How can we get out of our daughter's bed?
Ask the Expert
Q My four-year-old daughter won’t settle at night. In the evening she won’t go asleep unless I or her father are lying beside her. If I move away or leave her she comes out after me and can scream if I don’t go back to lie with her. Her screaming seems really heartfelt as if she is genuinely anxious about being left alone.
We have tried Supernanny’s advice about ignoring her and bringing her back to her room each time she comes out, but this can go on for ages and we both end up being very upset – and if she does fall asleep she does so after lots of tears, which I find really hard.
I also think that on those nights she does not sleep that well and the next day she can be tired and grumpy.
Do you have any suggestions as to how we can help her settle?
AYour problem is a common one. Many parents report that they need to lie with their preschool children in order to help them get to sleep. What might have started out as a rewarding ritual for both parent and child quickly becomes a problem when, as a parent, you want to encourage your child’s independence or you need more time to yourself in the evening.
As you have discovered, changing these habits can be problematic. If you leave the room before your daughter sleeps she will come out after you. Further, she might be anxious in waiting for you to leave and this anxiety can stop her sleeping. If you resort to taking her back to her room repeatedly, this can be stressful for both parent and child and can end up with frustration on both sides. Once again, such frustration can prevent a child from being relaxed enough to sleep and, even if they do fall asleep, it ends the bedtime on a bad note between parent and child.
The good news is that there is a more effective way of helping preschoolers settle at bedtime. To apply this you need to first understand why your daughter wants you or her father beside her when she falls asleep. For most young children, the issue is simply that they feel lonely at night by themselves and want the reassurance of their parent’s presence which helps them get to sleep.
To help your daughter settle, rather than simply withdrawing your presence at bedtime, you need to use the reward of your coming back as a motivator for her to try to get asleep by herself.
In practical terms, this means taking the following steps. First, go through a normal relaxing bedtime routine with your daughter, such as reading a story together and having a final cuddle and kiss goodnight. Then tell her you are going outside but that you will be back to tuck her in after two minutes if she is quiet and tries to get to sleep.
Reassure her that you will return to give her a kiss even if she has fallen asleep. You must then make sure to return after the agreed time for the kiss and cuddle before withdrawing again for another two minutes. You gradually extend the time until, eventually, when you go back she is asleep.