Unless you adhere to the attachment parenting philosophy that espouses a belief in the family bed, you probably don’t want to share your bed with a child every night. Teaching your child to self-soothe and to stay in his own bed can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. There are a few tried and true methods for helping your child to spend the entire night in his bed that can put an end to late-night, pint-sized visitors.
Figure Out Why Late-Night Visits Occur
The first step to putting an end to your child’s insistence on climbing into your bed each night is to determine why it’s happening. If he’s scared of the dark because you’re turning the hallway light off on your way to bed, it may help to leave the light on overnight. Similarly, a need to use the bathroom can rouse your child from his bed, leaving him unsure of how to put himself back to sleep. Finding the root of his need to spend the night in your bed can help you determine the best course of action to reverse the behavior.
Stay Out of His Bed
Crawling in bed beside your little one for cuddles and a bedtime story is a great way to soothe him into sleep, but it can also make him dependent upon your presence to fall asleep if he awakes in the middle of the night. Breaking the habit of sharing a bit of cuddle time before sleep may not be easy, but it will help him learn how to self-soothe eventually, and also learn that falling asleep without you there to help him is possible.
Look for Ways to Keep Him in His Own Bedroom
If your child can’t easily leave his room, he can’t make his way to your bed. Using baby gates to keep him corralled won’t present a fire hazard like locking his door from the outside would, as it’s easily scaled in the event of an emergency. Still, it’s an obstacle that will make it more difficult to leave his room in search of yours. If he does still manage to make his way to your bed, lead him back to his bed silently. It’s easier to give in sometimes than it is to keep walking a persistent child back to his room, but giving in sends the message that his persistence will eventually pay off.
Making the occasional exception for times when your child is sick or has had a nightmare seems like a no-brainer, but it’s best to only allow these breaks in consistency after you’ve established a good pattern of keeping him in his bed on a regular basis. As with many other milestones in childhood, it’s important to maintain a consistent stance until he learns that spending the night in your bed is only okay when you invite him. You may also find that establishing a policy of allowing your child to visit your bed on certain mornings after an agreed-upon time cuts down on late-night visits.
Praise Him for Spending the Night Alone
When your child spends a successful night in his own bed, praising him in the morning for the achievement helps him take pride in that accomplishment. The morning after an unsuccessful night, however, you should make sure that you don’t shame him for seeking you out. Make a policy of praising him when he does well, and of not mentioning the times when he struggles.
Regardless of what methods you use to keep your child in his own bed at night, it’s important to keep in mind that the change won’t happen instantly. You may have to continue your efforts for a while, but being patient will eventually pay off in the long run. Don’t let a few slip-ups discourage you; your child will begin to naturally assert his own independence after you’ve given him the tools to do so. Before you know it, you’ll be sleeping peacefully in a kid-free bed.