My 8-year-old has a very hard time sleeping in her own bed. When she sleeps with me, she is very restless, making it hard for me to get a good night's sleep. She promises to stay in her room, but usually ends up climbing into my bed at two in the morning when I'm too tired to carry her back. What can I do to get her to sleep in her own room?
There's nothing quite as refreshing as a great night's sleep to help us recover from our day and restore us with the energy to awaken bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. When children have trouble sleeping, it impacts not only their sleep (and mood), but their weary parents'.
Here's my advice:
Be decisive. Many parents confuse their child with mixed messages about bedtime because they themselves are uncertain. If one night you're lecturing your daughter about why she must sleep in her room, and the next night you're inviting her to sleep with you, it's no wonder she makes a fuss. Humans have been co-sleeping for thousands of years; it's normal for kids to want to sleep with their parents and/or siblings. If she has reason to believe that you will cave in to her request to sleep with you "just this once," she will keep pushing to do so.
Ask yourself this question: Do you want your daughter to sleep in her own bed each night, or are you unclear? Do you like having her in your room, or do you truly want to sleep alone? Work through your thoughts and feelings to come to some clarity so your daughter knows what to expect.
Explain the plan. Pick a time over the weekend when you and you daughter are relaxed and bedtime is hours away. If you have decided that she will need to sleep in her own room, explain the new plan.
"At bedtime, I'm going to read to you and cuddle you for a few minutes. Then, to help you get used to falling asleep in your own room, I'll put on that quiet music you like (or lava lamp, or audio story) and for a few nights, I'll sit on the other side of the room reading my book.
"You may want to chat with me, but I'll just stay to help you drift off to sleep only if you can be quiet. After a little while I'll go out, but I'll come in to check on you every few minutes. You can decide if you want to leave a night light on, or if you'd like your bedroom door cracked open.
If you come into mommy's room later on in the night, I'll walk you back to your bed without talking.
After a while, this will get easier but it might be a little hard at first, because I know how much you like sleeping with mommy."
Hopefully, it goes without saying that you will need to actually carry out this plan. If you don't stand behind your words and instead keep negotiating and debating whether she can or cannot sleep with you, you'll be back where you started.
Allow her to be sad. Your daughter may feel angry, sad or anxious if she determines that you have truly decided that she can no longer sleep with you. Rather than trying to convince her how wonderful it will be to sleep alone, allow her to the freedom to express her feelings.
"Sleeping with mommy feels safe and cozy. You really like it. It sounds like you're very upset about this new plan."
Provide diversions. Many children find it difficult to simply lie in the dark, waiting for sleep to come. Try playing soft music to help her drift off to sleep. Or put a lava lamp in her room to give her something to gaze at while she gets drowsy. Or try turning on a device that projects moving stars or animals on the ceiling. By giving her busy mind something to do, you'll make it easier for her to fall asleep.
Scare away the monsters! If, like many children, your daughter claims to be fearful of sleeping by herself because of things that go bump in the night, enlist the use of her imagination. Walk her through a guided visualization where she imagines an army of powerful animals (let her choose her favorite) standing guard at her door or around her bed. Or give her a bottle of homemade "Monster Spray" with an official looking label that reads, "Makes Monsters Disappear in Seconds!"
Some families choose to have their children sleep with them. If that works for you, by all means, enjoy the cuddles. But if you are clear that you want your bed to yourself, these ideas should help your daughter make the transition to sleeping through the night in her own room, giving you both an uninterrupted night of restful zz's.
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