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Getting a Child to Sleep in Her Own Bed

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My daughter just turned three years old and is still sleeping in our (mom and dad's) bed. How do we get her into her own? When she was approximately 10 months old, a babysitter put her in her crib as soon as we left. Luckily we came back because we forgot something and found that the sitter had left. As we approached the stairway we could hear her lullaby tape blasting. I immediately ran upstairs. Her bedroom door was closed and when I walked in she was sitting in the middle of her crib staring. As soon as she saw me, she starting crying and reaching for me. Obviously, she would not go back to that crib and was too young for a big bed so we put her in bed with us. We thought it was the right thing to do at the time -- now she's getting the best sleep in the house. Ten months is an early age but she still remembers that lullaby tape to be a mean song as she puts it. HELP!!!

A: As I understand your story you left your 10-month-old daughter with a baby-sitter, returned to your house shortly after leaving because you forgot something and found your daughter sitting up in her crib with the lullaby tape blasting and the baby-sitter nowhere in sight.

First, I don't think your daughter was left in her crib long enough unattended to be traumatized. Clearly any music played at an unpleasant volume will not usually be looked upon as music you want to hear again. Although she looked at you and then cried while reaching for you -- this does not indicate severe emotional trauma associated with her crib. I'm sure she reacted to the discomfort of the loud noise, but more so to the anguished look on your face and the tone of the words you used if you responded verbally. Infants usually mirror the emotions they see in their parents faces, especially in novel circumstances.

Be that as it may, you now would like your bed back and are trying to transition her to her own bed. Dr. Richard Ferber's books on children's sleeping problems covers this and other sleep-related topics in depth. At the moment, I would begin to place her in her own bed in another room and make a big deal out of it, meaning show a lot of excitement about her big girl bed, decorate it appealingly, place lots of her "comfort" toys in it, etc.

I would then begin her wind-down bedtime, soothing rituals(storytelling, reading to her) in her new bedroom. Take a good 30 minutes for this transition ritual. Tell her you'll be in the next room, leave the door ajar if she prefers, a nightlight, and leave. If she can't handle falling asleep alone at first or wakes and comes into your bed, stay with her until she falls asleep. If she wakes up crying or comes into your room, bring her back to her room. Comfort her and reassure her of the wonderful sleep and happy dreams she's going to have. Stay with her again until she falls asleep. You will know how to wean her of your presence until she feels consistently secure.

She has grown up thus far feeling very secure in her family bed. I see no reason why this well-adjusted little girl will not move through this tough but necessary transition with flying colors. There can be setbacks after she seemingly has made the transition. These are normal and don't signify a complete return to square one. Enjoy your family and sweet dreams to all.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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