If your toddler ends up sleeping in your bed every night, here’s how to break the habit, get her back into her bed and help her sleep on her own.
Does you toddler end up in your bed at night, after having started the evening in her own bed? If this is becoming a habit for you toddler, here’s why it could be happening, and ways you can deal with the problem.
Toddlerhood is a life stage where your child experiences a real leap in her motor, cognitive and social skills, not to mention a growth in her desire for independence. Yet these sudden spurts in independence can, ironically, lead to feelings of insecurity, too. And let’s face it, what better way to feel safe and assured than snuggling up in bed with mum and dad?“When our little boy started to climb out of his cot at 18 months,” says Reeta, mum to Jobe, 2, “We bought him a big bed that was low to the ground. It was a lot safer than his escape-artist moves over the edge of the cot. But looking back, I suppose that’s when it all started. In the middle of the night I’d feel a tickle on my bottom and find Jobe next to our bed, trying to wake me up. He just wanted to lie against me. But once he was in our bed, I was conscious of his every breath and move, which meant I could never get a decent night’s sleep.”“A child finds skin-to-skin contact rewarding and beneficial," says Claire Halsey, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert, “but it doesn’t have to be done at night time. Toddlers are ready to sleep alone.“You shouldn’t worry that you may be emotionally damaging your child because they sleep away from you, as long as you’re having enough warm, close, quality time during the day to meet her attachment needs. And you’ll also know that you’ll be setting her up with good sleep habits for the rest of her life."
If bed-sharing isn’t your chosen family formula, then letting your child rule the routine could be detrimental to your relationship and to your confidence as a parent. If you’re happy to share your bed, then don’t lose sleep over it, suggests Helen Ball, senior lecturer in anthropology at Durham University and a member of its sleep lab. “Our society is unusual in expecting small children to sleep alone. So in that sense their attempts to obtain company and security in the night are to be expected.” However, clinical psychologist and parenting expert Claire Halsey believes that manipulating parents and having no boundaries makes children feel out of control and insecure. “The more clingy they are, the more you might then push them away, so the more they may be likely to get into mum and dad’s bed.” It’s a vicious circle, which won’t stop without your determination. It takes willpower – and probably a few tantrums, too – but the alternatives aren’t very appealing, especially in the long term. “We recently had an email from parents of an 11 year old who screams every night until they let him into their bed,” says Mandy Gurney, co-founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic. “It comes down to this: don’t let your child sleep in your bed if you don’t want them to stay there.”
Your toddler might be headstrong by day, but at night it can be a different story, when her true immaturity comes through. Of course, the need to cuddle up with you at times of unease is only natural, so what’s the best way to handle the situation?“Dominic started climbing out of his bed when he was about 18 months old,” says Maria, 42, mum to Dominic, 4. “Every night, around 1am, he’ll come into our room. He doesn’t make any other sort of fuss; he just climbs in and settles down between us. If we pick Dominic up and take him back to his own bed, he may cry a bit. Usually, we manage to settle him, but he’ll come back in again and again. Eventually, we just give in and let him stay with us because we’re so desperate for a bit of sleep. In fact, his dad tends to end up sleeping in the spare room!”Children’s sleep consultant, Melissa Bielecki, says, “A lot of children suffer from this problem between the ages of 3 and 4.“Most little ones do wake up and feel anxious at a certain stage, and even though the anxiety passes, the habit stays. By Dominic’s age, it’s so ingrained that the only way to tackle it is to set aside four or five nights in which you’re determinedly settling him every time he stirs. Don’t chat to him about it and don’t use bribery. Just say, ‘Come on, into bed’. Be firm but fair. Never shout, but do try to create a different habit, and be consistent every night.”
“When Jesse was 2, she started to have nightmares so I’d let her get into our bed,” says mum Natalie. “I thought it was the right thing to do. Her dad, Nic, would go and sleep on the sofa! Jesse soon mastered the art of melodramatics though.”You naturally want to reassure your toddler, but also need to avoid encouraging those Oscar-winning performances, so it’s always best to do the soothing and straight-talking in your toddler’s room.“Don’t belittle your child’s fears, but don’t promote anxious behaviour,” says Claire Halsey. “Say, ‘There are no monsters in our house, so we’re going to have a big cuddle with teddy and we’re going back to sleep.’”
We have more expert advice and tips for dealing with toddler nightmares.
“If your child is ill, stay with her in her room if you feel you should,” recommends Mandy Gurney, co-founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic. “Then, as soon as she’s well enough to be on her own, go back to your usual routine.”“Barnaby slept in his own bed for two years, but when he was poorly with flu, all he wanted was to be in my arms,” says Sally, 32, mum to Barnaby, 3. “He was listless but wakeful at the same time, so I camped out next to him in his room. I had to move my mattress a little further away every night to make my eventual escape!”
This starts with you sitting on your child’s bed and then moving gradually further away until your child no longer needs you to be present to get to sleep. This dissolves the sleep association she has with you.Obviously, results with gradual withdrawal may take longer than techniques like controlled crying.
“We made our bedroom a no-go zone. And the kids made their bedrooms parent-free zones!”
Adie, mum of twins, Jake and Zac, 5“We took advantage of Marla’s 4-year-old pretence of being a ‘big girl’ and told her to prove it by staying in her bed. If she didn’t, she’d have to eat baby food the next day! Is that a bit cruel?”
Jenny, 30, mum to Marla, 4
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