Dear David Coleman: How can I get my 10-year-old daughter back to her own bed?

Q My 10-year-old daughter has started sleeping with me in my bed for the last two months or so and will not sleep in her own bed. My husband is often away and I go to bed relatively early. She can be anxious sometimes (like in lifts), but is mostly happy-go-lucky. She explained her change to me that, “you know how I can’t sleep without my teddy? Well, you are my teddy now”. She is stubborn and simply will not stay in her own bed, even if I bring her back there. Have you any advice to get her back to sleeping on her own?

A Settling to sleep requires us to feel fully secure and comfortable. Any anxiety or discomfort will often be visible in a child’s disrupted sleep. It may be that your daughter was experiencing a developmental shift, or that something about the return to school this year has disrupted her. It could be that when she is in her own bed she feels like she is all alone there. Discussing her reasons (beyond you becoming her new teddy!), may allow you to understand better her rationale and allow you to work with her to find a solution that suits you both.

Having her in your bed is not the worst thing, although it probably more disruptive for you, especially when your husband is home. So, you could choose to just let her stay with you for the time being, until whatever shift that has occurred for her has settled again.

If you have already decided that this won’t work, then you may need to adjust your routines in order to help and support her with settling to sleep in her own bed. To start, you have to make a firm decision, for yourself, that you are going to invest heavily in having her in her own bed, such that you can be consistent with keeping her there, no matter her stubbornness or her protests.

So, begin by insisting that she goes to bed in her own room, but you can offer to do “checking visits”, every five minutes, until she falls asleep. This might shift your own routine since it means you won’t be able to go to bed until she is asleep. That might be hard for you. She will probably test your commitment to the visits by trying to stay awake deliberately to ensure that you keep visiting her. But bear with it, because when she realises that you mean what you say, she should, hopefully, start to settle to sleep more quickly.

The “checking visits” will give her a consistent and reliable chance to know that you are still conscious of her and still “minding” her, even when she is in bed. By turning up every five minutes, without fail, you offer her consistency and reliability which are likely to build her trust and confidence in you, and that will, hopefully, help her regain her sense of security.

You also need to be prepared to repeat the process, bringing her back to her own room, if she wakes in the night and comes into you.

You will be making a heavy investment of your time and energy now, with the hope and intention that within a few weeks she will have accepted the new routine and will settle quickly and easily to sleep with just a few checking visits from you.

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