Stop My Toddler From Cosleeping — My Husband is on the Couch!
A reader wrote in with a plea to “stop my toddler from cosleeping.” She wrote:
“My 3.5 yr old daughter has recently started to have issues with sleeping in her bed. I am certain at times she has nightmares. We have let her sleep in our bed while either myself or my husband sleep on the couch. Her crib turns into a day bed, which is what she is in at the moment and we do plan on getting her a big girl bed in March but not sure if that is a fix to the problem. I am also concerned that she is now just wanting to sleep in mommy or daddy’s bed because generally when she finally does she sleeps all night. Help!!! I want to stop my toddler from cosleeping!’
This question has many parts. We’ll address:
- The “Big Bed” and night wakings
- Nightmares and bedtime
The “Big Girl Bed” and Night Waking
Switching your daughter from the day bed to a “big girl bed” will not fix the problem if she does not know how to put herself to sleep independently, and if you don’t address her wakings consistently. If your daughter does not know how to put herself to sleep without a sleep crutch (such as lying down with her, rubbing her back to sleep etc.) then start there with the Sleep Lady Shuffle.
It’s very important that your daughter knows how to put herself to sleep at night and naptime. Start with nighttime, and make sure she is going to bed awake and calm, or as we call it, “Drowsy But Awake.”
Questions about how to put your child to bed calm and awake?
Read: Drowsy But Awake — The Cornerstone of Successful Sleep Training
Nightmares and Bedtime
Remember to have an early enough bedtime. This may reduce nightmares. A 3 year old needs on average 10.5 hrs at night and 1.5 hrs during the day. A 4 year needs 11.5 hours at night. Do the math backwards. If she tends to wake for the day around 7am then she needs to be asleep between 7:30-8:30pm depending on whether she naps or not.
Be sure she is getting the appropriate naps for her age during the day. Believe it or not, it’s harder to fall asleep for children when they don’t have the correct amount of daytime sleep.
Are naps a question?
Read: Baby and Toddler Naps — Everything You Need to Know
Consistency is Everything
The next critical step is to create a plan with your husband on how you wish to address her night waking. If you no longer wish to co-sleep with her during the night then it is important that you stand firm on this decision and follow through consistently. Make, ”
Once you have a sleep coaching plan in place, it’s absolutely crucial to be consistent—even in the middle of the night when you’re tired and not thinking clearly. Don’t send her mixed messages throughout the day and night. Behavioral scientists call this “intermittent reinforcement”, and it will only frustrate her. She won’t be able to decipher what type of behavior merits rewards and what type of behavior doesn’t. Inconsistently reinforced behavior is the hardest type of behavior to modify or extinguish. It takes longer to change and it always gets worse before it gets better. This is particularly true of a child who’s more than 1 year old. Therefore once you get started, don’t give up!
Learn more about using the Sleep Lady Shuffle:
Read: The Sleep Lady Shuffle: How to Gently Sleep Train your Baby
Make a “Stop My Toddler from Cosleeping” Plan
Create your plan and have a family meeting. For example, “There is no more sleeping in mommy and daddy’s bed,” but when she wakes up you will stay with her as she learns to put herself to sleep. Follow the Shuffle for older children, making sure to move every three days so you don’t get stuck in her room as the new sleep crutch!
Don’t start sleep coaching until you and your husband are both on the same page and 100% “in”!