Q: Since birth, my four-year-old hasn’t been a good sleeper, and I cannot get her to sleep in her bedroom. For the past month she has been sleeping with me because I was tired of fighting with her and needed some sleep of my own. Our doctor assures me she will grow out of this eventually, but I am wondering if there is anything I can do to speed things along.
A: Sleep issues are extremely important because they impact a child’s physical health, behaviour and psychological growth and development. I say this because while it will not be easy to change your daughter’s sleep pattern, the change is one worth making.
Rather than wait until she tires of your bed, you can actively teach her to self-soothe, that she is safe in her own room and that sleep rules are made by parents for kids to follow. Start by laying down the law: That means no sugary or chocolate bedtime snacks that might interfere with her ability to fall asleep. Bedtime play is to be quiet and not overstimulating, and there is no TV right before bed. It’s bath and story and good night. Then put her to bed in her own bed.
You may choose to leave her to fall asleep alone and take her back to her bed each time she gets up, or stay in her room, sitting nearby until she falls asleep. If you decide on the latter option, you can gradually move your chair out of the room over a few weeks.
I believe in positive rewards for positive behaviour and often suggest that parents set up a sticker calendar or reward ladder to mark off each night the child successfully sleeps alone. For other ideas, there are some excellent newer books about children’s sleep that you can turn to: My favourite is Better Sleep for Your Baby & Child by Shelly K. Weiss; Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is another excellent book. If you like humour to counter your frustration, Patrick C. Friman’s Good Night, Sweet Dreams, I Love You has some good approaches.