If you have a mini escape artist who loves to wriggle out of his or her bed and into yours then you certainly aren't alone. While some families may be very happy to co-sleep with their children, others may be light sleepers or find that the intrusion is too disruptive to everyone's night and want to do something to put a stop to it. As with most parental approaches, there's no one size fits all and there's no right or wrong when it comes to the technique you use. Two UAE-based experts share their points of view and their tips for encouraging a toddler to get used to sleeping in his or her own bed.
I completely empathise with your frustration and lack of sleep - it can be very hard to be patient when we are sleep-deprived! It's helpful to understand how toddlers' brains work and the strategies that are effective with them. At three, your daughter is built to seek connection from you. It's not a logical desire, rather one fuelled by emotion and the need for security. Children don't see sleep as a welcome relief from the busyness of the day like many adults do; for them its a disconnection from the fun of the day and adults that they love - mummy and daddy - and if they feel that they haven't had enough connection during the day, they will often seek it at night.
When I work with families where sleep is an issue, one of the first things we do is look at how much connection your toddler is getting during the day and if this is sufficient to meet her emotional needs - often, increasing this changes the amount of times they will come to you in the night. Remember, at this age, connection is all about emotion - your toddler doesn't yet have a logical brain, so connecting to her means using your emotional brain. This means listening to her, empathising with how she feels, physical connection, cuddles, reading a story, having a regular routine - all these things help. Depriving her of the connection she seeks at night will just lead her to seek more and upset her further.
When you take her back to bed, do it compassionately, with empathy and love so that she feels comforted. If she used to have a dummy for comfort, can you replace this with something that reminds her of you, perhaps smells of you? Her need for you is much stronger than any reward you can give her - you are the ultimate reward for her after all! Enforcing her to stay in her room is a punishment and will create more of a disconnection between you and her.
She isn't yet old enough to calm herself down or think rationally about what she is doing and it's worth remembering she isn't trying to manipulate or punish you, just seeking the love and connection she needs when she wakes up alone. Often this is just a phase that toddlers go through and I know it's hard for you as a parent, it's also hard for her. I really hope this helps and you can find ways to help her and you cope.
Jo Holt is head maternity manager at Malaak Mama & Baby Care:
Toddlers like to feel in control of their lives, and need to be encouraged to be independent to give them the confidence to feel safe when sleeping alone.
1. Talk to her It helps a child to process information if you physically lower yourself to their eye-level. Sit calmly and explain what your expectations are during 'sleep time' in your home, and ask her to repeat back what you have said. Some children may require a day or two to process what you're asking of them, but continue to do so daily until the child understands.
a) Ask why your child is waking and address any insecurities.
b) Provide a bottle of water on her bedside table, offer teddies to cuddle, a night light, or encourage her to think positive thoughts that will assist her going back to sleep.
c) Explain that it's important for the entire family to sleep well so everyone is healthy and happy during the daytime. However, ensure she knows that if she is feeling unwell it is OK to wake you.
2. Ensure safety and security Placing a heavy-duty safety gate at the bedroom door is a great way for them to accept there are boundaries and limits. However, ensure they have security blankets or teddies to provide them with comfort should they need them.
3. Offer distractions Set up a play area on the floor in her room after she is asleep, for the first few weeks. When she wakes up she will be drawn in by the new activities that she has not seen before, which should encourage her to play independently and not wake the rest of the family.
- Malaak Mama & Baby Care offers customised Sleep Support Programs.