If this doesn't work, can I trade her in for a kid who sleeps through the night? *sigh*
October 22, 2012 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Please help me keep our 4.5 year old insomniac daughter from crawling into her parents bed in the middle of the night before I lose what's left of my mind from sleep fatigue.

My daughter comes into our room nearly every night at some time between 1 and 5 in the morning. We don't want her there.

If we are awake enough to notice her, we'll walk her back to bed while she whines, cries and kicks up a huge fuss. Invariably, this wakes her twin brother, with whom she shares a room. She then waits until we're asleep and tries to sneak back in. It's driving us nuts.

We've tried taking toys away, threats, scowls, yelling, bribes of stickers when she's stayed in her bed, etc. Nothing has worked. She may stay in her bed for a night or two and promise us she won't come into ours, but that doesn't last. We've spoken to her to try and find out if there's something she doesn't like about her own bed or room, but she seems happy with it. Same with pre-K. She seems happy otherwise.

My wife is convinced she's being clingy, it's a phase and will pass. My daughter has always been pretty attached to me, but that seems to have intensified the last few months.

She goes to sleep every night between 7:30 and 8, and falls asleep by 8:15-8:45. But at some point she apparently wakes up and comes to us.

I could really use some constructive advice -- especially if you're a parent who have been through this and solved it successfully.

Here's what we won't do:

* Give up and just let her sleep with us. Most of the time, she kicks and pushes in a constant attempt to claim space and make herself comfortable. This keeps us up (and is incidentally killing my back.) Plus her brother would move in too and the bed ain't big enough for all of us to sleep comfortably.

* Locking them in their room, or locking our door. We're afraid of being unable to get in or out in an emergency.

* Spanking / Hitting her. (We don't do that.)

Many thanks in advance!
posted by zarq to Human Relations (52 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When my daughter was 3, we had a spate of the same things. What finally worked was explaining to her, firmly, that waking up people who were trying to sleep was rude. Other people's sleep is important, and disrupting that for your own purposes is impolite! It took a couple of nights, but it worked.

My best friend had a similar problem. She bought a giant teddy bear (I mean GIANT, larger than the child) and tucked the bear in under the covers on the near side of the bed, so the child would have had to negotiate herself around the bear to get out. Since the kid was half-asleep when she was getting out, this presented just enough of an obstacle to keep her in bed.

good luck. Sleep disturbances are fucking awful.
posted by KathrynT at 9:50 AM on October 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

Does she have her own clock? Have you told her "It's all right if you come into our room at 5:30 AM (or whatever), but not before"?
posted by alms at 9:50 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A few ideas come to mind:

1. I wonder about her feeling scared in the night. You could give her a special flashlight, a spray bottle of "monster away" (water) or something else that she can use to scare any scary baddies away from her room. Could also try to give her something that belongs to you (e.g. a pyjama shirt or something) that she could keep with her as a security object rather than needing it to be you.

2. You could gradually work on moving her back to her bed. I've had friends build a little bed on the floor in their room as a temporary step in the process. So she gets to come to your room, but has her own (less comfortable) spot on the floor and is not allowed to climb into bed with you. You can then gradually move the temporary bed out of your room and back toward hers.

3. Instead of taking away things for coming into your room, try to flip it around and reward her for staying in her own room. She earns a sticker, special time with you, a special dessert treat (or whatever works for her and you) for getting one night in her room. Once she's successful with that, make it two nights to earn the treat and so on until she's just staying in her room on her own.

Sleep stuff with kids is just maddening, isn't it? Good luck. It will get better.
posted by goggie at 9:58 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I've not been through this, but a solution might be:

1) Being absolutely steadfast on walking her back the moment she comes in. Minimal talking or cuddling.

2) Having a "x days of peaceful nights" tally on the twins' bedroom wall (like the things you see on construction sites for days without accidents), whereby the prizes escalate dependent on how many consecutive nights you have. You don't need to write down what 3 days, or 7 days, or one month gets - the aim is to positively reinforce consistency.

Also: when I was younger than her I had a recurring nightmare. It might be worth trying again to find out what the catalyst is, assuming there is one - too hot/cold, nightmare, need for reassurance etc. She may not know why - so perhaps run some changes to her environment (like adding a teddy bear, or giving her socks to wear in bed, or asking her about her dreams each morning and seeing if there is a pattern).
posted by MuffinMan at 9:59 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

After a couple of years of this, my parents eventually resorted to outright bribery. Every night I left them alone, I got a gold star on a calendar. Once accumulated, these were then redeemable for items from a pool of mutually agreed-upon prizes, not all of which were material gains. (Most of them were "X extra books from the library this week", IIRC.) The stickers themselves, while shiny and pleasant, were not the least bit interesting as rewards.
posted by elizardbits at 10:07 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not a parent, but I know that I did this as a young child. My parents put a sleeping pad on the floor of their room that us kids were allowed to sleep on. I think that after a while, they put it right outside their door instead of inside the room.
posted by Cygnet at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Does she have her own clock? Have you told her "It's all right if you come into our room at 5:30 AM (or whatever), but not before"?

Yep. They have both a digital and an analog clock in their room, and we've been telling them that, too.

I'm not sure why you're punishing her rather than focusing on rewards for staying in bed.

We're been doing both. As mentioned above, she gets stickers when she stays in bed. If it's over the weekend, we'll make her favorite breakfast, too. We also give her a ton of praise and cuddles when she stays in her room -- so she gets positive reinforcement from us. We're currently trying a "10 days in a row in your own bed and we'll get you a toy from the dollar aisle at Target" plan, but it's not working at all.

FWIW, I don't like bribing my kids when they do things they're supposed to. Positive reinforcement, definitely. We're big on praising them and telling them we're proud of them, and giving them hugs and kisses and cuddles. But 'do what we say and you'll get a gift,' I'm not so enthused about. At this point tho, I'll try almost anything.
posted by zarq at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: Your child is waking in the middle of the dark, scary, lonely night. I'd be surprised if she didn't come into you.

I'd just put a sleeping bag or mattress on the floor next to your bed. It's a pretty common compromise for troubled sleepers. She will outgrow this, just so you know.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:13 AM on October 22, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing the sleeping bag on the floor: We did this as kids in our parents' room for a while. At some point we migrated back to our own bedrooms.
posted by Seboshin at 10:15 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Years ago I read about parents who had this problem and whose solution was to set up a little air mattress or something next to their bed. If their son wanted his parents during the night, he'd just go get into the little temporary bed without waking them and go to sleep. it wasn't long before he grew out of the habit altogether.
posted by orange swan at 10:16 AM on October 22, 2012

Does she have a nightlight in her room? If she's waking up scared and coming into your room for comfort, a nightlight might help to make her room seem less scary. Of course, this is contingent on her brother being able to sleep with a nightlight in the room, since it won't help to get her to sleep at his expense.
posted by asnider at 10:19 AM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: If it's a phase, you could split the difference until it fades. Tell her for every 2-3 nights in a row she doesn't come into your bed, she's allowed one that she is. If she tries to come into your bed on a night that she's not been green lighted for, she gets marched back to her room and whatever suitable punishment.

I think 10 days is just too big a time period for a 4 year old to get the new-habit-reward function of her brain to kick in. Hell, 5 days is what works on me, 2 weeks only if it's a really simple new habit I'm trying to form, and I'm a lot older then 4.

As a kid I was allowed to sleep on the floor in my parents room if I didn't want to be alone when I got scared. I wasn't faking being terrified, I was completely losing my shit at night. Sleeping on their floor got me through the worst of it.
posted by Dynex at 10:20 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

When one of ours did this, we gave her a small, targeted reading light above her bed that she could turn on without disturbing her sibling and then she could read herself back to sleep.

I can barely share a bed with my husband, having a kid in there too is some bullshit. I found that trying to fight it or negotiate or reason it out or take her back over and over wasted way more time and made all of us more miserable than just giving her an alternative.
posted by padraigin at 10:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I did the same thing, my parents 1) convinced me that I was being really unkind to them, 2) got me my own clock and told me that I had to try to sleep by myself for a Full Hour before I could go to them, and 3) my mom basically walked me through how to meditate myself to a happier, sleepier state - imagining the most happy, relaxed, wonderful places, like lying down on a blanket in a pretty meadow and watching the clouds, imagining the birds and other calming noises. I still sometimes use that technique.
posted by ldthomps at 10:34 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to chime in and say that I have 3.5 year old twins and we are going through the same thing. What makes it doubly hard is that other one would be a good sleeper if sister weren't waking everyone up. So when we start setting up rewards, it creates this competitive dynamic where one is naturally successful and the other is set up to fail because at 4am she could not care less about stickers or special treats to come. Please email me if you just want someone to vent to or share stories!
posted by orangemacky at 10:37 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm for the floor thing. But don't make it too comfortable. I'd stay away from having a little bed or a dedicated piece of furniture. I'd have a coupla blankets for a pallet and a little extra pillow. You want to make that alternative place available for her so she feels safe, but not so comfortable that she finds it preferable.
posted by cross_impact at 10:38 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have always wondered if the "Stay in Bed" technique shown on Supernanny really works.

On the show, parents sometimes have to repeat 20-30 times before making a breakthrough.
posted by dottiechang at 10:42 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

My oldest did this. The battle to get him out of my bed lasted seven years. It finally ended after we got him glasses, put him on vitamin therapy and also had some other big event, all in the same month. Maybe she is having some developmental issue?

My son has respiratory problems and other issues. He liked sleeping with me in part because my breathing and heartbeat regulated his. You might try checking for respiratory problems. Getting my son healthier helped with his sleep issues.

Also, at that age, if he went to bed too soon, he was up at 4:00am. If he napped, I couldn't get him in bed at night. So maybe she is going to bed too soon for her needs?

Some things we did:

Made sure he ate well and got his vitamins daily. Made sure he went outside in the afternoon and got in some physical activity so he was physically tired enough to sleep. Made sure said physical activity did not come too late in the day otherwise it just left him wound up. Let him read/color/play with blocks in bed at bedtime so he was also mentally tired. Forbade him from having caffeine. Limited the sugar. Taught him to get a nonmessy snack and drink and keep himself quietly entertained without waking other people. At that age, his standard go-to was to watch a cartoon video and drink Capri-sun and have a dry snack of some sort.

Hth and best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2012

Best answer: Nthing having somewhere for her to sleep on the floor in your room. My daughter went through this at about the same age as your daughter. A friend of mine (who, incidentally, is a professional caregiver and former Montessori teacher) suggested we get a toddler-sized mattress (we have wood floors without rugs) and tell her she was welcome to come sleep on that in our room when she needed to and we'd leave her there, but if she tried to get into bed with us, we would take her right back to her room and she would lose some treasured privilege the next day.

At first she was in our room probably every night for a week or two but she never tried to get into bed with us. It dwindled down to about once a week for a month or two and then maybe once a month for a few months and it was over. She would occasionally come to our room after that, maybe twice or three times in six months. It really did work for all of us.

I'm wondering, too, if her brother is inadvertently waking her up? Snoring? Talking in his sleep? Maybe try a small desk fan in their room for white noise. One more thing: maybe the current bedtime is too early for her now.
posted by cooker girl at 10:47 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's the reason?

When I was that age, I was having vivid nightmares. Incredibly vivid nightmares that to this day I remember as clearly as if they had just happened. And I wouldn't be able to voice that to my parents because I, in my little person's head, thought telling them what happened in my dream meant my dream would be real.

Could you ask her specifically if something is happening at night and how she feels about what's happening? She may or may not tell you (or be capable of telling you), but it might give you some more information to work with in tailoring your response.
posted by zizzle at 10:51 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friend at work has this problem (right down to having a twin boy and girl!). She's never really been able to solve it, but I think for a time they were letting the little boy sleep on the floor in the master bedroom (rather than the bed) and that seemed to help a little. At least then you get your bed back.
posted by bananafish at 10:53 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some possible ideas:

1. A stuffed animal that is presented to her as her sleeping guardian.

2. Leave a light on.

3. Leave some soft music on.

4. Walk her back to her room and stay/sleep there with her until she falls asleep. Some people who adhere to Attachment Parenting principles believe in sleeping in the same room with their children. My sister did that in her own room and could never get her son out of the room. I often sleep part of the night in my daughter's room. If she needs comfort when I'm not there, then I go to her instead of her coming into our room. Some people think children will not develop independence this way - I disagree, but of course it also depends on the particular child.
posted by Dansaman at 10:53 AM on October 22, 2012

Something I've seen work with several friends:

help the kid have a PLAN for when she wakes up. So, each night when she goes to bed, part of the routine is "okay, if you wake up in the night, what is the plan going to be?"

For one friend, the plan is just "what will you lay in bed and think about" - a story, unicorns, tomorrow's exciting adventure, people who love you. This child, it seems, otherwise lies awake and thinks about Bad Things until she can't take it anymore and gets her parents. Giving her another thing to think about instead does the trick.

For another, it's putting a glass of water and a book by her bed so that when she wakes up she can have a drink, go potty, and then read for a while. This child is just waking up and bored - maybe it's a sleep cycle thing, who knows.

Good luck. I'd be really frustrated with this at that age.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:58 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you think she's fully awake when she gets up? Your description is reminding me a lot of the chapter in Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems about partial wakings, night terrors and "confusional arousals." It's chapter 13. In particular, the way your rewards chart isn't working makes me wonder if she's awake when she's getting up.
posted by purpleclover at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Figure out WHY she is waking up and what her issue is. There may be a simple solution. My sister would wake up my parents every night for months until my mom realised that it was because my sister's E.T. doll on her dresser was facing her and it scared the bejesus out of her at night. ("He's staring at me!") E.T. was put away, restful sleep resumed.

2. A nightlight can help with this. So can a flashlight, assuming it wouldn't disturb her twin sibling. My 5.5 year old step son sleeps with a little flashlight in his bed. He doesn't use it often (usually when he drops his stuffed animal off of his bed) but he gets a lot of comfort just knowing he has it in case he gets scared. We have some glow-in-the-dark stuff around his room that he can charge with his flashlight from bed gives him something to "do" while he falls back asleep.

3. A white noise generator/music player can do wonders. It doesn't have to be loud to be helpful. My 5.5 year old step son still has the music playing thing that he had in his crib when he was a baby. When he is having trouble sleeping he'll whack the button to make the music play and he'll go back to sleep. He does it both at bed time and in the middle of the night (I've heard him do both).

4. a place in your bedroom that is uncomfortable (ie. a sleeping bag on the hard floor) would give her a place to go if she's really upset, but the uncomfortable nature of it would give her motivation to go back to her own bed.

5. A really badass stuffed animal that you develop a whole mythology around about how it vanquishes bad dreams and protects her at night can do wonders. Maybe make it a "secret" between the two of you.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:13 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

MY SIL got around this with my nephew , by having a small, not really comfortable thin mattress with blanket and pillow on the floor. If he got "scared" he could sleep there and be in the same room as mummy and daddy so he was safe in his mind and also they knew if he wanted to sleep there he was really scared, but as he was mostly just waking up to pee and then wanting to snuggle in the big comfy bed it put him off coming in.

They also cut out late night drinks so that he wouldn't wake up to pee in the first place.
posted by wwax at 11:20 AM on October 22, 2012

Response by poster: asnider: "Does she have a nightlight in her room?"

Yes, we bought this for them over the summer.

The reason we bought it is my son complained that her room was too dark. And then my daughter didn't want us to close the door to her room. So I assumed she was having an issue with bad dreams or nightmares. But when we've asked, she's said no.

Michele in California: " My son has respiratory problems and other issues. He liked sleeping with me in part because my breathing and heartbeat regulated his. You might try checking for respiratory problems. Getting my son healthier helped with his sleep issues."

My son has had asthma since he was a preemie. Weve had her airflow tested and try to keep an eye on her breathing when she's sick to make sure she's not developing similar problems. But I don't think either of us pay attention to her breathing when she doesn't have obvious chest congestion. You're right that it's a good idea to check again. Will do!

purpleclover: "Do you think she's fully awake when she gets up?"

Usually not. When I've stopped her at the door to our room she's been pretty bleary-eyed.

She's totally awake when we try to get her back to bed, though.

You've all made fantastic suggestions. THANK YOU!
posted by zarq at 11:21 AM on October 22, 2012

That this is happening at 4.5 and that she is attending pre-K makes me think she could possibly be getting an inkling of the relatively greater status boys enjoy in society generally, and in most religions in particular, and that as a result, when she comes home she feels insecure about her status with you and your wife as compared to her brother.

So she tries to get you to allow her to sleep in your bed in order to feel special with respect to her brother and be reassured of your love for her.

If you see any other, independent indicators of greater jealousy of or competitiveness with her brother or boys as a whole, I think it would be worth it to try emphasizing to her that you think she's wonderful because she's a girl, and to arrange a few special things she would get that her brother would not, if you could find a way to do it which wouldn't hurt his feelings.
posted by jamjam at 11:24 AM on October 22, 2012

Nthing the next to the bed thing. As he got older, I would even tell my son "go get your blanket and pillow" so he had to make the extra effort. Sometimes he'd fall asleep before he got back to our room. He's 6 now and hasn't done this in a long while but from 3.5 to about 5 it was pretty frequent.

I think it's about fear, and security. I remember doing the same thing; when my parents protested my climbing into their bed, I would lie on the floor. I just wanted to be close to them and hear them breathe while I fell asleep, I think. It passed.

It's not a logical instinct; it's a middle of the night, comfort-seeking measure.
posted by emjaybee at 11:42 AM on October 22, 2012

Another vote for the sleeping bag. We kept it under our bed, and she had instructions to pull it out and go to sleep on it without waking us up. Worked like a charm.
posted by MelissaSimon at 12:35 PM on October 22, 2012

My four-year-old twins both do this. My son is easily redirectable back to bed, if he wakes up before we go to bed. (They go to sleep around 7:30-8:00.) My daughter is not - she says she's scared of the dark (despite having multiple nightlights in her room), and will scream and shriek if you try to make her go back. He is almost sleepwalking, whereas she is definitely awake; she brings her slippers and bear and cup of water, and very neatly places them next to the bed. One problem is that my husband and I are both very deep sleepers and sometimes we don't know they're there until the alarm goes off in the morning.

Both kids were champion sleepers until age 3.5, when we separated them into their own rooms (which they said they wanted, and everyone was psyched up about it). They both have sensory issues, so we have been cautious about taking a hard line, especially with her. (They see a developmental pediatrician, who agreed that they have more serious behavioral issues to work on first; it's been a rough year or so.) He has been somewhat responsive to a reward program; he wanted a snorkel, so he earned one by staying in his own room for seven nights (it took three weeks); now he has two nights toward the matching flippers. His sister has two nights toward a certain doll, which she has been working on for over a month.

My kids are defiant and strong-willed; telling them it's rude or inconveniencing us would make them do it more. They figured out how to disable and reset a visual timer clock. As our dev ped said, this will not last forever, and we have bigger fish to fry.
posted by candyland at 12:51 PM on October 22, 2012

Nthing sleeping on the floor. We allowed my daughter to bring her sleeping bag in and sleep on the floor next to our bed, but she was not allowed to wake us up nor get in bed with us. It's been 20 years but I seem to recall it only took a few nights for her to stop coming in.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2012

I think you need to rethink the thing about locking the door, at least for a few nights. Unless you have a really weird room lock you WILL be able to unlock it swiftly in an emergency. And your children really need to understand that mom and dad need their privacy to sleep, etc.

Pick a night where you don't have to get up super early the next day. She will screech and carry on, but I'm thinking that two or three nights in she will get it.

Now, along with this, try to find out what her need is. More attention during the day? A nightlight, or a better one, in her room? And so forth.

Now, when I was that age, I had a (don't laugh) glow in the dark cross on my wall above my bed. When I woke up scared I would look at it and go back to sleep. Perhaps you can find a glow in the dark sticker of some sort for her room that could fulfill a similar function?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:04 PM on October 22, 2012

My 4 year old did this .. came in every night, 1-4 times. We tried every trick in the book .. nothing worked.

About a month ago, mom (my wife) got a stomach bug real bad. She was in bed (and the bathroom) a lot.

In any event, when I put my kids to bed each night, I would remind/beg them: Do not come into the bed tonight. Mom is sick. Stay away.

And they did. Those 3-4 days of mom being sick completely broke the 4 year old of coming in every night.

Admittedly, he's not perfect, so will show up 2-3 times a week .. far better than 20+ times a week.

So .. maybe you could fake an illness? ;-)
posted by duncantuna at 2:23 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since birth I've had a messed up circadian rhythm. I'm just a night person. I woke up at around midnight and stayed up for a couple hours before I could get back to sleep. Even in kindergarten my bedtime was really late--well after 9, sometimes 10. I wasn't tempted to go to my parent's room (my brother was sleeping in there, anyway, because he was afraid of the dark =D), but I did have ways to keep myself occupied in the night. Books, notebooks and paper, etc. A TV, too, but obviously that's not a good idea for insomniacs.

However, if she's not totally aware of what's going on when she's coming to your room, some kind of obstruction might help. Keep both doors closed, leave the hallway lights off, etc. I always responded positively (after initial crying and guilt) to my parents telling me that a certain behavior was making them sad or upset.
posted by xyzzy at 2:28 PM on October 22, 2012

I am almost ashamed to admit this, but it worked for us:

"If you stay in your bed all night, you can have a spoonful of ice cream in the morning."

It worked for a friend who passed it on to me. FWIW
posted by 4ster at 2:45 PM on October 22, 2012

Our daughter is younger but when she come sin we redirect back into her room then one of us stays there with her (it's also the guest room so there's a couch bed). We still get sleep, it happens less and less (but there's usually a run on when it does - correlates with illness and terribly busy times) and if we don't we get more and more interruptions through the night, and the nights after. I think there is something that wakes her (nightmare, darkness, douchewads coming home, idiots in fancy cars and bikes etc.) and if we send her back into her room alone it becomes an attachment thing. If we go in with her it's enough to settle her and I guess confirm we are there and supportive.

So I'd say a mattress on the floor in one of your rooms - we were transitioning from cosleeping/roomsharing so we didn't want to have that option.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:03 PM on October 22, 2012

Instead of locking either door, why not place a tall baby gate in the doorway to the kid's room? It sounds like the night wandering is a habit, and furthermore she isn't totally conscious while wandering, so less responsive to reasoning, bribing, etc. A physical barrier in place just long enough to break the habit might do the trick.

We had a baby gate in place when our kids were younger, and they do not appear to be traumatized for life. And they don't climb in our bed at night. Baby gate FTW!
posted by Wavelet at 4:20 PM on October 22, 2012

If all else fails, just lock your door.

There will be no issue with emergency egress if you get the kind of latch-in-knob lock that opens by itself from your side.
posted by flabdablet at 4:22 PM on October 22, 2012

I had this problem as a kid. I couldn't articulate it to my parents but it was because my room, an addition to an old house, was cold. Not child abuse cold, but a few degrees colder than the rest of the house. It was fine around 8 PM when I went to bed, but by 2 or 3 AM it was cold enough that I couldn't fall back asleep without snuggling up in my parents' warm bed. When I finally got old enough that I was trusted to have a space heater in my bedroom, poof, my insomnia went away for good.

So... how's the climate in your kids' room in the middle of the night?
posted by telegraph at 4:54 PM on October 22, 2012

Ah, the cold thing just made me think of something else - our 3.5 year old wakes up probably three times a week between 3 am and 5 am - she doesn't come into our room, but she calls for us to come and cover her up, because she is generally completely uncovered and her blankets are on the floor. (this is unsurprising given the myriad of positions we find her in during the night when we check on her). So the temperature thing may be something.
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:57 PM on October 22, 2012

If you're really reluctant to lock the door, how about installing a split door in either your room or theirs? That way you can leave the top half open and reach around to open it in an emergency, and you can hear/see what's going on to reassure her.
posted by bq at 5:49 PM on October 22, 2012

Have you tried guilt yet? I know, it's not the most ideal response, but could you sit her down and be like, "Little one, when you come in at night? It's making Mommy and me very sick. We need to sleep and so do you. You need to stay in your room from now on. If we get sick, we can't take care of each other, our house, and most importantly you and your brother. If you come in anymore, we're going to send you out so we don't lose sleep and get sick. Okay?"

I used to get up at like 5 or 6 in the morning and do this really horrible thing where I'd come into my mom's room and poke her endlessly so she would wake up and then I could watch TV. It took my mom bursting into frustrated sobs for me to get that I was legit hurting her and I stopped doing it from there on out. The guilt of knowing I wasn't being respectful or good to my mom really helped me be a better kid, but YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:22 PM on October 22, 2012

Re being cold: My youngest slept in one piece sleepers for as long as possible. He tossed and turned terribly and couldn't keep covers on, so his pj's had to keep him warm. When he was a bit older, at his insistence, I would turn his bed into a big envelope and mail him to sleepy land every night. This involved tucking the sheets in snugly on all sides after he was in bed in hopes of keeping his covers on the bed for at least half the night.
posted by Michele in California at 6:39 PM on October 22, 2012

Response by poster: You've all made such great suggestions. Thank you so much for them. We're going to try a few and see how things go.

But first... I sat down with her this evening and we spoke at length. When I asked her why she was coming into our room, she said, "I want you." (Their usual answer when they want a hug.) Also, she wants "bedtime hugs in our bed late at night."

Careful questioning revealed a few things:

She gets scared in the middle of the night. (First time she's admitting this after what must have been 50 questions over the last 3 months. Why? I rephrased the question.)

She's upset because the night light automatically goes out after 45 minutes, and when she wakes up in the middle of the night her room is too dark. But her brother gets mad if she turns the night light back on, so she's stopped reactivating it.

Her brother's snoring is waking her up.

One of her fellow students at school has been pushing her and she's been upset about it. (We knew this.)

So we're closer to the answers we need, I think.

Am going to try a few of the things suggested here. Will update the thread as things progress. Thank you folks. Sincerely.

So... how's the climate in your kids' room in the middle of the night?

It varies wildly. And my kids are turbulent sleepers who kick the covers off. My daughter also likes to take her pj's off if she gets too hot. (Usually her pants, not top.) Which then causes problems when she gets cold later on.

If you're really reluctant to lock the door, how about installing a split door in either your room or theirs? That way you can leave the top half open and reach around to open it in an emergency, and you can hear/see what's going on to reassure her.

This is another really great idea. I can totally see myself folding and falling over a locked bottom half-door, though. :)
posted by zarq at 8:17 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Awwwww. Kids are sweet even when they're turning their parents not sleep deprived maniacs.

My little guy has a stuffed animal that lights up and sings lullabies. Maybe something like that would help her with waking up her brother.
posted by bq at 8:32 PM on October 22, 2012

I'd be careful about the bed next to your bed. I baby-sat for a family where this was the default well into elementary school. Not good.

I think staying with her in room until she falls asleep will help form a better habit (though more hassle for you).
posted by murfed13 at 11:42 PM on October 22, 2012

I did this. Around that age I started having vivid nightmares about my parents dying, or falling off a cliff and I could only save one, monsters eating them, you get the idea. At that age, losing your parents is the scariest thing imaginable.

My parents were extreeeeemely forgiving about this and almost always let me sleep with them (poor things). But they also always told me that "this makes mommy cranky and daddy tired at work" etc. Sometimes I was able to muster this knowledge into self restraint: I would bring all of my pillows and blankets and make a nest outside of my parents door and sleep there until morning, or more often, until I got tired of how uncomfortable it was and went back to my room.

On preview, DarlingBri's suggestion of a separate little cot next to the bed would have been an ideal solution for what I was looking for at the time.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 6:23 AM on October 23, 2012

The first thing that struck me was that maybe she's going to sleep too early. At age 4 and a half, a bedtime of 7:30 or 8pm may mean she's not tired out yet - especially if she's not actually falling asleep for another hour or more. When she wakes up to her brother's snoring, she's well rested so she gets up. Try keeping her up a little later so that she's actually tuckered out when she goes to bed.

Also, no talking and no hugs when you walk her back to bed. That's what she's getting up for, so every time you give it to her, you reinforce the getting up. Let her know that the bedtime hug has to last until morning (so make it a good one!) Sounds mean, but it's absolutely true. Give her a heads up on it, then stick to it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:17 AM on October 23, 2012

We're currently trying a "10 days in a row in your own bed and we'll get you a toy from the dollar aisle at Target" plan, but it's not working at all.

I think this is too big a mountain to climb, and at 4.5, she can't really see the top. I know this seems no different from a sticker chart where 10 earns a prize, but it's different because at her age, she needs a visual representation of her progress toward her goal and the distance she still has to go. Also, 10 is too many. Here's my advice, though it is bribery: go to the dollar store and buy a bunch of little toys like you'd get at the dentist. If she does two nights in her bed -- any two, not in a row, so she doesn't feel like her previous good behavior doesn't matter if she messes up once -- she gets to dive in the grab bag for one toy. You can gradually up the numbers and raise the value of the prizes -- at our house, 20 stars earns a movie out at a movie theater, alone with a parent of their choice. But at the beginning, you want those little reward centers in her brain popping with far more regularity.

Also, a plug for bribery: you're basically asking her to forgo an immediate reward (warm snuggles in your bed) for a long-term reward (parents being pleased), so it doesn't seem so different to add a little prize. Here's professional backing for bribery. (Despite the title, he method is very effective for children who aren't particularly defiant, too.)
posted by palliser at 12:17 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a nightlight that doesn't go off. If he's falling asleep with it on, it won't disturb him if it stays on - it's just disturbing to have it suddenly go on again. Glo Worms have a silent mode so they only emit soft light.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:30 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

We have these - friendliest ghosts ever. They are rechargeable and can stay on for 13 hours without a cord.
posted by Shusha at 6:14 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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