I need some sleep! We have an almost 5-year-old girl and a 9-month-old girl. With our oldest, we were guilty of letting her “cuddle” in our bed, often with the three of us falling back to sleep. Before our baby was born, we worked very hard to get her to sleep in her own bed ALL NIGHT. She does at times, but she also comes into our room several times a night (ironically, our baby sleeps through the night!). We take her back, tuck her in, and sit in a chair by her door for a minute (as per her bedtime routine). Is there anything more we can do to encourage her to sleep in her bed all night?
As a side note, she has only once gone to her bathroom by herself at night; otherwise, she comes in, wakes us up, and wants to use our bathroom. Clearly she can do it, but how do you encourage that type of independence? Thanks in advance for your help!
If you want sleep, stop being her de-facto soother.
I know how you feel when you capitalize “all night.” There’s nothing more exhausting for any parent than trying to get through the day when you’re woken up night after night, and it’s very understandable that you’re crying out, “I need some sleep.” Both adults and children go through a number of light sleep phases during the night, at which point they can easily wake up. You probably know them as the moments when you notice that your blankets or duvet are more on your husband’s or partner’s side than yours or that your pillow is uncomfortable. You can easily return to sleep after resolving the issue.
I need sleep comes with practicing expectations.
To change things, I’d approach it in the following way: Talk to her calmly about the fact that she is now old enough to go to sleep by herself. You haven’t mentioned whether bedtime is difficult, but if it is, here’s what I’d do: In the evening, do the bath and bedtime story routine, etc., as normal, and then hug and say goodnight. If she is troubled when she first goes to bed, come back at first after 10 minutes, but then add five on for each trip up to a maximum of twenty minutes. Be very low key and totally boring. Don’t come in to the room; just come to the doorway for a few seconds to reiterate that you expect her to go to sleep. If you stick with it, she will soon realize you are serious. If you’re lucky, she may settle easily. If not, expect a fuss, but stick to your guns.
Be totally boring!
If and when she disturbs you in the night, be very low-key. Say as little to her as you can. She’s getting up in the night right now because she’s getting something out of it. So try not to give her what she’s looking for—Mommy or Daddy’s attention. Be boring. If you’re offering her anything to drink other than water, I’d stop. If she wants water, have a cup there on the bathroom sink, but let her get it herself. If she needs to go to the bathroom, that’s fine, but again, let her do it herself. Keep your bathroom off limits, as that’s another way to ensure you notice her. You might also want to try to stay out of sight around the corner while she’s actually in the bathroom, as she’s already proven she’s quite capable of handling things on her own.
Offer logical consequences.
Then take a peek at the logical consequences you can impose because she did not go to sleep when asked. You are not punishing her when you do this; you are just letting her experience the consequences of her own actions. Although your daughter can see you feeling tired, and no doubt you’ve told her, getting her to change her nighttime habits is something that will have a much greater effect if it directly affects her. After you’ve explained to her that you’re tired of waking up in the middle of the night and that she’s old enough to sleep without you, add the following: Let her know that you are always available in the event something serious happens, but that waking up and coming to your room to help her get back to sleep has to stop. Tell her why. Explain that it’s hard for you to get through the day when you are so tired and that you need your rest. Go on to explain the logical consequence of your not getting enough sleep. Talk to her about the fact that when you are tired, you don’t want to go swimming, go to the park, or play the games that you usually like to play. Then follow through.
I need sleep means be a good actor!
You’ll probably be too tired to act, but even if you aren’t totally exhausted, now’s the time to play it up. Have a totally boring day. Try to do literally nothing other than the basics. Put your feet up, and as much as is possible with young children, both of you should zone out. I don’t think you’ll need to do this very long, as I’m sure she’ll pick up the idea really fast. However, if you need to, don’t hesitate to follow through for as many days as it takes to get the message across. And don’t worry about your youngest daughter; you can make life interesting for her during the time your eldest is in kindergarten (if that’s where she goes). Take heart, because this last stage will most likely be brief.
Just like any other aspect of dealing with children’s behaviour, consistency is key. Once you start, stay the course. It sounds weird, but I have no doubt this will help you out and allow all of you to get a good night’s rest. Keep up the good work.
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