Dear Mr. Dad: Our two-year-old daughter was really excited about her new big-girl bed when we got it a few weeks ago. But now she won’t sleep in it. My husband and I aren’t sure how it happens, but our daughter seems to end up in our bed almost every night. We’re trying not to get upset at her, but we really need our sleep. Do you have any suggestions for how we can get her to sleep in her own bed?
A: Ah, the joys of bedtime with toddlers; I remember it well. It’s a time when what’s hers is hers and what’s your—yes, even your bed—is hers as well. It’s good that you’re trying to resolve this issue now; the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to get your daughter to fall (and stay) asleep in her own bed. Here are a few suggestions I think will help.
• Most of us find some comfort in routines. And toddlers—who are, in many respects, just like most of us—absolutely love them. So put together a routine, starting with when bedtime is and what happens when it’s time to hit the sack. PJs and a story? An excellent start. Want to add something else? Even better. Whatever you do will be fine; just be consistent.
• Remember “The Princess and the Pea”? In that classic tale, a tiny pea was enough to keep the delicate princess up all night. In real life, it’ll take more than a legume to make your very own princess uncomfortable enough to abandon your bed. But with enough squirming, snorting, arm draping, kicking (be gentle, of course), and anything else you can think of to make sleeping with you as uninviting as possible, her big-girl bed will begin to look a lot more attractive and she’ll move out of yours.
• Try some reverse psychology This may sound a little unkind, but I’ve heard it works. The second your daughter slips her way into your bed, you or your husband should grab a pillow and go to her room. If that new bed of hers is big and strong enough, lie down there and go to sleep. If it’s not, try the floor. You have two goals. First, you want to play on your daughter’s natural possessiveness. In her mind, her bed—even if she’s not using it—is off limits to everyone else, including you. Second, your daughter wants to sleep in your bed because that’s where you are. If you’re not there, chances are she’ll go wherever you are. Once she sees you in her room, she’ll probably demand that you relinquish your spot. That’s your cue to move to a nearby chair. Over the course of a few nights, you’ll be safely back in your bed—and she’ll stay in hers.
• No backsliding. Sometimes—say, when it’s 3am and you’ve got to get up in a few hours anyway—it’s tempting to allow your daughter to stay in your bed. Don’t. The more inconsistent you are about enforcing the rules (you sleep in your bed, I sleep in mine), the more she’ll bend them. So, no matter what time she comes in, get up, take her by the hand, and walk her back to her room. Don’t speak, as she might interpret that as an invitation to start negotiating with you. Just tuck her in, give her a kiss, and walk out.
• Be patient. You’ve now got a few more tools to use. Hopefully, one will work right off the bat, but chances are, you’ll have to try a few ‘til you land on one—or a combination—that produces the desired result. And be flexible. What works today may not work a few days from now. But don’t give up: it can be done.
Previously published on Mr. Dad