Usually when a toddler is co-sleeping, one or both parents are not enamored with the situation. Let’s look at why toddlers don’t want to sleep alone and what can be done.
Why does your toddler prefer to sleep in your bed
There are three developmental reasons why toddlers are not content to sleep alone.
- Like many toddlers, your little one may go through a stage when he realises that he is separate from mommy or daddy and this means he can push boundaries and have his own opinion on things. This experience is as normal as it is healthy. As he learns he is a separate person, he will go through stages of not wanting to be alone. In addition to this, his development means that he can get in and out of bed on his own. No longer trapped in a cot, his bed becomes a boundary that he wants to push and so will climb out to come and seek proximity or closeness to you at night.
- Between 2 and 5 years old, imagination begins to develop in earnest. This means that fears, nightmares and magical thinking begins to emerge. Not able to separate imagination from reality, your toddler may be very unsettled and resist being alone at these times.
- Toddlers tend to want to be close and cling to those they love. This is particularly true in times of anxiety of uncertainty. Bedtime fears begin to develop and so it is natural to find toddlers needing comfort from those they are attached to. This need is even greater in those toddlers who are separated from their parents during the day.
What can you do about it?
Step one of managing a toddler is to ask yourself if you have a problem with co-sleeping. This is very important because if you like co-sleeping and you are happy with your toddler in your bed, you simply do not have a sleep problem and can go on co-sleeping until either you or your toddler want to sleep alone. When answering this question, be sure to carefully consider if your husband feels the same way you do. If either parent is unhappy with the situation, you should work a way to move your toddler into his own space.
Step two entails deciding where you want your toddler to sleep. You have four options:
- If you are both comfortable with co-sleeping, let him sleep in your bed
- If you have decided that he must be in his own room and bed, be consistent and take him back each time he wanders
- If you want a sense-able middle ground, pull a thin mattress out from under your bed and make a ‘make-shift’ or ‘camping bed’ next to your bed for him.
- Another nice middle ground is to have your children share a bedroom. Kids love to sleep in the same room as others and a sibling may give great comfort.
Step three is seeking to understand why your toddler wants to co-sleep:
- Is he battling with bad dreams? If he is, you need to be very sympathetic, ask him to tell you about the dream and tell him that you agree that it is scary. Empathize with him and give him lots of love before putting him back to bed, in the space you have decided on in step 2.
- Is his imagination playing tricks with his eyes? Put on a night light in his room or in the passage
- Is he waking for milk? Give him enough protein during the day and a barley green supplement in the afternoon. Do not feed him milk at night.
- Is he seeking close proximity to you? If your toddler is missing you, it could be a stage where he needs a little more access to you. Spend 15 minutes each evening on the floor playing with your toddler at his pace, this usually helps with separation issues and sleep.
- Is he coming through to you, simply because he can and is pushing boundaries? Choose where your toddler should sleep and explain this to him and consistently keep the boundary you have chosen.
Toddler night wandering and co-sleeping can be an irritation. Choose your toddler’s sleep space, be empathetic to him and enforce the boundaries.
By Meg Faure