Parents have been asking me for the past few weeks how they can keep their toddler or child in their bed throughout the night.
Toddlers often take a long time to fall asleep, and either their parents or caregivers have to join them in bed or they’ll cry incessantly. It can take them up to two hours to fall asleep at times. And it’s not uncommon for them to be awake again just a few hours later, either needing to repeat their bedtime routine or simply crawling into bed with their parents.
It’s possible their sleep issues began when they moved their toddler into a large kid bed, or when a new sibling arrived, or when they started co-sleeping as a newborn.
A commonality among these parents is that their child isn’t sleeping well, and they are all eager for a change in that.
If this sounds like you, I’m sure you’ve had a stressful few days. Not enough sleep because your nights are fragmented; frustration because you are responsible for the bedtime process every night; or your child is an expert at delaying the inevitable by asking for another glass of water or toilet break. Nothing seems to be working, and you’ve tried everything.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t the only option. Your child’s sleep CAN be improved!
So What’s the Secret?
I’m sorry to have to deliver the news to you… Nonetheless, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to working with young children. Any advice to give them melatonin, or use a weighted blanket, or put them in a toddler bed or adult bed is incorrect. In the short term, these methods may be effective; nevertheless, once the novelty wears off, you’ll be right back where you started. They’re like a band-aid.
In order to modify any behavior, toddlers require a number of factors, and yes, this includes changing their sleep habits as well. Consistency, solid boundaries, and a swift response when your expectations aren’t met are what they need from you.
Continue reading to learn more about what I mean and how you can make a difference in your toddler’s sleep for the long term.
#1: Firm Boundaries
It is easier for your child to comprehend your expectations if you are explicit and consistent about them.
The importance of establishing a regular sleep and nighttime routine cannot be overstated. With these cues, your child will know that it is time to go to bed, making arguments or stalling difficult.
When a toddler is young, it can be perplexing to have them sleep in your bed one night and their own the next. While it may be acceptable for you to watch Netflix or have a glass of wine downstairs, your toddler doesn’t understand why it’s acceptable for them to fall asleep in your arms some nights and not others. Consistent sleep patterns are essential, especially if you want your child to spend the night in their own bed.
#2: Avoid Giving Attention to Non-Ideal Behaviors
You get more of what you focus on.
Praise can go a long way toward encouraging your child to continue using the potty if it’s a positive activity, such as going pee ON the potty.
A similar principle applies to undesirable behavior, such as waking you up and squeezing into your bed at strange hours of the night. This reinforces the behavior since your kid gets attention when you become angry and send him back to his room. To a child, positive or negative attention is still rewarding. If this were to happen, the best course of action would be to calmly return your child to their bed.
Allowing an early riser to begin the day at 5 a.m. merely promotes the bad habit. The Hatch Rest—no, that’s not a reference to an affiliate program —is what we use at our house to wake us up. When it’s time for your youngster to get out of bed, your clock can flash green or display a digital number like 7:00. Before then, teach your child to treat the time as if it were midnight by lying quietly in bed and attempting to fall asleep. It’s then that you go in and wake them up for the day when it’s time to do so.
However, you may be doing both of the above and still your child’s sleep is still lacking. Because of this, this one might be the most crucial of them all.
If your toddler does something that you don’t like, it’s a good idea to have repercussions for it.
Don’t get all riled up on me, because I’m not talking about physical punishment here. As for toddlers, I feel that they should be given one warning and the opportunity to make the proper choice before they are punished.
It may be time to institute a consequence if your toddler keeps repeating the same behaviors and it is affecting their sleep as well as yours.
As a parent, you have the power to punish your child in any way that you deem necessary. Since each child is unique and you know your child best, I can’t recommend a one-size-fits-all approach here. Choose something that is important to them, but balance it with avoiding anything that would fear or anger them.
Expect your youngster to be disturbed for a short period of time and to shed some tears as a result of this activity. As long as you stick to your regimen and expectations, you should see results in a matter of days.
The Less Than Two Minutes Version: Getting Your Toddler To Sleep In Their Bed
- Psychiatrists and pediatricians advocate that children be allowed to sleep in their own beds as soon as they can get out of a crib.
- Encourage youngsters to learn how to relax on their own and not rely on their parents to help them sleep better at night by teaching them how to relax on their own when they are alone.
- Improve the quality of sleep for both parents and their children.
- There are a few pediatricians and psychologists that have noticed this phenomenon: Your family’s happiness is the most important consideration when it comes to sleeping arrangements. If children are disrupting your sleep, it may be time to make a change. You don’t need to make any changes if it’s working for everyone.
- “Fading” was the most popular way to stop a youngster from coming into your bed if you wanted them to. It’s a complicated process that can be broken down into the following steps. (And there are a plethora of variations covered here.)
- It’s a good idea to explain to your child why you’re doing what you’re doing. (Also, mentioning that you need more sleep or that they need to learn to sleep without you are both excellent explanations.)
- Begin by lying next to them in bed or, if you’re brave enough, in a chair while they go off to sleep.
- Try to ignore them as they go off to sleep. Make your exit as soon as they’ve fallen asleep.
- Take every opportunity to make any morning wake-up as dreary as possible. Put them back to sleep as calmly as possible.
- If you’ve been sitting in their room as they fall asleep for the past few nights, it’s time to relocate to a different location.
- For some youngsters, it may take several weeks or longer for their parents to adjust their behavior if they’ve been doing this for a long time, according to various psychologists.
The Longer Version: This Is Normal + Variations on “Fading”
Nothing to be concerned about. In addition, a number of sources claim that it is an important part of teaching your child self-soothing skills.
Your toddler’s desire to “exercise their newfound freedom and prolong their daily pleasure” is perfectly normal, according to the Zero to Three Foundation. It’s also worth noting that people of all ages frequently wake up in the middle of the night for a variety of reasons, and your child’s new bed is no exception (i.e. a new view of sheets and blankets).
For both the child and the parent, it’s a fresh experience to learn how to set nighttime routines that are more flexible. Your child should know that you’re aware of how difficult this transition will be for him or her, but you should also stick to the rule of sleeping in your own bed, as they advise.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees with this, stating that “most children are glad to ‘graduate’ and stay in their beds” after the move to a bed. As a result, they recommend that those who have difficulty adjusting should continue with their normal bedtime routine and employ a “fading” strategy (described more below.)
Experts at the Child Mind Institute have shown that parents who let their kids to sleep in their rooms can “inadvertently reaffirm [their] perception that it’s unsafe to be alone.” A lot of well-intentioned parents unintentionally reinforcing fear when their children turn to them for support is never too late to begin teaching your child these skills.
But Others Say There Is No “Right Way” For Toddlers to Sleep
Several sources underlined that there is no “correct” way for a child to sleep. “Having a child come into your bed to sleep isn’t, in itself, bad, but it can certainly be stressful if it interferes with sleep (his or yours) or causes tension in the family,” stated pediatrician Steven Dickstein of the Child Mind Institute. Everyone in the family must get adequate sleep, according to him, because “there is no one right way” for a child to sleep.
Doug Teti, a Penn State professor of human development, discovered in one study that co-sleeping with children was connected with greater stress, particularly for mothers. “The research does not indict co-sleeping,” Teti told the New York Times of his experience sleeping next to his children. However, Teti did emphasize that “a number of factors, including cultural pressures and an unsupportive spouse, can make longer-term co-sleeping a more stressful experience for some families.”
Fading: How to Get Your Kid Out of Your Bed
It’s not a one-size-fits-all procedure. We’ve compiled some of the greatest explanations we could find in the list below.
Psychologists Lynelle Schneeberg explains the process of persistent co-sleepers into four steps:
- You can teach your child that waking up in their own room is normal and secure by sleeping in their bed or a temporary bed/sleeping bag.
- As they go off to sleep, relocate them to a chair and then to your own room. If you find yourself waking up a lot at night because of this, go back to step one and save yourself some sleep deprivation.
- Take them back to their room, snuggle them in, and make it as boring as possible if they wake up at night.
- This is not a time for stories, snacks, or anything else that will educate your youngster that this is a time to have fun.
- For children who persist in coming into your room even after you’ve tried everything else, consider constructing a “nest” for them in your room, which is a separate sleeping area that is not your bed. She recommends making it a rule that they must sleep silently in that area without disturbing you.
When your child is able to fall asleep on their own, it will be much easier to get them to sleep through the night in their own room.
It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to calmly and quietly lead your child back to their bed if they wake up and come looking for you.. It’s also important to remember that you’ll have to repeat these actions multiple times throughout the first night of the new bed transition, and that as many as 20 “farewell appearances” in one night isn’t unusual. They also advise against implying that getting out of bed is a reward in any way (and that includes negative attention.)
This is how Child Mind Institute’s Steven Dickstein describes his typical recommendations:
- When a youngster wakes up in the middle of the night, it is perfectly natural. They must be able to fall asleep on their own in order to be able to stay in their room overnight.
- If your child relies on your presence to fall asleep, gently withdraw from them before they do.
- It’s possible to get away from them each night by moving a little further away from their bed to a chair in the room or down the hall.
Jamie Howard, a psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, advises the procedure below for fading. She says that in the most difficult circumstances, it can take months of work:
- If your child is old enough to explain why they come to you at night, do so. Helps them identify what is causing their nighttime anxiety. To avoid making your child feel bad about their anxieties, she stresses the importance of not humiliating them.
- Your child should be in bed and you should be in a chair until they fall asleep at night.
- Move the chair further away from the child’s bed until the door is open and he or she is able to fall asleep on his or her own.
- Get up and quietly walk your child back to their room if they get into bed with you at any time.
- To avoid “letting [them] backtrack, which really spoils the progress [they are] making,” you must consistently insist your child sleeping in their own bed.
It’s So Worth It
It may be difficult in the short term to deal with the tantrums and multiple midnight awakenings of your toddler, but altering your existing pattern will be well worth the effort over time.
A calm night’s sleep for your child, while you get to enjoy some alone time with your partner or a glass of wine, is an ideal scenario.
And then imagine them falling asleep and staying that way throughout the night, while you get a good night’s rest in your own bed.
The benefits of sleep training much outweigh the time and effort required to get started.
With that, I’d want to wish you well and thank you for reading this post. If you have any concerns or questions regarding the above options, or if you think your family could benefit from a clear, step-by-step action plan based on tried-and-true sleep practices, please don’t hesitate to contact me.