Constantly getting out of bed at bed time and/or night waking – Needing you to be with them to fall asleep

Constantly getting out of bed at bed time and/or night waking – Needing you to be with them to fall asleep

These issues can be caused by a number of factors such as too hot/cold/wet/hungry which can be remedied by you, or it could be caused by the fact that they are unable to self soothe yet, which is a skill that you can teach gradually, peacefully and safely. 

I do not believe in ‘cry it out’ or ‘come in and out’ type sleep training. I personally believe that this is fundamentally damaging to the child, and that what you are actually teaching them is that you cannot be relied upon to soothe them in their moments of distress (or that you come sometimes, which is unpredictable e.g. in ‘come in come out’ training). The child doesn’t learn to self soothe per se. What they learn is to give up trying to bid for your connection and love so resign to the fact they are on your own. Sounds brutal doesn’t it. 

If you have previously tried these methods with your child please don’t beat yourself up. I did too with my eldest daughter because I really thought I was doing the right thing. That’s how things were done according to the books I had read, and that I would be creating a never ending cycle of sleeplessness and a ‘rod for my back’ if she couldn’t sleep on her own right away.

I regret this so much, but regret is useless and changes nothing. Instead I evolved, dug deep about what really truly sat right with me and followed that path – the same as what you are doing now. I am so proud of you!

Here is how I now deal with bedtimes that are dragging out, indicating the child’s need for connection, and who may be struggling with separations. These techniques are particularly effective for those on the spectrum as it alleviates grey areas, and their need to check for ‘loop holes’. This is meant to be a slow, transitioned process working at the child’s pace. 

  1. Have a solid bedtime routine. Read a set number of books (or for a set period of time that they can visually see that it’s finished), and give a set number of kisses/cuddles etc. I know this sounds militant but this alleviates the excuses of “just one more book”, “just one more cuddle” x 30. You don’t have to be militant about it, make it fun by singing a special goodnight song each night as you tuck them in that involves key phrases like ‘2 kisses for teddy, 2 kisses for mum, 2 big cuddles now you’re snug as a bug in a rug’ or such. This creates a limit (as we discussed in Freedoms within Limits). As for book reading, ask them to choose which 2 books out of the 5 you have preselected that they would like to read (again, freedom within limits). These limits and boundaries are really important to consistently stick to when changing old patterns and behaviours such as bedtimes.
  2. Lay beside the child until they have fallen asleep. If you stroke/pat them to sleep you will need to reduce this over a number of nights first until they are able to fall asleep independently with you just laying beside them. When this is successful…
  3. Sit beside them on the floor until they fall asleep each night. When this is successful…
  4. Move further towards the door each night e.g. from beside them in bed, to the foot of the bed, to near the doorway. Once this is successful…
  5. Tell them you will sit outside the door until they are asleep. Sit outside their door but leave a part of you showing (e.g. your foot) so they won’t feel the need to get out and check if you’re still there. By this time they should be used to falling asleep independently so after a few nights you should be ok to just kiss goodnight and carry on with quiet activities of your own. I would not announce that you have stopped sitting outside their door.

Key points: 

  • If issues arise, go back a step until they are calm and comfortable. This may mean restarting the process but it should not take as long to progress. If your child is continuously getting out of bed when they already know how to fall asleep independently, then this is likely due to boundary pushing. 
    • Set a known firm limit and stick with whatever you say. For example “I’m going to tuck you in with cuddles and kisses one time. After that I’m going to keep bringing you back to your bed to sleep.” Following through on that would look like doing your bedtime routine full of kisses and cuddles. 
    • When your child comes out, remind them of what your boundary was and walk them back to bed and tuck them back in (don’t go over the top with kisses and cuddles etc.). 
    • Next time they come out, silently walk them back to their bed and tuck them in, say you love them and walk out. This might happen 10 times, but it cannot last forever. 
    • The next night it is likely to happen 5 times, then the next night 2 times etc. Only use this technique if you are sure that they are pushing boundaries. Alternatively you can go back to sitting by their bed procedure and gradually widen the gap as per above ‘sleeping in new room’. 
    • Do be sure to rule out any actual cause of their sudden repeated getting out of bed (e.g. have you been spending enough quality time with them during the day lately etc.).

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