You just get comfortable, all snuggled under the covers, when you hear the little voice.
“Can I sleep in your bed?”
Having a young child sleep in your bed can cause numerous problems, the most common being lack of sleep. You may end up lying in uncomfortable positions and waking up with aches and pains. Additionally, you are not doing your toddler any favors by continuing to allow her to join you in bed.
A healthy sleep pattern includes a consistent, personal sleep space. Angela Mattke, M.D. in Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Mayo Clinic told USA Today that it’s important for Mom and Dad to find the right approach to breaking their child’s association of sleep with his or her parents.
“This is a common thing that happens with kids, and there are things [parents] can do to help them, but the approach they decide to use has to be what’s going to fit with their family and something they can live with and be consistent with,” she said.
When to Make the Change
Timing is important when changing any routine. Don’t try to force your child to sleep in his own bed if:
- He’s potty training
- He has a new sibling
- You’ve recently moved to a new house
- Or any other major transition is occurring
Change is stressful to anyone, and children face a variety of changes on a daily basis just in the process of growing up: learning to walk, going to preschool, and learning new things. All of these are predictable changes. Including transitioning from Mommy and Daddy’s bed to one’s own bed.
Unpredictable changes – such as a divorce or death of a close family member – can shatter a child’s feeling of safety and security. Try to keep a predictable routine during these times without creating more stress.
Once your child has processed the new situation and fully understands what is happening and any consequences caused by the change, then the parents can attempt to get their toddler to sleep in his own bed.
Before Making the Change
When trying to get your toddler to sleep in her own room, it’s best to prepare her for the change in a fun and exciting way. Sit and discuss the transition and why it’s important. Read a book about a child who overcomes an obstacle. There are plenty of children’s books about sleeping in a big bed, which include:
- A Bed of Your Ownby Mij Kelly and Mary McQuillan
- It’s Time to Sleep in Your Own Bedby Lawrence E. Shapiro PhD and Hideko Takahashi
- I Love to Sleep in My Own Bedby Shelley Admont
- Go Sleep in Your Own Bedby Candace FLeming and Lori NIchols
It is important that your child understands that you are still going to be in your bed and aren’t leaving or going anywhere.
Inform your child of a reward system that will be implemented, which may include a sticker chart or small prizes for each day the child sleeps the whole night in his bed.
Three Ideas For Making the Transition
When the big day comes, make a celebration of it, possibly even baking a cake for the occasion. Today your child will sleep in her own bed all night! It is a big deal.
According to Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, sticking to a routine is of utmost importance. There are three schools of thought on how to get your toddler to sleep in her own bed, including the “100 walks,” method, the phase out method, and the bedroom pass technique.
This works especially well for toddlers who fall asleep in their own bed with no problem, but wake to climb into your bed at some point during the night. The idea is to not allow the child to get into the parental bed, but rather, walk him back to his own bed, no matter what time it is or how many times during the night you have to do it.
“We call it the ‘100 walks,'” Moorjani told USA Today. “You tuck your child in and walk out, and your child walks out too. You walk them back and tuck them in, and it can happen many times but if you maintain no reaction the child will realize, ‘well mom’s isn’t here to play with me.'”
The phase out method works well, for children who can’t fall asleep without their parents nearby. The parent will join the child in her bed or on the floor beside her bed for the first few nights, to get her used to sleeping in her own room. But Mom or Dad will slowly phase out the length of time spent in the room. Going from sleeping in the bed, to on the floor, to sitting in a chair until the child falls asleep, to leaving the room while the child is still awake, but sleepy.
The phase out method intends to get the child used to her room and the independence of sleeping alone without shocking her with a sudden switch.
Mattke says that some parents start the process in their own bedroom, slowly moving the child to her room, rather than the other way around. However, once a child leaves the parental bed, she should not be permitted back in it. “It shouldn’t be parents bed for nap-time and their bedroom for bedtime, it should be this is your bed where you sleep,” she said.
Another option, particularly for older children, is to offer a single bedroom pass each night. With the pass, the child can leave his room to get something, talk to his parents, or get a hug, but he may only use one pass a night and then must stay in his bed. Moorjani points out that studies show that this technique is effective at teaching rules and limits.
Regardless of which method you use as a parent, consistency is key to creating a new bedtime ritual that works for your family.