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How to teach your child to stay in bed at night (and why!)
Having children who stay in their beds all night every night and sleep 10-12 hours sounds dreamy to many parents, but sometimes you have a kid who just. keeps. getting. up. So frustrating!
I like my children to sleep in their own beds at night. I don’t sleep well with a child in my bed, and I think it’s important for everyone in the family to get good sleep. If co-sleeping is how your family gets good sleep, awesome! But if you’re wanting to teach your child to stay in his own bed at night, keep reading.
Why it’s important to teach a child to stay in bed
+ Safety. In case of an emergency, you need to be able to quickly find your child. If you have to look all over the house for him, this takes extra time that you don’t have in an emergency. Also, if you have stairs, you don’t want your child to fall down them in the dark.
+ Consistent sleep environment. Sleep is so important for healthy growth and development, and having a consistent environment helps your child get that sleep!
+ Keeps mom sane. Seriously, it can help you get your morning time every day if you have a child who stays in bed when you tell her to.
Different ages call for different approaches
I recommend using a crib as long as they can’t climb out. You can drop the mattress all the way to the floor to keep older toddlers in longer. It’s easier to teach an older child to stay in bed than a young toddler, so I prefer to keep using the crib as long as it’s safe. While I firmly believe a younger toddler can understand and learn to stay in bed, there are plenty of other opportunities to teach your child obedience at that age. Basically, choose your battles. If you don’t need to choose this one yet, don’t.
Prevention is key (fill their love cup, be consistent in discipline in other areas)
Teaching your child to stay in bed will be much easier if you do two things:
1. Fill her love cup
2. Be consistent in discipline in other areas
By fill her love cup, I mean be sure you’re spending lots of time snuggling together, reading books, and involving your child in what you’re doing. Time spent with you strengthens the relationship, and you’ll have more influence with your child when she’s feeling loved. This makes training in a new area of freedom (staying in bed at night) much easier.
If you’re not consistent in discipline in other areas, teaching your child to stay in bed is going to be hard and take longer. If he knows he gets away with disobedience in other ways, he will likely fight you harder if he wants to get out of his bed at night. By being consistent in your expectations and consequences in other areas, you’ll make the process much easier – for you AND your child.
5 Steps to teaching your child to stay in bed.
1. Make sure your child is healthy, fed, and getting an appropriate amount of daytime sleep.
Don’t start this process if your child is sick or going through a big transition (new baby in the family, starting mother’s day out, etc). Wait until you can have a consistent sleep routine – bedtime and naps – for several days when you’re starting out.
If your child is having eating struggles to the point of being hungry at night, wait until the eating issue is resolved to tackle staying in bed at night. Toddler pickiness is normal, but you don’t want to have a hungry child when you’re doing this.
Some toddlers can be awake for 3 hours between the end of nap and bedtime and go to sleep just fine at night. Others need 5 hours before bedtime to be tired enough to fall asleep quickly. If your child takes a long time to fall asleep, evaluate if he’s getting too much (or too little) daytime sleep for his age.
While there’s never a perfect time to teach your child to stay in bed, take reasonable measures to set yourself and your child up for success. No need to make it harder!
2. Decide on your approach, be on the same page as your spouse
How are you going to teach your child to stay in bed? Pick a method, discuss it with your spouse, and commit to seeing it through.
Some parents do the Supernanny method and just silently walk their child back to bed each time they get up. This can take over 100 times, so be sure you have the willpower (and caffeine!) if you choose this way.
Some parents don’t teach their child to stay IN bed at all, but do room time instead (child simply has to stay in his room between bedtime and morning wake time). I don’t prefer this approach because:
1. my three older children share a room
2. I personally think that’s too much freedom for a young child
3. It’s not enforcing “night time is for sleeping” and teaching healthy sleep habits.
Some parents choose to discipline when the child gets out of bed at night, either with an immediate consequence or a consequence the next day. This is the approach we chose to use with our oldest when we were teaching him to stay in bed at night.
Whatever method you choose, think through exactly what you will do and say, be on the same page as your spouse, and then commit to following through for a set period of time. I would say two weeks of consistency, although most families I know who have done this have only had to work on it for 3-4 nights.
3. Set expectations, discuss consequences with child
It’s not fair to change up the game without telling all the players the rules. So before you start a new sleep routine, talk to your child and tell her what bedtime will be like now.
Clearly explain your expectations (“You stay in your bed at night, all night, until mom/dad comes to get you in the morning. If you need to go potty, stay in bed and call for mom, and I will come get you.”). Also, discuss what the consequence will be if he does not obey, so that he understands what is going on and what you expect.
4. Have a good bedtime routine
A solid bedtime routine will help your child settle down and get ready for sleep. Again, setting her up for success! Some ideas for a good bedtime routine:
+Bath, if you’re doing one that night, or change into PJs
+Read a few stories (set a limit, like 3, so you don’t have an hour of stalling with “one more story! Just one!”
+Small drink of water and go potty
+Back rub or back scratch, if your child likes that
+Sing a song or two. We usually sing the same song. It’s a good signal that it’s bedtime.
+Review the expectations for the night (Stay in bed until mom/dad comes to get you up in the morning).
+Hugs and kisses, lights out.
Then leave the room, and go sit quietly right outside the door. Now you’re ready to start, haha.
5. Follow through, give it time
You have to see it through. Kids are smart, and it’s normal for them to test boundaries. Is mom serious? Do I really have to stay in bed? I want to get up. What happens if I get up? Maybe after a few times she’ll get tired and let me sleep in her bed. Let’s see what happens . . .
Totally normal. Just calmly enforce the boundary by following whatever method you decided to use. The key is to be consistent and calm in your response. Then give it time. Some kids might decide they’ll stay in bed after you take them back three times. Others . . . it might be a few nights! Stay consistent and give it time. It will be so worth it when your child stays in bed all night every night!
Tips to make it easier:
+ Use a sticker chart
+ Get an Ok to Wake clock
+ Leave the door open (Mine sleep much better with the door open)
+ Use a night light (Or leave the hall light on. That’s what we do)
+Have a reward for the nights they stay in bed all night (More for older toddlers and preschoolers)
Do you require your kids to stay in their beds at night?
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