By the time most children reach their mid-toddler years, they’re usually pretty excited about sleeping in their beds. But that’s only the case for some.
Some children find transitioning from co-sleeping with mom and dad to having their bedroom difficult. Such a drastic change can feel scary and intimidating, especially if they’ve snuggled up beside you their whole lives.
But if your child is struggling with sleeping in their bed at night, rest assured, you’re not alone. Plenty of families are facing the same nighttime challenges, and there are countless parents out there who can relate to your frustrations.
For example, your son or daughter flat-out refuses to sleep in their bed. Or perhaps they end up crawling next to you halfway through the night, almost every night.
Whatever your current sleeping situation, the good news is it’s temporary. Your child will eventually come to the idea of independent sleeping; it just takes time, patience, and encouragement to help them get there.
9 Ways to Get Your Child to Sleep in Their Bed
Here are nine effective, tried and tested, parent-approved tips to get your youngsters to sleep by themselves. You can become more independent and finally get your bed back.
1. Take an Understanding Approach
In your child’s mind, they have legitimate reasons for not wanting to sleep in their bed. And so, before changing their sleeping situation, it’s essential to understand their causes so that you can support and reassure them that everything will be ok.
In most cases, fear or anxiety plays a significant role in children’s reluctance to sleep alone. So, before you formulate a game plan to get your bed back, sit down with your child and ask them how sleeping in their room makes them feel.
Be sure to validate their feelings rather than brush them aside. For example, acknowledge that they feel scared before reminding them that they are brave and capable of much more than they realize. And, of course, reassure them that they’re perfectly safe at home, in their room, just down the hall from you.
2. Lay Out Your Expectations
Once you’ve talked with your child about their feelings and reassured them that they’re safe in their room, it’s time to set clear expectations for how things will work.
For some children, their transition from co-sleeping to sleeping in their bed may happen quickly, even overnight. But for others, a gradual, softly-softly approach works best.
For example, to help ease your child’s transition into their sleeping quarters, you might decide to sleep with your son or daughter in their room, on a mattress on the floor, for the first three nights.
Another option is to allow your child to sleep on a mattress at the end of your bed as they get used to sleeping without you by their side. Some parents also use a tent, which acts as a temporary ‘bedroom’ for youngsters to help them become accustomed to sleeping in their own private space.
Whichever methods you choose, make sure to lay out the ground rules for your child so that they understand what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you. If they protest (don’t worry, most will!), reassure them that they are strong and you know they can do it. And most importantly, stick to your guns!
3. Have a Nighttime Contingency Plan
Have a contingency plan if you’ve implemented a clear set of expectations but you’re dreading a midnight meltdown.
It’s not unusual for kids to get upset and distressed the first few times they’re made to sleep alone in their bedroom. So, it’s essential to know what you’re going to do if and when it happens.
As mentioned above, always stick to your guns and be consistent. If you’ve decided that your bed is a no-go zone, don’t let your tiredness or desire to get back to sleep override your resolve. Instead, accompany your child back to bed and tuck them in quietly.
4. Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment For Your Child
For your child to feel settled and content in their bedroom, making the space as soothing and relaxing as possible is essential.
But the perfect sleep environment will be different for every child, so get them involved and work together to tailor their bedroom in a way that’s just right for them.
If your child feels scared or vulnerable alone in their room at night, providing some nighttime “protectors” can be a helpful tool. For example, a favorite comforter or blanket from when they were little can help. Or try naming your child’s stuffed toys after family members, so they can feel closer to you as they drift off to sleep.
Some other bedroom additions your child might find helpful include a white noise machine and soothing background tracks that promote sleep. An oil diffuser and noise-canceling headphones can also be used for this purpose.
5. Consider a Night Light
A child’s bedroom can be a comforting place during the day. Still, that standard room can transform into a scary place when darkness falls.
So, consider using a night light. Most night lights provide a consistent, soft, ambient glow which is enough to banish any mysterious shadows cast by objects in the room.
Other options include a flashlight that they can keep beside their bed or a touch-sensitive bedside light that they can quickly turn on and off themselves if they feel scared.
6. Implement a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
A healthy bedtime routine is a great way to help children wind down and prepare to sleep. And over time, it can help them sleep deeper and longer too.
Things like taking a bath, brushing their teeth, and settling down for snuggles and bedtime stories before lights out can help them feel more comfortable in their own room.
As your child begins transitioning to sleeping in their bed, consider staying in the room with them, sitting beside them in silence until they fall asleep. Start by sitting next to them on their bed until they drift off and slowly withdraw to a chair a few feet away. Then, as the days go by, move the chair further away, closer to the door, until eventually, they fall asleep by themselves.
7. Teach Your Child How to Fall Asleep
Teach your child some tools to help them drift off at night. Having something to focus on and think about after lights out is a great way to help children drift off to sleep or fall back asleep after waking in the night.
If the classic method of counting sheep isn’t working, suggest they close their eyes and imagine their perfect family vacation. Where would it be, what would it look like, and what kind of fun and exciting things might they do each day?
8. Celebrate Success
For many children, learning to sleep in their room is a significant milestone, so it’s essential to reinforce this positive behavior with plenty of praise and reward.
Celebrate your child’s success and consider creating a rewards chart that they can check off each morning after a successful night’s sleep in their bed.
Rewards can be anything that will motivate your child, including earning the right to stay up a little later on the weekend. An extra ten minutes can also be encouraged on their favorite device during the day.
Then, after a long streak of success, they might earn a day out at the zoo or a trip to the movie theater to celebrate their progress and newfound independence.
9. Prepare For Setbacks
In an ideal world, once your child has gotten used to sleeping in their bed at night, they’ll continue their progress, and you can permanently reclaim your bedroom as your own.
But you will likely hit a few setbacks along the way, and these are to be expected.
So, if your child regresses to their old habits of crawling into bed with you in the middle of the night, don’t panic.
Talk to your child about their feelings and identify any changes that might explain their nighttime behavior. Then, you can work out proactive solutions together to get their new routine back underway.
Remember, transitioning from co-sleeping to independent sleeping is a marathon, not a sprint. But with the proper communication, consistency, reassurance, and routine, you will get there in the end.
Teaching older children to sleep in their beds can be an ongoing challenge for many parents and frustrating. But don’t worry; by implementing the tips and tricks above, you can overcome this common problem and reclaim your bedroom.