Expert Advice on Sleep Routines

The Musical Bed Family

Amy, Tom, Amelia, 7, and Jake, 3

The Scene: At 8:15 p.m., Amy Knapp and her husband, Tom, of San Anselmo, CA, would start putting their kids to bed. Amelia would fall asleep immediately. Jake, on the other hand, would begin every sort of trick to get his parents' attention, from coming out of his room repeatedly to yelling, "Did you feed the fish?"

After Amy and Tom finally got Jake to sleep, though, the real fun began. Two or three times a week, in the middle of the night, Amelia would crawl into her parents' bed and have a meltdown if they tried to put her back. Then Tom, a light sleeper, would slip into Amelia's bed, and Jake, who hated to be left out of anything, would crawl in with Amy and Amelia -- forcing Amy to sneak into Jake's bed, only to be followed by Jake.

The Expert: Edward Christophersen, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at The Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO, and author of Beyond Discipline.

The Game Plan: Jake was the easier of the two children. Dr. Christophersen recommended marching him back to his bedroom in a no-nonsense way. But Dr. Christophersen was more concerned about the meltdowns that Amelia had when she didn't get her own way. His prescription? Don't give in when Amelia has a tantrum, ignore her when she exhibits bad behavior (giving her a chance to calm herself), and praise her when she's good. Most important, he said, Amelia needed to practice her self-calming skills during the day so that she could carry them through at night.

The Outcome: For the first few weeks, Amy and Tom took Jake back to bed every time he got up, and they gave Amelia room to practice self-quieting skills. When Amelia refused to do her homework, Amy calmly told her, "That's fine -- then you can get a zero." Amelia had a fit, stomped outside, and sat on the back deck until she felt better. Then she came back inside and did her homework.

Gradually, something amazing happened: Over a six-week period, Amelia crawled into her parents' bed only twice and Jake started to stay put. It turned out that the big-picture approach of looking at daytime behavior in connection with nighttime behavior made a lot of sense. Says Amy: "Praising the positive and ignoring the negative really does work."

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