If you do want to stop nighttime visits, I suggest you do what I call the Rubber Band Bounce -- which means anytime your child gets out of her bed you gently, quietly and without emotion lead her right back to her own room. It helps to make the child's room inviting -- with stuffed animals, cozy sheets (such as fleece or flannel) soft music, or a bed-side pet like a goldfish. You can even create a sticker chart upon which she can place a star for each night she stays in bed, with a reward after gaining ten stickers -- perhaps a game night at home with you or a trip out for ice cream.
Is It a Phase? Marc from Brooklyn, New York:
My 21-month-old gets up around five times every night and says "bed, bed" and will cry until we lay with her. Is this a phase? Is it bad parenting for us to lie down next to her whenever she wants?
Pantley's Answer: It's not a phase -- all human beings wake up five or more times every night, mainly when shifting from one stage of sleep to another. The issue is not for your daughter to sleep all night without waking up, but for you to decide HOW you want her to be able to fall back to sleep each time she does wake up.
Right now, she has a routine and you are a big part of that. If you and your wife are fine lying beside her each time, then continue as you are, that's no one's business but your own.
However, if you'd like for her to sleep all night without your assistance you'll need a new routine that doesn't involve your presence at each awakening. Check several of my other previous responses, since this has been a very common theme.
Addicted to Breast-Feeding? Katrin from Germany:
My one-year-old boy is addicted to breast-feeding for sleeping! As soon as I try to put him away, he realizes it. I really don't know what to do....
Pantley's Answer: This situation is extraordinarily common among breastfeeding children – since nursing is nature's natural sleep aid. Children easily fall asleep nursing, and become accustomed to this aid for sleep. You'll need to help your child learn that he can fall asleep without nursing.
When your child wakes up in the night and wants to nurse, go ahead and nurse him as you normally have. Remember that a toddler is most likely not waking because he is hungry, but because he wants comfort, and associates the act as his method to fall back to sleep. So, what you'll do, instead of letting him fall asleep at the breast, is to let him nurse for a few minutes until his sucking slows and he is relaxed and sleepy. Then rock him, pat him or give him a back rub. Help him settle to sleep without sucking so that he can create a new bedtime ritual. Over time, you can gradually become less helpful as your child learns on how fall asleep on his own.
Getting Your Sleep: Jennifer from Vancouver, Canada:
HELP!!! My 18-month-old son wakes every night between 10:30-11:30 p.m. and will only go back to sleep if I bring him to my bed. I am not against co-sleeping, but he pulls my hair in his sleep and tries to sleep on my head, which makes getting a good night's sleep for me very difficult.