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Ask Joanne: My Two Year Old Won't Go To Bed Without Me

11/06/2009 09:42 | Updated 22 May 2015

Send your questions to our life coach Joanne Mallon at this address.

Tracey asks:

My two year old won't go to bed without me. Last year we had a bad car accident and since then she has slept in my bed. She regularly wakes in the night with nightmares and screaming. My GP says to let her get on with it and lock her in her room, but as she shares with her school age brother this does not prove practical. Have tried phenergan. No joy.

We still do a night-time routine but she wants me beside her. When she does fall asleep on the settee I've tried carrying her upstairs to bed but as soon as I leave her it starts again. I never had many problems with my other two children. During the night she hangs on to my hair or pyjamas. I've spoken to my health visitor but she was as much help as a waterproof teabag. She eventually said that my daughter will grow out of it. When?!

Here's life coach Joanne's advice for Tracey:

Dear Tracey

The medical profession haven't been much support to you have they? This is a very common problem which many parents face, though in your case it seems to have developed out of an genuinely traumatic incident. It's not rocket science to see that the car crash has led to your daughter seeking extra reassurance of your presence. She does sound genuinely distressed, so I would consider going back to your GP and pressing for more help.

How you deal with it is up to you. Some mothers are very pro co-sleeping, and their attitude would be: so what if she wants to sleep in with you, families have been sleeping like this for centuries. But there is a big difference between actively choosing to co-sleep and having it forced upon you.

Yes she may grow out of it, but equally she may not. I know families with six-year-olds who won't go to sleep by themselves.

Look upon it that you will be doing her a great gift if you can teach her to sleep happily by herself, even if getting there involves a few tears and tantrums. I would suggest this plan of action:

  1. Choose a time when you are well rested and can focus on improving her sleep habits. So if you're currently stressed at work or home, it might be easier to leave it until life has settled down a bit.
  2. Make bedtime as nice as possible – maybe choose a new duvet cover, a cuddly toy or story book together. Make bedtime more about going towards the lovely cosy bed, rather than going away from mummy. Make a rule that she doesn't sleep on the sofa again.
  3. Keep her pretty busy during the day so you know she'll be properly tired by bedtime (but not so much that she's exhausted).
  4. Keep an eye on what she's eating and drinking and make sure there's nothing that might disturb her sleep – no sweets at bedtime, keep TV fairly low key
  5. Gradually withdraw. So start with what you're doing now, then over a few nights move to the other side of the room, then wait outside. This will take time and patience, which is why I'm suggesting only doing it when you feel best able to focus. But hopefully within a few weeks, you'll have re-established good sleeping patterns.
  6. If she wakes in the night, don't go to her straight away and give her a chance to settle herself. Then go in and quickly calm her down if you have to.

Another alternative solution is to ask your daughter what she thinks would make her feel happier going to bed. This will help her feel more in control and less anxious about the situation. I remember my two year old going through a stage of being frightened at bedtime because she said there were lions under the bed. I asked her how we could get rid of them, and she said "Snakes". So we went down to the toyshop, chose the biggest plastic snake they had, and she happily went to sleep holding that.

Hope this helps, let us know how you get on,

Joanne

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