Okay, reality check: This is where moms who couldn't stand the cry-it-out method when their kids were babies may turn back and say "Forget it." Hey, kids will eventually sleep alone (show me a teenager who wants to be in bed with Mom and Dad and I'll show you a reality show waiting to happen). But if you'd rather yours go solo more like this month than this century, you can do it -- you just need to brace yourself.
In general, both sleep consultants and parents who've been there say that once you decide to start this sleep training, bed sharing needs to end entirely. No "Well, just for five minutes" or "Maybe tonight because she had a long day." That means midnight visitors get walked back to their rooms, tucked in, kissed, and left behind. No extra snuggles, no drinks of water, as many times as it takes. There will be screams and sobs, and kids so resistant you'll have to carry them, wriggling and accusing all the way, to their beds. Which they will jump out of in a split second. You will start to wonder if you will ever sleep again. You will; just maybe not tonight. Keep this up until the new rules sink in.
If your child has been starting out in your bed and sleeping there all night, every night, your job is even less fun (sorry). Take a comforter into your child's room and sleep on the floor -- not in her bed -- all night long (double sorry). Even though a slumber party in your child's room is probably not your idea of a good time, it's a smart move in the long run. "If you're in her room when she falls asleep and then not there when she wakes a couple of hours later, she will call out or come looking for you," says Jennifer Waldburger, L.C.S.W., cocreator with Spivack of The Sleepeasy Solution. "Sleeping in her room all night pushes the reset button, so to speak, on whatever anxiety your child is having about being there alone. She can wake up and see Mom or Dad each time, then just go back to sleep."
After two or three nights, switch to sitting quietly in a nearby chair until your child falls asleep. But no talking! You want to bore your child to sleep. If she kicks up a fuss, temporarily leave the room. She'll settle down if she knows the reward is that you'll rejoin her.
Each night, move yourself farther from your child's bed -- to the door, to the hallway, and eventually back to your own bedroom. "If your child follows you, you want to calmly, unemotionally, walk her back to bed every time she gets up," says Waldburger.
A secure door gate -- or just the idea of it -- can also work wonders for certain kids. When she was 3 years old, Monica and Ron Calderon's daughter, Marquesa, started waking up around 4 a.m. and sneaking into bed with her parents. After a few nights of crowded quarters, the Tigard, OR, couple reminded little Marquesa of "the gate," the one she knew from when she was a "baby" (a few months back). Marquesa hated being corralled, so that gentle threat was more than enough to coax her back to her own bed.