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Caught Between 2 Year Old &
Boyfriend at Bedtime

QUESTION: I need your help. I have a two year old daughter that won't stay in her bed for the whole night. Here's our routine: 8pm I place her in the bed and allow her to play herself to sleep; 8:30-8:45pm return to her room to turn off the light. At around 2-3am is when she comes into my room and makes one of two requests: "Can I watch TV?" or "Can I sleep with you?" This does not happen every night. When it does happen, my boyfriend is usually over and will spend the night.

I used to think she was just after my attention so I asked my boyfriend to come over after she had already gone to sleep. She somehow still senses his presence and tiptoes in anyway. What can I do to make her stay in her room without making her feel like I'm not devoting all my love and attention to her?

You are experiencing a dilemma between your own interpretation of motherly devotion and your burgeoning relationship. It may well be your own internal conflict that is coloring your interpretation of your daughter's behavior. It is possible that your daughter is merely curious about who is coming and going in the night and is waking up to check out the changes that are occurring in her environment!

Rather than trying to hide the facts from your daughter, try letting her know in advance what is going to happen. Let her know when your boyfriend will be coming over and consider spending special time reading to her as a bedtime ritual rather than leaving her alone to play herself to sleep. This gives her the message that she is special and bedtime is associated with getting connected with you prior to falling asleep. You can also let her know that she will be included in breakfast in the morning, or saying "good-bye" to your boyfriend when he leaves. This may assure her that her space in your life is secure whether or not your boyfriend is spending the night.

If you give your daughter your full attention regularly and on a consistent basis, she will learn that you also give attention to your boyfriend in ways you deem appropriate. She will adjust to your expectations for sharing you with a significant other if your communication is clear. Resolve your own guilt by taking special time to connect at bedtime and letting her know when your boyfriend will be spending the night. Let her know that you expect her to stay in her own bed at night, and provide a special night light and stuffed animals if they are soothing to her.

If she does appear at your bedside, simply take her back to her own bed and tuck her in with her animals. Be certain that your expectations that she sleep in her own bed are consistently upheld whether or not your boyfriend stays overnight, as she could otherwise feel (legitimately) misplaced by his presence.

It may take a few times of getting up in the night before your daughter is reassured that all is OK and that what goes on is exactly what you told her was going to happen. Your truthfulness and reliability will afford her even greater security and trust in your love. This should help both of you sleep more peacefully!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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