It’s not rare for me to wake up in bed, turn to my left and see a big, plush Elsa doll laying beside me. Beside her, there’s my two-year-old daughter Julianna – sound asleep. I know how she got there, but I don’t when she made the tall climb into my king-size bed. Just like most nights, it happened sometime in the middle of the night – after she was sound asleep in her own big queen-size bed that fits her queen-sized personality.
So, how did I get here? Julianna never slept with us. She was sleeping in her crib, in her own room at just three weeks old! Always a great sleeper through the night, she moved out of the crib and into her big girl bed just after she turned one – not coincidentally around the same time she learned she could use all those bars and rails to venture into escape artistry. She always fell asleep in her bed, in her room after my husband or I read her a book. If she woke up, she would cry a bit, then go back to sleep. But then, she figured out how to break free – by doing the shimmy, starting on her belly and working her way down until her little toes touched the ground. Then, she made her 2am appearance known because she was crying. In the middle of the night, it sounds a lot louder than any other time of the day by the way. So, either my husband or I would get up and walk her back to her room, calm her down and go our separate ways.
This is something we talked about before she was even born. The kids will not sleep in our bed. They have their own rooms and beds for a reason. Whenever Julianna came in crying – no matter how many times a night – we would take her back to her room to sleep for the night. And yes, some nights, this happened multiple times. But we knew, if we let her sleep with us just one night, we would be doomed. She’ll have to do it every night and trying to get her to sleep in her own bed would be that much harder. So, we did that. For months. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun. We both work full-time jobs. We need our sleep, but we were thinking long-term here. Then, Julianna turned two and out smarted us.
One morning, we woke up and there she was. In bed. The little Einstein mastered the art of being sneaky. She stopped crying and as quietly as she could, she came into our room at who knows what hour, and learned how to crawl into our bed so we wouldn’t even notice! I am a light sleeper and she didn’t get one by me all the time, but many times she did… and she still does.
At this point, I was pregnant and uncomfortable. Then, I had a newborn waking up every three hours (if I was lucky) to eat. Do you see where I am going with this? Sometimes, her middle of the night ambush was heard… and ignored. To make myself feel better, I tell my husband, “I’m sure there’s worse things we could do as parents.”
Obviously, I’m no expert. Clearly. But I think a lot of parents deal with this exact same problem. So, as someone who has been there and done that… and is stilling doing that, here is my advice:
Start early. Let your kids know from the start they cannot sleep in bed with you. As soon as you let them in, the problem has started. Don’t fall for special circumstances either. You can sleep in your own bed, even if your foot hurts.
Use positive language and actions to reinforce your child. Praise him or her on being “so big for sleeping in bed all night” and reward that behavior in the morning.
Start small with something like having your child take a nap alone in his or her bed during the day.
Let your kids fall asleep in their own bed at night. Don’t let them fall asleep with you holding them in the chair or with you in their bed too. Then, when they wake up, they may feel scared or upset that you left since their last memory was sleeping with you.
Be consistent. It’s hard, but in the long-term, it’s worth it.
And, I’m not going to lie. I am a big fan of bribery too. “If you sleep in your bed all night like a big girl, I will give you candy in the morning,” has left me feeling very rested many mornings.
Originally published in Spotlight Families Magazine.