My husband and I have tried everything - from holding the door closed while she screamed on the other side to having the Sleep Fairy come visit, to accepting a co-sleeping situation that was bad news for everyone. While she never started the night in our bed, she'd often wander in around 2:00 a.m. and I was either so exhausted that I just allowed it or flat-out asleep and didn't even notice she was there until she was well-established. And, in my stupefied state, I just allowed it. Did I mention she's a total bed-hog and also very dictatorial in the sleep patterns of others? I pity her future spouse because that guy will get an earful every time he tries to roll over in bed or asks that she not rub his arm while he tries to sleep...
Lately though, we've had a few breakthroughs and I'm going to share some of the things that worked for us. These are fairly age-specific and best suited to toddlers around 3 years of age(though the book has tips for all ages).
First up: Dr. Ferber's Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. Before you start working up a rant in the comment box, hear me out. Our family's pediatrician is phenomenal - I've had a total mommy-crush on him since the time I asked him a question and he asked me if I had time to hear the long answer. Given that I truly respect his opinion, I was willing to listen to him when he recommended this book to me.
Here's a shocker - Ferber DOES NOT advocate the "Cry It Out" approach. He's actually quite against it. He recommends letting a child cry for short amounts of time, going in periodically and reassuring them that you're there for them. I won't get into all of his philosophies and advice but he's not at all the monster he's made out to be. He has a lot of very reasonable, practical suggestions that help your child achieve sleep success. He helped me understand the inadvertent role I played in my daughter's sleep problems. Some of the things I thought I was doing to help, were actually making things more difficult for her.
A Sleep Chart is one of Ferber's recommendations that has really worked for us. He suggests giving a child a sticker/reward for nearly everything you can think of - and be generous in your judging. The more success they have, the more encouraged they'll be to continue with their good behavior. We give our daughter one sticker for going to bed and not coming out of her room, one sticker for sleeping through the night and one sticker for waiting until the green light comes on before coming out of her room in the morning (more on that, later). She can also earn one for being a good girl at nap time. The chart's on the fridge and it's a Big Deal. Every morning I drag a chair to the fridge so she can reach the chart and let her pick her stickers and we talk about how proud we are of what a good job she did. If it will get me eight hours of sleep a night, I'll do this until the morning she leaves for college.
The Stoplight Alarm Clock. Can I just say - BEST money I ever spent?! (We ordered this on Amazon.com a couple of months ago but it's not availale at the moment.) My daughter is insanely proud of her alarm clock. When you set the alarm at night, the light is red. When the alarm goes off (no noise so it won't wake them if they're still sleeping), the red light goes out and the green light comes on. This is very helpful for a kid who knows their colors - and gets the general stoplight concept (a few readings of Go Dog. Go!) can help teach that little traffic school lesson. My daughter loves her alarm clock and is so proud of herself when she waits until the green light comes on. She insists on showing the entire family her green light every morning - our almost two-year old is so trained in the importance of this that he immediately looks at her alarm clock and comments on it in the morning. She even calls Grandma to tell her that she didn't get up until the green light came on. Since she was in the habit of coming into our room in the middle of the night, this has cleared up any confusion about whether or not it was morning and time to get up.
It's not a miracle plan, but I get to sleep through the night about 90% of the time now, which is a vast improvement over 0% of the time. I even have so much energy now that I've started working out in the mornings again. Wow, a pig just flew by my window...