Our youngest daughter, Maddie, just turned five. She has slept in
our room about 220 nights out of the last 270. No jokes here. She
started in our bed and after a month or so, we told her it was her
sleeping bag on the floor, or back to her room. I’m beginning to wonder
if I’ll need to go away to college with her too. She’d better pack her
sleeping bag in that case
If only it were a laughing matter. Everyone says she’ll grow out of this stage, and all I can think is – WHEN?
Her sleep challenges actually started when she was three. She would
get “night terrors” and scream and cry in the middle of the night,
sometimes getting out of bed. She wouldn’t really be awake and it was
very difficult to calm her down. The only person that had any success
was me. She wouldn’t let anyone else get near her. The night terrors
subsided after six months and she started sleeping through the night in
her own room. We were greatly relieved and thought that our challenges
with Maddie’s sleeping through the night were over.
Then we moved to a new house. Then my girls switched to a new
school. Then my husband and I went to China for a little over two
weeks. Then we came home. Then it was time to get a new Au Pair. Then,
no more sleeping through the night. No more night terrors, but in the
middle of every night Maddie would come into our room and stand by my
side of the bed until I awoke. We had almost six months of good solid
sleeping, but now we haven’t slept through the night for three days in
a row since (except when I go on a business trip!).
So here’s the list of what we have tried, and the limited extent to which it worked:
- Instead of one nightlight, we added a second, and then third
nightlight. This worked for the first night or two, and then not at all.
- We let her sleep with the closet light on and the door open. Same lack of success as above.
- We let her sleep with the overhead light on. Same story.
- We gave her a walkie talkie so that if she woke up and got scared
she could call me to come in. This worked intermittently for about 10
days, and then not at all.
- Maddie moved into her sister’s bedroom. This worked for the first
week, then she started waking up and coming into our room
intermittently. Before we knew it, she was coming in every night. We
added nightlights and walkie talkies to no avail.
At this point I realized we needed to break her of the habit of
waking up and moving into our room at 3:00am. My theory was that she
needed to establish a new sleep routine in which she slept through the
night without moving. So we had her start in her sleeping bag on the
floor in our room (which was pitch dark I might add). She slept through
the night and didn’t wake us up! I had her do this for about three
weeks and then started a sticker chart with a reward if she earned a
bunch of stickers for different goals, one of which included sleeping
in her bed all night. This worked a little, and over three weeks she
slept in her bed nine nights. Then it stopped working and she wanted to
start sleeping in her sleeping bag again. We told her this was okay for
now, but when she turned five, she needed to sleep in her or her
Six weeks later in early May, Maddie turned five. We made a big deal
out of her birthday and told her that she was old enough to sleep in
her own room. At that point she asked if she could swap rooms with our
guest room because it is across from her sister’s room and closer to
our room. So, we switched her room. She slept through the night in her
new room twice and then started waking up and coming into our room. I
would bring her back to her room and end up sleeping in her little bed
with her. We were both exhausted. We were both very grumpy. I am still
tired and grumpy – she has taken naps and is doing fine.
Her current status? She has moved back into her sleeping bag on the
floor in our room. I keep hoping she’ll grow out of this before she
goes to college because I think once was enough for me.
Why does she do this? Clearly, she’s not afraid of the dark, we can
hear her if she calls us, there are no ghosts or boogeymen in our
house, and her room is happy and pleasant. When I talk to Maddie about
this habit she says it’s because she wants to spend more time with me.
I try to explain that when we’re sleeping we are not spending time
together. And then I wonder why there are plenty of times when we are
awake that Maddie wants to play independently of me. Maybe she really
does get to spend enough time with me.
The only thing that I can come up with is that it’s about power,
control, and independence. Maddie wants to make decisions for herself,
including what she wears, when and what she eats, what activities she
does, which books we read… and… where and when she sleeps. When she
does things contrary to what we would like her to do, she gets negative
Now that I’ve put all of my thoughts down, I’ve come up with a new
idea. I’m going to make sure that my husband and I give her as much
positive attention as possible. As for where and when she sleeps, we
are not going to give it any attention at all. I will make a new
sticker chart for her and it will not include sleeping in her own bed.
I will not go to college again, and I will let you know what happens!
How do your kids sleep?
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