Thursday 23 February 2017

How do we get our daughter to ease into her new room?

I have a two-year-old girl and wondered if you could suggest the best way to move her into her own bed in a new room. Our second baby is due in May so we have time. I thought it might be easier on her to have this done before the baby arrives, what do you think? I haven't started toilet training her yet either. I have your book and I try to apply your practices where I can. The hardest part is trying to get my hubby to follow suit!

At the moment she goes to bed easily but does like to have you near to hold her hand or rub her back. Obviously for the new room we want to start as we mean to go on and we don't want her running into our bed every time she wakes. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Don't worry about your husband! I reckon my wife and I have just as many points of agreement and disagreement about parenting. A good thing, though, is to be open to your differing opinions so that you can compromise.

It is easier for children when their parents apply a consistent method of dealing with situations.

It is great that you are considering this transition for your daughter now. It is less likely that she will feel she is being pushed out of your bed to make way for the baby.

You mention toilet training, but I think you should put it on the back burner. Your daughter is about to have two major changes occurring in her life -- a new bedroom and a new sister or brother. These events need time to settle and she needs time to adjust to them before you could even think about another big transition like toilet training.

When we think about the impact of change, the most important consideration is the level of destabilisation that it usually brings. Once things are different to how we expect them to be we can get anxious. The world can seem less predictable and then we can worry about how we will cope and what else might change.

Children and adults can experience the anxiety that change brings. Typical responses to the changes are to try to resist them. Adults might be able to express this verbally by complaining, rationalising or arguing to keep things as they are.

When the change involves sleep and two-year-olds, we can guess that they are most likely going to display their anxiety by having tantrums, refusing to use the new bed or the new room, becoming very disrupted in their sleeping patterns or getting more fractious generally.

So, you need to be prepared for the fact that your daughter might resist the move and you need to be empathetic and understanding.

You can also be assured, however, that she is probably well able for the challenge and, like most children, she can be resilient if she gets emotional support.

You might also want to consider breaking the move down into two stages if it is the case that she is not only moving to a new room but is also moving out of your bed.

Spending some time getting used to not being in your bed and learning to sleep in her own bed (perhaps as a mattress on the floor of your room) might be really helpful before going to a new room too.

Preparation for the move will really smooth out many of the potential bumps along the way. The room that will become her room may have been used for storage up to now and so clearing it out and maybe decorating it, if you can afford to, will help.

If you don't already have a bed then you can let your daughter be with you when you pick one. Remember that she is two and so even if she seems delighted with the bed in the shop, by the time it gets delivered she may hate it.

Her dislike could be due to the fickleness of toddlerhood or the fact that the new bed means the move is imminent. Be patient with her and she will most likely come around.

So, when her room is ready, spend a few weeks using the room as a den to play with her, read to her and generally make her feel very special, before she uses it to sleep.

This allows her to get to know the room, to become comfortable in it, to feel like it is her space and to build up the positive associations between being in the room and feeling relaxed.

Now the room move stands the best chance of success. Pick a Friday so that you all have the weekend for the earliest and, potentially, most disrupted phase. Settle her in the new bed exactly as you currently settle her with your company, having followed her old bedtime routine up to this point.

I would encourage you to stay with her for the early stages until she falls asleep as it sounds like your presence will be very reassuring and comforting for her.

She may well wake up due to her new surroundings and she will either call for you or come back to visit you. Either way you need to be patient, warm and accepting of the fact that she seems a bit disrupted.

If you are keen to establish the new room then bring her back to her bed and settle her there each time, rather than letting her snuggle in with you (even though it might be tempting to get some uninterrupted sleep!).

Once she realises that she can be comfortable and safe in the new room then you can start to wean her off the need for your company as she settles at night.

Once she doesn't need your help to fall asleep initially she will, most likely, also be able to get her self back to sleep if she wakes during the night.

When the new baby arrives it may disrupt your daughter all over again, so don't panic but try to stick with all of the routine you have built up by that stage.

The key thing to remember is that she will sleep best when she feels most secure and comfortable. So the more calm and relaxed you can be (even in the middle of the night!) the easier the transition will be.

David Coleman is a clinical psychologist, broadcaster and author.Queries and issues can only be addressed through the column and David regrets he cannot enter into personal correspondence

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