"I met you at your recent Stansbury Seminar. It was so great! I could have listened for days. I can't get my daughter to stop sleeping in my bed. She is three years old, and I don't think she should still be sleeping in my bed. No matter what I do, she has a fit if I try to enforce her sleeping in her own bed. "
Children wanting to share their parent's bed is a very normal childhood desire. When I was young, I remember thinking that my parent's bed was softer, warmer, and just more cozy than my bed was. It is good that our children want to be close to us, but let's face it, parents need to be able to have their own space sometimes. If I end up with a child in bed with me, I don't sleep well, and I start becoming emotionally drained while I am sleeping, the time I should be replenishing my emotional energy.
If I am going to wake up with all of my "happy balls" I need my own space at night. Sleeping with children has also been known to create strain in marriages too.
By the time I was four years old, if I wanted to sleep by my parents at night, I had to sleep on the floor by their bed, not in their bed. This encouraged me to find comfort in my own bed.
From the time my children are babies, I don't sleep with them in my bed. If I do nurse in bed, I move them before I go back to sleep. My children have occasionally become cold or scared at night and come into my bed over the years. These cases are very rare. If my children come and ask me to sleep in my room, I tell them that they can bring their pillow and blanket into my room, and sleep beside my bed, but not in it.
A few years back a good friend of mine had a problem with her two year old daughter only wanting to fall asleep in the parent's bed. She asked me what to do about the situation.
This is what I advised, and what worked for her daughter.
I told her to teach her child how to follow instructions and how to accept NO answers first. Even a two year old can learn to say, "OK" and understand that if they do what Mommy says then Mommy praises them, and if they don't do what Mommy says then they earn a negative consequence.
Next, I advised her to ask her two year old, in the middle of the day, if she wanted to play a game. The game would be called, "The Night Night game." The rules of the game are, when Mommy or Daddy say, "Night, Night" then the little girl knows it's time to go to bed and stay there until Mommy or Daddy comes to tell her it's time to get out of bed. The other rule of "The Night Night Game" is that after the game is all done, the child earns some sort of reward.
To play this game, you take your child into her room, and show her how to get in the bed. Then you pre-teach her that you are going to tell her "Night, Night" and she needs to run to her bed. Mommy will come in and kiss her and tuck her in and say, "Night, Night," and then walk away. The girl is then told to stay in bed until Mommy comes back. If she does this then Mommy will come into her room after about one minute and say, "Yeah Sally! You are so good at going right to your own bed when I say 'Night, Night,' give me five!"
Then you tell her that if she ever chooses not to go to bed when you say, "Night, Night," then she will earn ----------. Then practice the game over and over again with lots of praise stretching each time before you come a little bit more each time. After about six times of playing the game, say, "You are so good at going to your own bed when I say 'Night, Night'. Now I know you can always go to bed fast when I say it. You are so big!" Lots of energy here. You are empowering your child to be obedient and brave.
Play the game a little later in the day again. Don't forget the treat or positive reward after each game session! Then at bed time, go through your normal routine, and then say, "OK, now I am going to say, 'Night, Night' and you are going to go get in your bed, OK? If you choose to say, OK and stay in your bed all night, then tomorrow you will earn --------." Be sure to follow through with your promise. Don't forget.
Praise a lot! Practice/pre-teach every day for a week. After about this much time, you can tell your child that they have mastered going to bed alone, and so now they don't need rewards in the morning any more. Also, pre-teach that if they don't ever go to bed when told to, then they will be choosing ----------(negative consequence). Then just follow through, and don't ever go back to letting her sleep with you again.
If your daughter ever has a fit about not being able to sleep with you again, then she is either not accepting a NO answer, or she is not following instructions; take your pick. Her fit means that she needs to go right to time-out to calm down and get ready to say "OK" to instructions and NO answers.
Pre-teaching can be applied to ANY behavior that is making members of the family unhappy. Just take some time to practice the right skill, so that the children know there is an other choice that also leads to comfort and happiness.