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Our three-year-old wakes up in the middle of the night and either demands to sleep in our bed or insists that Mommy comes sleep in her room. How can we break this habit?
First, decide whether your child's desire to sleep with you is a habit or a need (a parent can tell the difference). Nighttime can be scary for little people, so when in doubt consider it a need. Physical contact at night gives you and your child a chance to reconnect. The desire for nighttime contact may be particularly strong if your child had little or no contact with you during the day. The key is to find a compromise that meets both your need for privacy and sleep and your child's need for attachment and security.
Lie down with your child in her room and parent her to sleep with a story, a back rub, and some cuddle time. Then set nighttime rules. Put a futon or mattress at the foot of your bed and explain that if she wakes up she can come and sleep in her "special bed." Your three-year-old needs to understand the importance of not disturbing your sleep. If she needs comfort during the night, tell her to tiptoe quietly and slip into her special bed without waking mommy or daddy. Eventually, your daughter will spend more time in her own bed, resorting to the special bed only during times of stress – a change in schools or friends, a move, or any of life's little upsets that can disturb children's sleep. Above all, don't feel you are spoiling your child or that she is psychologically disturbed because she can't sleep on her own. Many emotionally healthy children simply enjoy the nighttime security of sleeping close to their parents. When it comes down to it, the time your youngster spends in your room (or in your bed) is relatively short, but it encourages a positive life-long attitude about bedtime, conveying that sleep is a pleasant – rather than fearful – state to enter.