Say goodbye to your night visitor

Encouraging toddlers to stay in their own beds can be difficult.
Encouraging toddlers to stay in their own beds can be difficult. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

If your house echoes with the sound of pat-pat-pat down the hallway when your child leaves his room to climb into your bed in the middle of the night, rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s perfectly natural for a toddler or preschooler to go to his parents for comfort and security – it’s a sign of his trust and his deep love for you.

But there comes a time when most parents eventually decide they want to stamp out their child’s bedtime visits. There’s no one right age or time or situation to adhere to, it’s just a matter of choice, and if you’re ready, you’re ready. Your child is obviously well loved and secure, and those feelings won’t change when you use a sensitive, loving method to keep her sleeping in her own bed all night long.

There are a number of ways to keep your little one in his own bed all night. Since every child is different, and every situation is different, each family will approach this is a unique way. What follows is a menu list of ideas for you to choose from. Pick one, two or more that sound right for you and give them an honest try. Be patient and keep to your plan, and over the next few weeks or months you’ll see success. How quickly this happens depends on your child’s personality and how motivated you are to move things along.

From bed to floor to out the door
If you don’t mind your child coming into your room during the night, but would like to keep him out of your bed, then set up a sleeping place for him in your bedroom. This place can be as simple as a futon and blanket on the floor.  

During the night, if he forgets the new plan and climbs in bed with you, just help him down to his little place and remind him that’s where he needs to be. It’s perfectly fine to lay with him until he falls asleep at first; it will help him get used to this new routine.

Your child knows she's well loved and secure, and those feelings won’t change when you use a sensitive method to keep her in her own bed

The morning snuggle
This idea shifts your child’s visit from the midnight hours to a more acceptable early-morning time. Many parents enjoy this plan as well, since they don’t have to give up snuggling their little one entirely, but can do so after they’ve had a good night’s sleep.  

Tell your child that she can come in “when it’s light outside.” This works if daylight appears at the right time for you. Another is to set a music or white noise alarm to go off quietly at an acceptable time. Explain, “If the music is playing you can come to our bed. If it’s quiet, then please go back to sleep until the music plays.”

The weekend promise
Tell your child that when she stays in her bed all week then she can sleep with you on the weekend, or on Saturday. Post a calendar and let her adhere a star to each day that she sleeps all night without waking you. Put a special design on the weekend days.  

This idea works perfectly for some children who relish their weekend sleep-overs in the big bed. Others, though, find it too difficult to separate ‘yes’ nights from ‘no’ nights. If you think it may work with your little one, give it a try.


The rubber band bounce
This is a good idea for a family who wants to make a quick change to their middle-of-the-night routine, and for a parent who’s willing to get out of bed repeatedly for a week or so.  

Just before your bedtime routine begins, explain briefly why you want her to stay in her bed, for example, “When you come in my room during the night you wake me up and then I’m grumpy.” Tell her that you want her to stay in her bed all night long. Begin the night with a pleasant, peaceful go-to-bed routine. Finish it with your child in her bed. Then every time she gets out of bed, calmly, peacefully and lovingly put her back to bed. Kiss her, hug, her rub her back. Even sit or lie next to her until she falls back to sleep if necessary. Choose a key phrase to repeat to her a few times, such as, “It’s night-night time now. Mummy loves you. Please stay in your bed and have sweet dreams.”  

You may have to repeat this 10 times the first few nights, but with real consistency you should see this reduce night-time visits quickly.

Gift-wrapped motivation
Most preschoolers can be highly motivated to make changes when offered a reward (which, I’m sure, if you have a preschooler, is no great surprise to you!).

The sticker approach is a popular choice: purchase a calendar and put it in a visible place on the wall, and allow your child to put a sticker on the calendar each morning after he stays in his own bed. Your child’s goal is to attain a certain number of stickers – which can be whatever number you want it to be, but shouldn’t be so many that your child loses interest during the wait. You may want to start off with a small number – three stickers or so – and work your way up to 10. When the magic number of stickers is on the chart your child gets a prize. This can be a trip out for an ice-cream cone, a coveted toy, or a special privilege.

Excerpted with permission from The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Talk to other parents about your sleep issues in the Essential Baby forum, whether your child is a baby, toddler or preschooler.