for them.

Dr. Sarah (00:34:41):

So what I’m hearing is, one, we’re going to prepare and we’re going to prepare by talking about it in the daytime by doing and walking through it. Rest, rehearsal. There you go. Setting up the environment, helping them kind of participate in some of the new frames and both metaphorical frames and physical frames.

Eileen (00:35:01):

Oh, I love that. It’s the container.

Dr. Sarah (00:35:08):

And then we’re going to do the performance, right? The not dress rehearsal, the real deal. We’re going to actually, the night’s going to come. We’re going to follow through on what we said. Some kids are going to stand at that threshold and call for us. Some are going to stay in their bed. They’re just really, really, really regulated and in low impulse and they just can do it.

Eileen (00:35:29):

Oh yeah.

Dr. Sarah (00:35:30):

Those are rare. Just to be clear statistically, because I’m No, I’m listening. I’m listening to the people listening to this podcast. I’ve been doing this long enough that now I can hear them just in their cars driving or doing the dishes, being like, is she nuts? My kid would absolutely never in a million years stand at the threshold of the door. If I went to go to laundry, they would come downstairs and scream and cry and yell, and then I’d have to take them back upstairs and it would be a disaster. And I know that those people call you.

Eileen (00:36:03):

Yeah, they do. I do. I love those. I love those toddlers. Toddlers. I call ’em anarchists at heart. They’re just like, have this have the rules. I’m just blasting through everything. They’re great.


Even those toddlers, I had one of those toddlers recently, and this is what it came down to. They did the dress rehearsal and he was kind of into it, and then he saw the night coming and he told his dad, he said, I’m not ready. And he said, the father just was brilliant. He said, I know that feeling. Every day we do things that we don’t feel ready for, but then we do. And he goes, remember that day you didn’t feel like you were ready to take the, and he was a young little boy who wanted the training wheels off of his bike a lot sooner. Remember that day you didn’t think you were ready and you fell first, and then you got back on and then you did it, and then you fell. He goes, that’s part of becoming ready is feeling like we’re not ready moving through it, falling on our face, getting up and do it again.

Dr. Sarah (00:37:29):

And anchoring it in a story that that child one, not only remembered, but probably felt good about. Yes, was a self-esteem building example.

Eileen (00:37:40):

Yes, yes.

Dr. Sarah (00:37:43):

Because then you got buy-in.

Eileen (00:37:45):

So that buy-in is really interesting to me. I remember decades ago that conversation was around teenagers, buyin, we want the teenagers to buy in. I think that scaffolding and that framework needs to be built earlier in a collaborative experience with children early on. So by the time we’re not trying to construct it when they’re teenagers, you know what

Dr. Sarah (00:38:10):

I mean? It’s a lot harder.

Eileen (00:38:12):

It’s a lot harder than if it’s already there. Oh God, it’s so much easier to just access it. And so he didn’t feel ready and just dad was like, that’s cool. That’s okay to not feel ready. And that confidence, that’s another thing our children can smell is our confidence. And he did it and he was so proud of himself the next day, and there were a few stuffies that got thrown over the fence or thrown over the gate. I don’t want these, the characters of the story we invented and I’ve changed my mind.

Dr. Sarah (00:38:59):

That changed my mind. I don’t want to agree to this anymore.

Eileen (00:39:03):

Yeah, nevermind.

Dr. Sarah (00:39:06):

So what do the parents do? I’m curious. I’ve seen it so many times where kids who even have a strong resistance to the change or who struggle very much with tolerating that I’m not ready yet feeling and believing that I can do it even though I’m not ready or I’m scared and I can handle that feeling of being scared. Kids who really struggle with that, and in the practice of experiencing that fear and surviving it and getting through a few nights of this, they are able to tolerate that feeling better. And I see this a lot. I don’t do a whole lot of sleep specific stuff, but this anxiety bit, I work with the families a lot. There’s a therapy modality called SPACE and it stands, it’s an acronym. It’s Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. It’s out of the Yale Child Study Center. I recently become certified at it.


I’m really love it. And I’m not a big CBT person, cognitive behavioral therapy person, but I find that it works with family systems and attachment systems so beautifully because it works specifically by helping the parents reduce accommodations, in my opinion, very warm and attuned manner. Yes. But that is it. I help parents figure out where am I rescuing my child by helping them avoid something that they feel anxious about, and how do I change my behavior by not rescuing them or not helping them avoid that thing anymore or not take doing this thing for them?


And what happens is the kid usually has a really hard time at first because they have to experience anxiety that was formally being swept away for them. And the sleep stuff is a very, it overlays on it very, very similarly because what we’re really talking about here is anxiety about separating. And I think I’ve seen so many times kids get through a few iterations of the change and they protest and they do not like it, and they come to internalize a new sense that, okay, I didn’t like this and I really could handle the feeling. Nothing bad ended up happening. But I do think that the parents being able to withstand those waves and sort of, again, it takes a lot of work, I think for the parents.

Eileen (00:41:46):

Oh yeah, it’s all our work.

Dr. Sarah (00:41:48):

To be prepared for some rocky nights. It’s not like you do this and it’s going to be smooth right away. You kind of have to be prepared to dig in for a few days. Right. And I’m curious what your experience.

Eileen (00:42:06):

Yes. Oh, I love this.

Dr. Sarah (00:42:08):

Yeah. How do parents hold setting a boundary is one thing. Holding a boundary is a whole other.

Eileen (00:42:16):

Oh god. And I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I was not good at because I grew up in a codependent model. I grew up in the classic codependent alcoholic model home that by the time they got to the fourth child, they were so exhausted. It was a free for all, no boundaries, no limits, completely almost boarding along on permissive parenting. I was out of control. So I realized, wow, I got to learn this. So how we do this is first I spend some time preparing the parent to be prepared to prepare the child. So working with that riding, yeah, riding the waves. There are all kinds of ways. I mean, Janet talks about it. The anchor is really her metaphor. The container was, for me, holding a strong sturdy container. I had worked in animal behavior is I was really interested in animal behavior as a child and started early on observing behaviors of animals and working with both wild and domestic animals. And I’ve learned a ton about the behavior and how animals do feel safe. Dogs do feel safe in a crate, and a lot of animals do have that sense of safety. So working with them on being able to accurately mirror back what the child’s going on. And when parents are working together, it’s really hard. When I work with single parents, they don’t have someone to co-regulate with.


To go in and then co-regulate with the child. So they’re their own regulatory system. So it’s like have a friend phone, a friend, have someone online that you can co-regulate with. So when you go in, you are regulated and then you can co-regulate with your child. Wow, that’s a big piece. But a lot of it is working with these disturbances in ourselves so that we can be, and we just have to be co-regulate enough.


I mean really that and send in the most regulated parent when you’re working in a couple, send in the most regulated person and be honest with the child. If you have to tap out, you know what? This is difficult. You’re having difficulty. I’m having difficulty. I’m going to step out. I’m going to let mom take over. I’m going to let dad take over. Your partner, come in and step in. But that’s interesting that the anxiety, as someone who’s had anxiety and CBT did help me, DBT did help me, but letting myself experience the anxiety and not getting annihilated is what helped me the most.

Dr. Sarah (00:45:33):


Eileen (00:45:36):

It feels like an annihilation.

Dr. Sarah (00:45:38):

Yeah, it is. Because really, and I say this a lot, anxiety is not what anxiety is, is a fear of, I usually say fear of fear, but really it’s a fear of being annihilated by our fear.


And so we don’t treat anxiety by making anxiety go away. We don’t treat anxiety by making fear go away. We treat anxiety by increasing our capacity to feel that feeling and Sam won’t be annihilated. I can survive this. This feeling will come and it will go. I say that a lot to my kids when they have a really intense emotional experience. It doesn’t really work in the moment. Honestly, if I say this to them in the moment, they usually in their own form, tell me to F off. If I say it after, though, as soon as the feeling has passed and I say, whew, that feeling came and it went. Those feelings, they don’t last forever. They feel really actually quite seen. I think they show me that that is that calm, that they just sort of sink into that truth when I say it. And it feels very helpful for me as a tool. Again, if I were to say that if they’re screaming or super stuck on something or mad, and I say, this feeling will come and it will go, that does not feel good. But as soon as it’s passed and you narrate that that went.

Eileen (00:47:07):


Dr. Sarah (00:47:07):

Then it makes sense to them. They’re like, it did. It was here. And it went. And I feel that relief now. And now that you saw that, I actually feel really seen.

Eileen (00:47:15):

Yes. Yeah. It brings up, I’m thinking about the word accommodation because sometimes this is what I lead and I have conversations with parents about this. They’re the expert on this child. I’m helping them with some tools and some strategies and some ideas. But at the end of the day, truly because what we’re working on the end of the day, in the middle of the night, they’re the expert. And accommodations are an interesting thing that have, in my opinion, been overused in some areas. The tendency to accommodate children now is gone off the rails. So how much are we going to accommodate? Some times where I’ll say you make the call in the night to make the adjustment if it’s too much, if it is too much separation for the child, we can make an accommodation and sit at the gate for a few nights. I’m going to sit here while you fall asleep, but when you fall, we have to be really honest. When you fall asleep, I’m going to get up and go about my night, and then I’m going to come check on you before I go into my bed. So they know the physicality of the household because that can really create hypervigilance. That good intention to stay while the child’s falling asleep is a really good intention, but we have to prepare them. Once you fall asleep, I am out of here and into my own bed with mom, with dad, with the other parent.


We have to be super clear. And even then they can wake up and it’s like they’re disoriented. It’s like you’re not in the chair and it can inflame it. So that’s another type of preparation. And we tell them we’re going to stay in the chair for a few nights so that it’s not full immersion therapy into your biggest anxieties. We’re not going to let you feel all of your anxiety at once, but it’s kind of titrating just a little bit to become accustomed. I love that. I want to look into what you’re talking about. I’m very interested in this because I think there are a lot of anxious children in the world, and my kids say over 50% of their generation, they’re in their twenties, are anxious, depressed, and medicated.

Dr. Sarah (00:49:52):

And I think in some part, I think there’s definitely a percentage of that population that it is because the distress tolerance was not facilitated.

Eileen (00:50:04):

Out of the best intentions, right out of the best intentions. The road to Hell is paved with those things.


And so the water was blown away in college. She was like, why do some of the women that I’m befriending, they don’t know the difference between feeling safe and being safe. I’m saying, you’re safe. We’re just having a disagreement. We are disagreeing with each other, but you’re safe. Look, we’re in the dorm room. Everything’s cool. And then that same child shows up at a frat house inebriated, and my daughter’s like, you’re not safe. Don’t go in there. Why are you walking in? You’re not safe. Why do you think you’re safe? And she’s just blown away.

Dr. Sarah (00:50:56):

Right? Yeah. I mean, these are legit, you said it earlier, these little moments when our kids are young, they build up to the bigger moments. And so if we’re taking the time to do this slowly and with a lot of cool collaboration and explanation and preparation and buy-in and being willing to do that sort of titrated, accommodating.

Eileen (00:51:23):

Yes. Titrated, accommodating.

Dr. Sarah (00:51:24):

With the goal of ultimately reducing the accommodation over time. Yes, it’s front loading the work. There is no question. It is more work to do it this way, and you’re going to do a lot more work later.

Eileen (00:51:39):

I know.

Dr. Sarah (00:51:40):

I promise.

Eileen (00:51:42):

And later, when I always am so touched by the toddler because underneath all of this, underneath all the pushback and the, no, I’m not going to do it, and there is this under nine desire to please us, and we don’t want to do the later work either of undoing people pleasing. We really don’t want to do that either. So we want to be very vulnerable with that child that wants to please us. That’s a conversation in itself that how to, but we want them to also, I think even more important than pleasing it, so proud of themselves. In the morning, I have toddlers who are walking around telling the dog how well he did. And cats, I have parents who do the preparation, the toddler’s like, yeah, no, I see what’s coming. Forget this whole dress rehearsal. And so the parents literally do the dress rehearsal with the dog. The dog gets in the toddler bed, sits in the toddler bed, lays and lay down, and they tuck the dog in. And then they go out and the dog comes to the gate and they come and talk to the dog and give the dog a kiss, and they do the whole dress. And then the next day, the toddler falls around the dog and it’s like, I did so well. I did it. I did it.

Dr. Sarah (00:53:06):

Yeah, that’s really cool.

Eileen (00:53:07):

They’re proud of themselves. So we want them to have that sense of inner reward too.


But I think a beautiful thing you’re just talking about, we’re front loading the work because with the child’s learning, that little toddler who said, I tell you what, take the gate down and I’ll self boundary. As our children embody the boundaries in the home, by the time they’re teenagers, what they want to prove to us is that they’re trustworthy, so they get more freedom. There is nothing, the look on that child’s face when we lift a boundary and they’re like, what? I get to do that. I remember when I told my daughter the first time she could have a sleepover with her best friend. I’m like, yeah, we know that family. We know. We’ve been like, we’re comfortable. Yeah, go do your sleepover. She was like, what?

Dr. Sarah (00:54:07):


Eileen (00:54:07):

Because she’d kept asking and asking. I was like, not yet. Not yet. Not yet. Today is the day. And she goes to school with this girl. They’re in college together. And I found the note and I sent ’em a picture. The note of this weekend, we are having a sleepover together. And she was so shocked because she had that tone of, I demand. I demand some more freedom. And the answer she came home was, yeah, okay. And she had this look on her face. Wow. I said, we can work on your tone a little bit, but yeah, for sure you got to sleepover. So I sent she and her friend the picture of that little, I saved it.

Dr. Sarah (00:54:50):

What’s so kind of beautiful about that story is that you saved that letter, right? It meant something for you too.

Eileen (00:54:59):


Dr. Sarah (00:54:59):

When you see your child, when you help your child cross a threshold, internalize a new skill, believe they can do something, it really moves us too. It’s important for us too. And I think sometimes we resent the work of all the work exhausted and we’re retired exhausted. But I do think there are parts of us that genuinely do want to do this work. Not always. And it’s hard to access that part because of all the other things. But I do think when we look at our kid and we say, you can do this, the dad who had the genuinely tough kiddo with low impulse control and who’s raging at the gate and who says to his dad, I don’t think I’m ready. Even the fact that a kid who struggles with regulating and doing, following the plans and not flying off the handles could even say, I don’t feel ready, is a huge thing.

Eileen (00:56:04):

I know.

Dr. Sarah (00:56:05):

But for the dad to be able to say, yeah, you don’t, okay, and I still think, I still know you can handle not feeling ready, and we’re going to do this anyway, and you got this, and that child going at it at the gate, things screaming. But if that child then is telling the dog the next day, oh my God, I did it. That parent is feeling So fireworks, parenting win. And that’s why some of this is we want our kid to have I intrinsic motivation. We need to find our own intrinsic motivation too. Seeing our kids succeed at this when we maybe previously didn’t think they could or really anxious about how it was going to go. Or sometimes maybe we’re anxious in general about how our kid’s going to be able to handle stuff because they struggle with it. To see them succeed is a win for the parent. And that’s our intrinsic motivation to keep doing this work. It is work. There’s no question.

Eileen (00:57:06):

It’s no question. I haven’t met the person. It is being conscious, man, life was so easy when you could just unconsciously parent, right? Maybe. I don’t know.

Dr. Sarah (00:57:20):


Eileen (00:57:20):

I mean, I see the repercussions of it as someone who grew up in an era and in a time and in a place where parenting was just a verb. No, no. What are the parenting styles? What book can I read? None of that. They’re just winging it. And they did the best they could and they did it with love. And overall, I think they hit a lot of marks, but where did they missed some big misses? And I think we’re making up for that, but I haven’t met the person that once you get too far down the path of consciousness to turn back, it’s like, oh boy, really? I got to keep going?

Dr. Sarah (00:58:05):

And yet I can’t not keep going already. Once you get more conscious awareness, it’s like you can’t unknow what you know.

Eileen (00:58:14):

You can’t even know what you know, and you can’t not hear what you heard. And when you start that thing, my sister and I joke about this all the time, encouraging our children in the accurate mirroring to mirror us back to ourselves. That’s some fun.

Dr. Sarah (00:58:33):

Oh yeah. They’re good at that.

Eileen (00:58:34):

When they’re conscious. They have a whole brain and they have a little just enough life experience under their belt to come back and say, okay, you.

Dr. Sarah (00:58:44):

Oh gosh.

Eileen (00:58:44):

Remember when you did blank? Well, guess what? This is what I think about that now. Oh, those are some rich conversations.

Dr. Sarah (00:58:56):

Yes. I love this.

Eileen (00:58:58):

Those deserve road trips.

Dr. Sarah (00:59:01):

Yes. Hours. Hours. So, okay. I love this. I love that. First of all, I really love too that we could talk about toddlers, and I feel like it applies to elementary age school kids, and I think it applies to teenagers. There’s something kind of cool about this to me when we talk about this stuff because all the while we’re talking about toddlers, maybe, yeah, you’re going to modify a couple things. If you have an older kid, maybe the gate’s not really going to do anything, though. I feel like even for much older kids, the gate is a symbol. It’s still functions as a symbol, but either way, the ideas can be kind of modified to reach a bunch of different ages.

Eileen (00:59:48):

Right? So I’ll give you two. I just thought of two examples of five-year-olds, and one girl did a garland of flowers across her door, and these are two, talk about polar opposites. You’re going to laugh. So the girl had a garland of flowers over the threshold of the door that reminded her and it softened it, and it made him beautiful. The other five-year-old boy was really into soldiers and war and fighting. So he had a, what is it called? It’s this kind of net that they use in bunk.

Dr. Sarah (01:00:26):

Oh yeah.

Eileen (01:00:28):

In foxholes, and it has a name to it. And he put that up, and he was in the foxhole. He was with his soldiers and his buddies were there. We give them support animals. I call ’em support, animals support stuffies something. And we’re using story in lore, classic lore. There’s the vulnerable one, the one who we want them to identify, and then there’s a protector. We can give them things in the room that remind them that a picture of a family member, or I don’t know, a dad. A dad did something really brilliant. One night he was sitting in a chair while his son fell asleep and he wanted to get out of the chair. He got stuck in the chair every night. He had to sit, and it was taking longer and longer. His son was becoming more and more verbal and had a lot more to tell dad before sleep happened.


So it was turning from 30 minutes to an hour to an hour and a half. He said, I tell you what, I had this bear when I was a little boy, and he put the bear in the chair as a proxy. It gave him something. And it was because their story was the bears, the bear cave, and he was in his nest, and he left his bear there. He said, this bear really took care of me when I was a little boy. I slept with this bear. I brought it on vacation. It was my buddy, and so I’m going to leave this bear for you. And that was it. There was the bear in the chair, and so they changed the door, the bear in the chair.

Dr. Sarah (01:02:09):

Yeah, I love that. And I think the storytelling piece is another really golden nugget to remember in this is again, these are stories that you want to start incorporating into their narrative, not at nighttime in the daytime, and then you revisit. Then it’s existing and you pull on it at night, and I think that’s really helpful. And they can pull on it in the middle of the night when you’re not there. So we’re creating these anchors or these touchpoints that exist without us being there to be the physical anchor or touchpoint or container. They’re symbolic of us.

Eileen (01:02:48):


Dr. Sarah (01:02:49):

I love that. I could talk to you absolutely forever.

Eileen (01:02:54):

It’s so much fun. It’s so rich. And I love what you said, Sarah. You said this applies to the toddler, to the young child, to the tween, because we’re looking at childhood in the whole context of development, and I appreciate for parents, when you’re in the moment and you’re in the trenches and this is going to happen, and you’re right here, right now, those are the moments that we need something to call upon. And I think about something, my mentor in RIE, Hari Grebler told me, she goes, I found that those situations, what mostly helps is to stop, get really quiet, tune into your own body and then listen and just show up and be with the child and listen. Sometimes that alone can just diffuse the bomb that’s about to go off inside of the child. I need to explode. I need to explode. I’m working hard to get what I want. The old habit, that gravitational pull back to the old habit I want to get is just stop, settle down, get in our bodies and just say, ah, I’m here. I hear you. And just listen. And that is the hardest thing to do. Oh my gosh, that’s the hardest thing to do.

Dr. Sarah (01:04:29):

But we can do it.

Eileen (01:04:32):

Sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t. And I think they learn equally from the times we can and do, and the times we can’t and we just won’t. Like, you know what? I’m tired. I’m tired of listening. Because that’s an authentic reaction too.

Dr. Sarah (01:04:52):

Right? Sometimes we’re just like, I’m going to bed now.

Eileen (01:04:54):

I’m just going to bed now. I love you. I’ll be back.

Dr. Sarah (01:04:59):

Yeah. If people want to connect with you, if they’re like, I really want some guidance on this very specifically, or I have other sleep questions, or I just like to talk with you, you have a book.

Eileen (01:05:18):

I need to do a toddler book. That’s what I was supposed to do when my nest emptied four years ago, and I haven’t done my toddler book yet. So for toddler is just such a more nuanced and rich conversation. So my website, compassionatesleepsolutions.com and I offer a free 20 minute just chat to see if we’re a good fit, to see if we’re in alignment. And you can ask questions.

Dr. Sarah (01:05:52):

And you work with people like anywhere?

Eileen (01:05:55):

Yeah. All over the world.

Dr. Sarah (01:05:56):

Yep. Awesome. Oh, thank you so much for coming back on.

Eileen (01:06:01):

My pleasure.

Dr. Sarah (01:06:01):

I am confident there’ll be many more episodes to come from the wise Eileen Henry. Thank you.

Eileen (01:06:08):

I love it. Thank you, Sarah. It’s great to see you.

Dr. Sarah (01:06:16):That was so amazing. Okay, so if you want more tips and tricks for helping with your toddler sleep routine, make sure to check out my free toddler sleep workbook with seven things that you can start doing tonight that will help you create a more peaceful and effective nighttime routine plus pro tips to help you take these techniques to the next level. So you can go right to the episode description wherever you’re streaming this podcast to download this free guide. Or you can go to my website, drsarahbren.com, and click the resources tab. That’s drsarahbren.com/resources and get started Turning your child’s sleep struggles into solutions. Thanks so much for listening and don’t be a stranger.

210. Independent sleeping: Practical solutions for getting your child to stay in their own bed with Eileen Henry