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Jul 11 2011

Ask Bubbe: Why is My Toddler Sleeping with Me?

By at 11:29 am

Dear Bubbe,

I have a 21-month old daughter. She is usually a great sleeper at night. Though lately she’s been waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to get into bed with us. It started when she was sick so we acquiesced. Though now she’s all better and she’s still getting up! We let her cry one night for an hour and in the end she still came into bed with us. Help!

Debbie

Dear Debbie,

OK, re: the sleeping–I probably won’t be telling you anything you don’t know here. I assume that she has her own room and won’t be disturbing other siblings? And that she has had a regular bedtime, around 7 pm, and has been asleep until this waking.

First principles:  this is a behaviour which you wish to change. It takes up to 2 weeks to extinguish and reset behaviours, and consistency is the key.

So when Cuddles comes to your room and climbs into your bed (and I imagine, starts to kick you both out of bed as all toddlers do), soothe her, hug her, and IMMEDIATELY return her to her crib or bed. If she cries, think about what she wants: Grade A treatment, i.e.  in this case, to return to your bed. You should not offer her nothing at all and leave her to cry in the dark, feeling abandoned. You should offer her Grade B treatment. Cuddle her, soothe her, explain to her that you love her but she has to stay in her bed, and then put her back to bed and leave the room, saying, “See you in the morning!”

She will probably cry. If she can get out of bed herself and come to you, you must do it all over again. And again. And again. It has to be consistent; you must be strong even though you are exhausted. It won’t go on forever.

If she is in a crib and can’t get out, she will cry. Wait 10 minutes BY THE CLOCK (it will feel like an hour) and then, if she is still crying (not just moaning or grizzling) go to her and give her the Grade B. And leave. Repeat as often as necessary.

The first night will be hell; the second a bit better; usually by the third or fourth night she will get the message. She will know that you are there and that you love her and won’t feel as if you have rejected or abandoned her. So no Grade A, only Grade B treatment.

It isn’t easy to implement this but it will give results if you and your husband are both on the same page and are prepared to see it through. Be warned: according to behavioral science, the best way to perpetuate a behaviour is to respond in an inconsistent manner, because Cuddles will learn that if she ‘huks you a tcheinik’ (annoys you) long enough, she will get the Grade A. So she will persist and persist until you put your foot down.

This behaviour-modifying approach can be used at any stage for anything.

So good luck, be strong and of good courage!


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