Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Psy.D.
Cindy Takiguchi
LCSW
Manette Galván Turner
LCPC
Robert Gregory
Ph.D.
Daniel Doebler
LCPC
Trevor Simpson
LCPC


Our 4–year–old daughter falls asleep in her own bed, but she always climbs into bed with us during the night. Is this okay?

A: The only way to sort through all of the widely varying theories on co–sleeping is to determine what works best for your family. Start by asking yourself if your daughter's presence in your bed is disruptive to the sleep habits of you and your husband. If sleeping with your 4–year–old is like sleeping with most children—who tend to be restless, wiggly, and noisy—then it likely interferes quite a bit with your sleep.

You also need to talk with your husband about this issue. Men (and women, too) can sometimes grow to resent the presence of a child in the bed because of the impact the child has on both sleep and sex. If you and your husband both feel comfortable with this arrangement and all three of you wake up well–rested, you may need to make only slight modifications to your current situation.

The ability to soothe is an important developmental growth marker for kids. So the next set of questions to ask involve your daughter's general sleep patterns. If your child has never had a sustained time period (six months or more) of independent sleeping (getting herself to sleep, falling back to sleep without parental intervention) by age three, you've already got a problem on your hands.

If you feel it's time to move your daughter out of your bed, you'll need to deal with your feelings about the change. Rather than think of yourself as a mean mom (untrue), tell yourself the truth—your child needs to learn to comfort herself at night and keep herself in her bed while doing so. Challenge yourself to recognize that you need good sleep to be a good parent and that you are cheating the family when you don't create boundaries that support that value.

Here are more suggestions for making the transition:

  1. Make sure you and your child get enough daytime cuddling. Aim for a minimum of 15 minutes of intentional snuggling each day.

  2. If possible, invite your daughter to climb into your bed in the morning for several minutes of snuggling before you start your day. If you choose this strategy, set a time (I suggest no more than 15 minutes) and show her how to check the time on the clock.

  3. Let her know that she is not allowed to come into your room during the night unless she's sick. Set up clear consequences, such as an early bedtime the next night, if she breaks this rule.

  4. Make a sticker chart to give her a visual reward for the nights she stays in her bed. After seven successful nights, treat her to a special activity with Mom and Dad.

  5. After the new behavior has been consistent for a month, move away from the rewards, but keep the consequences as part of the new expectation.

  6. Take a look at Richard Ferber's book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (Simon & Schuster), for more information on helping your daughter sleep on her own.


One more thing: Don't begin a new program like this until you and your husband have the conviction to go through with it. Starting and stopping this effort not only undermines your credibility, but will make the behavior that much harder to break in the future.