4 Steps to Help Your Toddler STAY IN BED!
I remember being so excited for my little guy when the big transition from crib to bed happened. We took pictures, had him pick out his own sheets/bedding, and read a special book about sleeping in a big boy bed. He loved every bit of it (and so did I!). I also remember waking up in the middle of the night with him standing by my bed staring at me... just waiting for me to open my eyes and then hearing the words "mommy I need you to tuck me back in." Oh boy, here we go. Those of you who have already transitioned your toddler to a bed know that it may not be a walk in the park for most. Then there are some of you lucky ones that are the exception to the rule and may have no problem at all. But toddlers love exploring and with a new bed comes a new found freedom of exploration!
Here's a situation a client came to me with: "I need your help with my 4-year-old! He wakes up in the middle of the night every night and insists on sleeping with my husband and me. It's a terrible habit I started and cannot break. Now, I'm not getting sleep either and am exhausted every single day! What can we do?"
We are so tired as parents that when our toddler comes to our bedside in the middle of the night, the easiest thing for us to do is to have them crawl in bed with us. I mean, who doesn't love a good snuggle! Yes, it's easy for now, but the day you are no longer sleeping well is when you get to a point that you need to make some changes. But HOW!?!? These bedtime associations that toddlers have are no joke; they are clever and strong-willed little knuckleheads! While there is no one magic bullet (unfortunately), there are several different things you can work on to help the situation. Not every night will be perfect, BUT your toddler also won't be waking you EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! Here are 4 tips to include in your "plan of attack":
1. TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE
Before transitioning to a big kid bed (even if it's already happened), it's a great idea to talk with your spouse on how you want to handle your toddler when s/he does come out of the room and ends up in your bed or waking you up. Being on the same page is really important. That way, when you have your family meeting (next tip), this message you and your spouse agreed upon will be relayed to your toddler...
2. HOLD A FAMILY MEETING
When something is really important, we sit down with one another and talk about it. This is exactly what you do in the family meeting with your toddler and sleep ... and even any little siblings too! In the family meeting you will be talking about the importance of healthy sleep, why it's important, and what happens when we don't get good sleep. Remember you're talking with a 3- or 4-year-old, so use simple language that is easy for him/her to understand. One way to start the conversation is to talk about how tired YOU are (as the parent) and how YOU need to figure out how to get more sleep. Then ask your toddler to help you come up with ways how you both can understand when your body is tired. You might say, "How do you know if you are tired? Can we think of some ways together?" And you can even start by saying, "I know I'm tired when my eyes feel heavy, and I want to rub them. What about you?" And from there you talk about why sleep is important and what happens when we don't get good sleep. Toddlers may not always listen to what you say, but they will model what you do. This brings me to the next point...
3. DEVELOP SLEEP RULES
As part of the family meeting, this fun little activity involves the whole family because everyone gets sleep rules. Everyone?!? Yep! You might be thinking "I know how to sleep, I don't need sleep rules." No, technically you don't, but again modeling... if you stick to your sleep rules, your toddler will have an easier time sticking to his/her sleep rules too. The whole family gets a piece of paper to write sleep rules down- use crayons, stickers, and even images since your little one most likely doesn't read yet. Each of your sleep rules can be different; but keep it simple... you only need 3 or 4 sleep rules. And these rules can be talked about with your toddler every night before bedtime. A great tip is to have your toddler state them back to you, so you know that s/he KNOWS the rules.
Lastly, much of the success of your little jack-in-the-box has to do with following your sleep rules and plan of attack with consistency. Each plan is different based on what dynamics are happening, how best to communicate the new changes, and what control you give your toddler in this process. There is nothing better than when your toddler comes out of his/her room in the morning and says proudly, "I stayed in my room all night long!" (with no sticker chart or other external rewards!).
While there are many other things you can do to help your toddler stay in bed overnight, these 4 tips are a great start that will help get you on the right track. If you're in the process of or thinking about transitioning your toddler to a bed, I highly recommend waiting until at least 3 years old to make the transition; it will be SO much easier for them to understand this whole process. Sometimes parents end up transitioning to a big kid bed too early for the wrong reasons (read more about this). Just remember, sleep is not perfect, even with all the right things in place... BUT it's a whole lot better!