Q: My 5-year-old child used to sleep in her own bed all the time. Once in a while she would come into our bedroom in the middle of the night, lay down and have a cuddle with us, and then return to her own bed. Last November we moved into a new house, and now my daughter doesn't like going upstairs to her bedroom by herself. At night she requires a nightlight in her room and outside her bedroom. She says that it is too quiet for her to sleep in her room. We have put a radio on for her to go to sleep with, but most nights she comes into our bedroom and stays the night, saying she has had a nightmare. Even if she is returned to her own bed she still sometimes comes back again to spend the rest of the night with us. We also have put a spare mattress in our room for her to sleep on, which she uses sometimes but then ends up in our bed again. What can we do to break this habit?
A: This is a common situation for families with children your daughter's age. You want her to stay in her bedroom at night, but she has good reason not to — it's new, it's scary and it's lonely.
Do what you can to make her room a comfortable, inviting place for her. Try using a nightlight, soft music, and pictures of you and fun family times. But remember that she's more likely to go back to sleep on her own after night awakenings if the conditions are the same as when she initially fell asleep. So don't turn off the lights and radio when you go to bed, keep them on.
Also, no mixed message! If you prefer she doesn't sleep in your room, don't put a mattress on your bedroom floor. As soon as you're aware that she's in your room or in your bed, simply reassure her that she can sleep in her own bed and take her back as calmly and gently as you can. You may have to do this a few times over the course of a few nights before she understands you're serious. Consistency is the key here.
But her fears are real and should be acknowledged. No lectures on being a "big girl." Ask her what she's afraid of and what she thinks will help her be less fearful. Then respond appropriately. For example, if it's monsters, give her a "monster light" (a.k.a., flashlight) that she can use to chase the monsters away.
Our own daughter at this age frequently came into our room in the middle of the night. She never quite got into bed with us, but for whatever reason she needed the attention and reassurance. Eventually her nighttime visits stopped and we realized (with some regret) that she didn't need us to soothe her at night anymore. Your daughter will likely respond the same way.