It’s a familiar story for many parents. After a long day, you are ready for a full, peaceful night’s sleep. You have made sure your little one is comfortable, has had a last sip of water, and appears sufficiently drowsy. As you settle into bed, a small voice says, “Mummy, I can’t get to sleep.”
The reason may be fear, loneliness, hunger – the number of excuses seems endless. If you are fortunate enough to get your child back to bed, it may only be temporary. In fact, you have probably given up in the wee hours of morning, pulled the covers back and allowed the sweet little thing to crawl in with you – quite possibly more than once.
If you are reading this article, more than likely you are ready to stop this cycle and are seeking help about how to get your child to stay in their own bed. If you follow these steps with consistency, your child will not only stay in their own bed, but enjoy doing so.
Make Sure Your Child Loves Their Room
Unless your child likes their room, they will not want to be in it. Make sure they are comfortable playing, dressing, and being alone in their room. A child who does not like to be in there room during the day is likely to dislike being there at night even more.
Make Sure Their Bed Is Comfortable
Make sure the bed you choose is the right size for your child – not too big and not too small. Some children do well moving directly to a twin sized bed, but others need one designed for a toddler.
Consider the placement of the bed. You child may feel more secure with the bed pushed up next to the wall or with some rails on their bed. Just make sure your child can get in and out of the bed safely.
Check the room’s temperature and provide enough covers. Don’t forget to get a child- size pillow. Ask your child if they are comfortable and make any necessary adjustments.
Prepare Your Child for Sleep
When it is time for your child to go to bed, make sure they have used the bathroom, satisfied hunger and/or thirst, and have their favourite toy or blanket. Other activities you may wish to add are:
• reading a favourite book
• taking a warm bath
• listening to relaxing music
• eating a snack
• brushing teeth
• singing a favourite lullaby
• saying a prayer
• talking about the day
Establish your bedtime routine and follow it every night. It may take some time for your child get used to it, but eventually all those steps taken in preparation for sleep will become natural and comfortable.
The last step of your bedtime routine should be tucking your child in, turning off the light, saying good night and leaving the room
Set the Rules for Sleep
Share the sleep rules with your child. Explain that they are old enough to sleep alone and that the rules include staying in their bed all night long. Explain that if they get up, they will just go back to their own bed.
Now you must stick with you rules. If your child gets out of bed, escort them back to bed, tuck them in, and leave quickly. Reiterate that the rule is that they must sleep in their own bed.
The key is consistency. If you give up and let your child sleep with you, your will have to begin all over at the beginning the following night.
Follow-up the Next Morning
When your child manages to stay in their bed all night long, give a great deal of positive reinforcement. Some children respond well to stickers, others to a small treat or a special breakfast. Whatever you choose to do, use verbal reinforcement as well, telling your child how proud you are and what a big boy or girl they are.
Another important follow-up activity is to assess what worked and what did not. You may need to change some aspects of your child’s bedtime routine. For example, if your child gets up to use the restroom, you may need to cut back on after-dinner drinks. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for your child to remain in bed throughout the entire night.
• If your child is afraid of being alone, try an over sized stuffed animal. Two of my granddaughters were given giant animals and told they were special protectors, eliminating their fear of being alone in the dark
• A nightlight or a low-wattage lamp works well for some children to allay their fears.
• Do not give in to your child’s tears, although it may be hard not to. If you do, your child will remember you did so and try tears again.
The best way to get your child to stay in bed is to establish a bedtime routine with some clear guidelines and rules, follow it every night, and make sure you provide rewards or positive reinforcement for your child’s success. A good night’s sleep is possible – for both of you!