If you've got a young child who wanders into your bedroom at night and are wondering what to do about it, you're not alone. Here's how to transition your child to sleep in his own bed all night:
1. Start Early
It's easier to train a toddler to sleep in his room when he's in a crib, since he won't be able to get out of bed and look for you. “If a child in a bed thinks he can visit you at bedtime,” child sleep consultant Dana Obleman, author of The Sleep Sense Program, says, “it can turn into a game, and that's usually when problems occur.”
2. Use Positive Language
Be encouraging and you can make your child eager to make the switch. “Say, 'Guess what? You're three! Three-year-olds get to sleep in their beds all night! Isn't this great?” Mindell says. “It's a positive spin, like 'You get to wear underwear!' instead of 'You shouldn't be wearing diapers.’”
3. Reconfigure Bedtime
If your child can't fall asleep without your presence, slowly withdraw yourself from the equation, Obleman says. Instead of lying in your bed together, sit on your child's bed until she falls asleep. After a few days, switch to a chair. Then, see if just standing by the door walks after a week or two.
4. Take Small Steps
It may not be reasonable to demand that a child who's accustomed to sleeping in your bed suddenly stay in her own room all night. So try making the separation more gradual. McKenna says, “Some parents have told me that they've had their children sleep alongside their bed in a sleeping bag. Or decide that they can have 15 minutes in your bed and then they go back.”
5. Be Consistent
It may be hard to walk your son back to his room at 3 a.m. when you have work in the morning, but be firm every night. “Think about the long term,” Mindell says. “You'll have a few difficult nights, but soon, you'll all be sleeping all night.”
6. Make it Worth Their While
Some parents offer sticker charts; others give rewards like extra playtime. Devise creative ways to motivate them.
7. Outsmart Quiet Footsteps
Hang a bell on your bedroom doorknob and you'll notice when your child enters. “Say, 'When I hear that bell, it's a reminder that I get to put you back to bed,” Mindell says.
8. Introduce a Clock
Place an inexpensive digital clock by your preschooler's bedside. “Put duct tape over the minutes and talk about the number she'll see in the dark,” Obleman says. “Say, 'In our house, nobody gets up before 7. If it's not showing a 7, go back to sleep.’”
9. Create a Plan of Action
Instead of simply telling your child not to get out of bed, teach her how to fall back asleep. “I tell them to stay in bed, close their eyes, and think about something fun, like what they want to do on their birthdays,” says Tracey Weil, whose 6-, 8-, and 9-year-olds sleep through the night. “Giving them something to think about is a great tool to help them fall back asleep.”
10. Don't Cave in for Special Circumstances
When your daughter is sick or she can't fall asleep after watching a scary movie, you can still comfort her without inviting her into your bed. “A lot of parents forget that they can go to the kid's room,” Mindell says.
By Lisa Fields