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Getting our kids to stay in their own bed can be a challenge. This can be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they are afraid of the dark or of something they heard/saw earlier in the day. Maybe they were sick last week and you brought them into your bed to help care for them throughout the night. Now, they kinda like their own little slice of your bed. Or, maybe you have been co-sleeping and your child is resistant to being moved to their own bed.
Whatever the reason it’s happening and whatever the reason you want it to come to an end, here are some tips to getting your child to sleep in their own bed. It can happen and it will! It just takes a little planning and some encouragement. Then a good night of sleep will be had by all!
Consider the timing
If you have been trying to get your child to sleep in their own bed and they aren’t quite taking to it, a good place to begin is to consider why it may not be working. One reason it may not be working is that your child is a bit too tired. Or a lot.
The reality is that an overtired child has a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. So, when they wake up in the night and can’t return to sleep easily, it may be their natural instinct to come to you. They may want some comfort or they may feel like they can’t get back to sleep without your help.
So, first, consider if your child may be overtired. Use this chart to see if your child is getting enough hours of sleep.
If you see your kids are getting enough sleep, perhaps one of the issues we have yet to cover is where your bed sharing probs are coming from. However, if you see that your kids aren’t getting as many zzz’s as they need, that could be part of your problem.
Make Their Room Inviting
A great way to encourage your kiddo to stay in their own bed in their own room is to get them excited about the space. This may seem like going the extra mile that you don’t really want to go, but it could make a huge difference. And really, you can do as little or as much as you want to.
Spend a little money to improve your sanity
These days you can find adorable comforters for a very decent price. Add a couple throw pillows, a lamp that is a night light and even a cute rug. For $100 or less you can totally give their room a new look. And that $100 may be worth every penny to get some more shut eye….for both of you!
Click on the images to see items on Amazon.
No room in the budget
If you don’t want to spend a dime on giving your kiddos room a mini makeover, there are other options that will make their bedroom more inviting. You could allow a nightlight or even crack their door while the hall light is left on. Maybe the door fully open would feel even better. Perhaps you could then leave your door open and they could feel like there is an open pathway to you…one they won’t tread with their feet, but one that will still make them feel like you are near.
Add some music and a night light
If you want to have some sweet melodies in addition to some light, consider the super awesome Hatch Baby Rest. It is a dream machine, for real! I love that it does both things for your little person: play music/sound AND light the room perfectly. And, mama, this little machine is a dream for you, too. It is totally programmable and controlled by your phone. So, if something happens in the middle of the night and you want to change it up for your sweetheart, you can do it all without leaving your bed.
This is the kinda thing that you can use from newborn through elementary. It is awesome! You’ll want one in every kiddo’s room. I promise. And the good news isn’t finished…get it in two days if you have Amazon Prime! Night time woes can be solved quickly, right? Check it out on Amazon by clicking on the pic below. You can also read the article I wrote detailing the features of this great little product.
And of course, you know your child better than anyone. You will figure out exactly what will get your kiddo excited to spend some extra time in their room.
Discuss the plan ahead of time
As with anything you want to do with your kids to invoke a change, talking about it ahead of time is a good way to start. Before the first night you plan to stick to your guns about not letting your sweetheart sneak into your bed, have a chat. Lay out the expectations. Give them lots of encouragement that you know they can do it. Explain the positive rewards they can earn. Then, make sure you help them understand any consequences you plan to have in place if things don’t quite go according to plan.
All of this will hopefully help your little love to understand what you expect of them as well as how you plan to help them accomplish it. By the end of your little convo, hopefully your kids will be ready to stay in their bed and get some great sleep.
During your discussion, lay out any plans you have for positive rewards.
Here are a few ideas that may work well or jumpstart your brainstorming:
- sticker chart (for ages 3-4)
- small dollar store toy after so many stickers (for ages 3-4)
- a special trip to the park (or a fun family spot) after a certain number of days of success
- a ‘ticket’ they can trade in for dollar store toys after a certain number of tickets earned
- a ‘ticket’ they can use to skip one chore of their choice
- extra screen time for several nights of success
- a special breakfast to celebrate after several nights of success
- call a favorite friend or family member to tell them about their success
Overall, the goal is to offer your child some encouragement in the form of celebration and reward for doing something hard. This ends up being something they can really look forward to in the midst of challenging themselves to do something that is difficult.
Age appropriate consequences
On the other side of positive rewards for your child to encourage success, you can also explain that there will be some age appropriate consequences. You can explain that these will be put into place if they are unable to follow through with your expectations.
You can decide when to use these, of course. They could be put into effect each time the child attempts to come share your bed. It could be after a certain number of attempts. You know your child best and know what would best motivate them.
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Some ideas to jumpstart your list of possible age appropriate consequences:
- an extra chore the following day
- postponement or loss of an activity that was planned
- loss of screen time
- loss of a favorite toy for a certain period of time
- to bed 10 minutes early the next night for each attempt
- a tired mom the next day, who cannot help them as much*
Love and Logic
*One of my favorite child behavior models comes from Love and Logic. They give great ideas for age appropriate responses towards children that help build responsibility and accountability. The idea on this consequence is that because you had to wake up multiple times during the night to deal with your child, you are exhausted the next day. Due to this exhaustion, you simply can’t do as much for your child as usual! Maybe you don’t have energy to go to the park on the way home from school like you usually do. Perhaps you need their help around the house a lot more because you are just so tired. Dinner might be a PB&J until you can get some good zzz’s. Get creative. Your child will get the point real quick.
No punishment needed
The goal here is not to punish your child, but to use appropriate consequences that help them understand that they will be held accountable for their choice. It might be a good idea to try the positive rewards first. Then, introduce these consequences when it seems nothing else is working. Kids respond much better to positive reinforcement, so that is always a great place to start.
One more aspect to consider before the first night of trying to help your child stay in bed is to think about their bedtime routine. Such a thing isn’t just for babies. It can be helpful for a wide range of kids.
Choose to give your kids a good amount of time to get used to the idea that bed is coming. This time can be filled with the same activities to help them relax and could include:
- a bath
- a story or two
- praying together
- talking about the best part of their day
- a snuggle
Hopefully you can come up with a short list of activities that both relax your child as well as give them some special attention. Hopefully that will help them easily drift off to sleep and have positive and happy thoughts as they do so.
Return to bed, promptly and strictly
If, after all this, your child still shows up beside your bed, you’ll need to have a game plan. And this plan needs to be completely consistent. Each and every time, go through the same steps mechanically. This sends a strong message to your child.
Some things to consider as you come up with your plan:
- use the same phrase each time. It could be something like; “It is time to sleep in your own bed. Let me walk you back to your room. I love you. Good night and see you in the morning.”
- This may not be the time to focus on any consequences. That may just cause more anxiety and make it hard for your child to fall back to sleep. It may be best to discuss the consequences the next morning. However, it could be a needed reminder if your child is coming into your room time and time again…they may not be remembering what is coming their way until you remind them. If you need to remind them, saying something like, “It’s a bummer that you are continuing to come out of your room. It looks like you are choosing to loose screen time tomorrow. I hope you can make a better choice tomorrow.” (Also, be sure to do a reminder about what the consequences will be BEFORE bedtime. This is an even better time to remind them!).
- Try not to be overly emotional. Saying the same phrase will help. But keeping your cool will also show you have complete confidence in the plan that has been laid out. It will also allow your child to have a chance to remain calm. This gives them the best chance of being able to fall back to sleep.
- Choose if you will walk them back to their bed or have them go on their own. Then, stick to it.
- Choose if you or your partner will deal with the wakings (who can be less emotional and stay the most consistent?).
- What considerations do you need to make so as not to wake others in the house? Do they share a room or have to walk past other sleeping children’s rooms? (When we dealt with this, we had a separate consequence if the actions of the night wandering child woke another child.)
- You can be strict AND gentle. Show your child you mean business. But you can always show them your love with your tone of voice, holding their hand while walking them back, etc.
- Respond promptly. The longer you let a child linger, the harder it can become. As well as you can after being woken up from a dead sleep, quickly say your chosen phrase and send or walk your child back to their bed. Give no time for a conversation or excuses. Be quick. And do this every. single. time. So many times our kids are looking for any crack in our plan that allows them to interact with us. Stop the interaction and be heavy on the action.
If the challenge is that your child is getting into your room and even into/onto your bed without your waking up, time to get creative! You may have to do something like put a bell on your door that alerts you. Or maybe you have to put something in front of the part of the bed your child likes to sneak up at that would stop them. Who knows what you’ll come up with…but mamas are resourceful!
No exceptions or special occasions
At least while you are making sure your little darling gets in the habit of staying in their own bed, there can be no exceptions. You must not allow them to come into your bed for any reason. If, in the past, you have allowed your child to come into your bed when they are sick or for a special occasion, you’ll continue to have battles.
If you are tempted to have a sleep over of any sort, it needs to be in your kiddo’s room. When they are sick and need some extra attention, lay a mattress down next to their bed. If you are celebrating with a sleep over, have them sleep on the floor in the living room and you can curl up on the couch. Do anything but let them in your bed. This won’t have to be forever, necessarily. But it needs to happen for a good long time to make sure your kids understand that your bed is not their bed.
Suggestions for middle of the night fear
If the reason your child wants to sleep with you is because they are afraid in the night, you have to take that into consideration. You do this by making their bedroom as inviting and safe feeling as possible. Also, they can sometimes very magically get over their fears when they have a fun reward to look forward to.
However, sometimes there is a very legitimate fear happening. My oldest daughter used to have recurring dreams that were bugs covering her floor. She could run to my room and wake me up, but she couldn’t walk back to her bed. She was literally terrified and shaking, believing the ground was covered in bugs. That was a tough one. All logic went out the window…I mean, she ran up to my room, all over the bugs. Right?! But reasoning with her in the middle of the night did no good.
It seems to me that around the age of four, bad dreams seem to get all the more real. That is when it has seemed to me that my kids have gotten scared enough to get out of bed and need comfort. When this happens, I have three go-to’s that I’ll share with you.
First, we pray. I ask God to fill their head with sweet dreams of candy and playing at the park and being with me (anything that will lighten the mood and put a little smile on their face). I do this to give them some new thoughts to think about and remind them that even if I’m not in the room with them, God is. They have always seemed to be comforted by this.
Look at a book
Next, I always suggest looking at a book or two. The idea is similar…put some new ideas in that head! Look at the pictures and let the mind forget what it was all worked up about. This has worked really well for us.
What would you like to do?
If all else fails, I ask my favorite question: “what would you like to do?” If, in my sleepy daze I have forgotten where I am and what child is in front of me and therefore not done either of the two ideas above, I just mutter this question. Then they ask me to pray for them. And then they suggest they look at a book. Well, there ya go, kid! Good thinking!
This question also works if I have already done/suggested a prayer and looking at a book and they still claim to be too afraid to be in their own bed. I just say I’m all out of ideas and I ask them what they want to do. They usually come up with something reasonable and I’m happy to say, ‘good idea!’ and then I go back to sleep.
This works for my 6 and 8 year old wonderfully well. Putting the problem back into their hands causes them to gain some courage and figure out a solution to help themselves. I will say, this little night time situation is NOT the first time my kids will have heard this question. I ask it. A lot. It’s my go-to so they are used to it. But maybe you have a go-to phrase or question that empowers your kiddo. Use it! Or try mine. Just try it for a bit before using it in the middle of the night, maybe.
If nothing is working or in the case of a kid who is incredibly scared and sending them to their own bed is out of the question for the night, there can be compromise. You’ll have to be very selective of when to offer this option. But, things don’t always go according to our well intentioned plans.
So, if you need a back up plan, come up with one ahead of time. It can be hard to think rationally when you’ve been woken up in the middle of the night. With that said, here are a few ‘last resort’ options to help jumpstart your brainstorming:
- if they won’t disturb a sibling but can crawl into bed with them, that could give them a sense of safety.
- if a sibling won’t want them in their bed or it would disturb them, they could sleep on the floor next to their sibling’s bed.
- a really last resort could be offering your child to sleep on your floor. I have offered this to a scared child and have yet to be taken up on it.
You’ll all be sleeping better soon
These tips are sure to get you started on keeping your kiddos in their own bed. It is likely just something they need to get used to, for the first time or again, for any number of reasons. Don’t give up and stick to your guns if you really want to reclaim your own bed. Consistency is the key! And, hey, I’d love to hear if there is a trick you have tried that has worked really well but I didn’t think of! We’re all in this together so, please, share your ideas!