My 5-year-old slept pretty well as a baby but around the time he turned 3 1/2 he started coming into my bed in the middle of the night. It started occasionally, sometimes preceded by a night terror. It has since become a nightly event. We have tried making him a bed on the floor next to mine but he needs to feel a body next to him. Sometimes he says it is because he is scared of an intruder, but not always. His doctors have told me both to try the walk back method (Supernanny) or that he needs to be in my bed and I should just let him. I am not sure which way to go. As a baby, I let him cry it out since I believed that he needed to learn to self-soothe. I have done that with each of my kids with good results. I just wonder if at this age it is a different story. I need my sleep but don’t want him to suffer. Any advice?
A 5-year-old coming out of his bed is definitely something that needs to be addressed (especially since you are not enjoying these midnight cuddle sessions!) Assuming that he is not truly frightened at night, I would do things on an incentive basis in attempts to change his habits. Buy him a very special treat, toy or something that you know he’d love. Show it to him before bed and tell him that if he doesn’t come out of his bed the whole night then you will give it to him in the morning. Be sure to clearly define the rules though: if he has to go to the bathroom he can come out, or if he has a scary dream he can come out and you’ll calm him and put him back in his bed, etc. For a week or even two I would offer him this special incentive every night before bedtime to help encourage him to want to stay in his own bed. After that point, you can gradually phase it out or move to a weekly prize instead of a daily one.
If that still doesn’t work then I would strongly suggest a firmer approach. Instead of moving him onto a mattress in your room, move yourself into his room. Begin by the doorway where he can see you but you aren’t right next to him. As he gets more comfortable with his own bed, gradually move yourself back into your own room by a few feet every night. If he gets out of his bed (again, very clearly define what circumstances he is/is not allowed out) then you will either punish him by taking something special away or by not letting him have the special treat mentioned above.
All of this is assuming he does not have any psychological fears involved (like an intruder coming, etc.). If you are concerned that his phobia is valid then you should most definitely take him to a health care provider who can shed some light on this matter, as an actual fear can make it nearly impossible for a child this age to sleep well. Good luck!
Contact Batya at www.BatyatheBabyCoach.com