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Seven-year-old will not sleep in own bed

Question:

Our 7-year-old daughter had colic as a newborn and cried for the first nine months of her life. We excessively catered to her just to get some peace, but now we think we spoiled her. She suffered from social and separation anxiety as a toddler and preschooler. Though these anxieties have diminished, she still has boundary and privacy issues. She will not sleep in her own bed despite the fact that it is decorated to her choosing. I have tried many behavior modification techniques, but she still ends up next to me in my bed.

 

Answer:

The boundary and privacy issues you mention above are both very teachable areas of learning. It is best to use a teaching method that is conversational and involves practice. 

The first step is to describe to your daughter what you want her to do. Be clear and specific. The second step is to give her “kid” reasons for doing it that way. How will it benefit her? The third step is to practice what you have just discussed.  

Let’s look at a possible boundary and privacy situation that is easily teachable: Respecting your privacy while you are in the bathroom. First describe what you want her to do:

  1. Look at the door. This is the first clue.
  2. Then knock once or twice and call out “Mom” or “Dad.”
  3. Then wait patiently for a response.
  4. Lastly, do as asked.  

So if you answer her and she asks to come in, you can tell her that you will be out in just a few minutes and she should resume what she was doing until you are finished. Or if someone is on the phone for you, she should get his name and number for you to call him back. 

The second step is to give her a good reason why she needs to do it this way. Explain that her privacy is important, too, and that you will respect a closed door when she is in the bathroom or changing her clothes in her room. You will knock before entering.  

The last step is to practice. Children love to practice. Make it fun and brief. Role-play, pretending you are in the bathroom. When she performs the steps correctly, praise her. Continue to praise her when she uses her new skill.

The bedtime issue seems to be a separate issue. Without knowing what you have tried in the past, it is difficult to offer helpful suggestions. Consistency, however, is essential. As tiring as it can be, you must patiently get up and put her back in her bed EVERY time she tries to climb into yours. She will eventually learn that she will not be allowed in your bed.  

If you are willing to share what specifically you have done in the past, we can offer you some new ideas to help with this nighttime problem.

 

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