Even though some parents don’t mind having their kid in their bed, others believe getting kicked and elbowed in the face during the night doesn’t lead to a good night’s rest. We agree with the latter group, which is why we’ve created this guide on how to get your child to sleep in their own bed with ease.
It can be a challenge to convince your kid to sleep in their own bed, especially if they’ve gotten into the habit of sharing the bed with you. Kids who don’t want to sleep alone can be incredibly persistent, as you might have already determined on your own.
Whether they end up crawling into your bed in the middle of the night, or they simply refuse to fall asleep in their bed in the first place, you’re going to have to work hard to change their habits. Lucky for you, we have some tips and ideas on how to get it done, so keep reading.
Toddler Sleep Associations
A sleep association is a physical object or routine that your child associates with sleep. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? This could be white noise, a cuddle, rocking chair, turning out the lights, books, songs, you name it. The key is that a sleep association is something you do that signals your kid that it’s time to sleep, which helps them go to sleep on their own.
Children begin developing sleep associations as soon as they are born, so once they reach toddlerhood, you could already have a severe problem on your hands. However, it’s nothing a bit of sleep training, and persistence can’t handle.
Sleep associations can be many different things to many different families, but they aren’t necessarily a negative thing as they can help your baby wind down and get ready for sleep, eventually helping them go to sleep without any assistance. Some sleep associations are even necessary for setting up a bedtime routine for your child and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
Other sleep associations can be problematic, and we’re going to deal with these in more detail below. For now, we’ll just say that anything that you find problematic probably is. Things like having to give a toddler a bottle of milk before bed to get them to fall asleep may seem harmless at first, but after a while, you realize that maybe your kid doesn’t need those extra calories, and you’d like to take the ritual away. If your kid has trouble falling asleep without their bottle, that’s when we get into the territory of negative sleep associations.
Fixing Negative Sleep Associations
A negative sleep association is something that your toddler needs to get to sleep, that they are not in control of. An example of this is when your child wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to your bed, or needs you to help them fall back to sleep because they can’t get to sleep on their own.
These could be many different things as well, such as lying in bed with you, twisting your hair, asking for a pacifier or a bottle, anything like that. Now before we continue, we’d like to point out that something is only a negative sleep association if you see it that way. It’s only a problem if it is a problem for you.
You might have enjoyed having your kid in your bed or being around whenever they needed to go to sleep for many months, but it has now become clear that both you and your child are overtired, and your little one needs to learn how to sleep on their own. That doesn’t mean that what you’ve done in the past is wrong; it just means it’s time for a change.
So, remember a negative sleep association is something your child needs from you. Therefore, the key to teaching your toddler to sleep on their own is taking these negative sleep associations and replacing them with positive ones.
Tips for Getting Your Toddler to Sleep in Their Own Bed
Thankfully, there are some things you can start doing today to regain control of your bed and have your kid sleeping in their own peacefully. We’re going to talk about some of the strategies in more detail below.
Anticipation and Proactivity
This is a good start when you’re trying to solve any problem, child-related or not. You’ve likely already encountered problems when getting your little one to sleep in their own bed, which is why you’re here, and that’s a step in the right direction. This means you’re willing to put in some work to change your kid’s behavior.
If you still haven’t run into those problems and you’re here preventatively, trying to prepare for the inevitable issues you’re going to have when your child reaches toddlerhood, that’s even better. Tackling problems before they arise has always been the best tactic for dealing with them.
Whatever the case may be, try to think in terms of what your child is trying to accomplish by sleeping in your bed. If you think they are attempting to create more time with you, try providing more one-on-one time with them during the day to give them the amount of attention they need. If you think they are afraid, try incorporating a night-light or other ways to help them get over their fear. Examine the potential root of the problem and think about how to address it effectively.
Although most parents would prefer to have their child sleep in their own bed, they are often too tired to get up in the middle of the night and put their kid back in his/her bed. Unfortunately, not being consistent with saying ‘no’ to your child, and allowing them to be more persistent than you, could lead to problems in this area, as well as most others.
If you really want your little one to stop crawling into your bed at night, you have to be very clear about it and send a consistent message to them night after night. This doesn’t only apply for sleeping in your bed, but a host of other negative behaviors as well.
Once you let your child become more persistent than you, no matter what the issue, you’re showing them that they can get whatever they want from you as long as they keep asking until they wear you out. Any mixed messages and signals will only prolong the problem, so make sure to be consistent in returning your little one to their bed, without making any exceptions.
This concept goes hand in hand with the previous one since patience and consistency can hardly work without one another. If your little one has been sharing your bed for a long time, ever since they were a baby, they are going to need lots of help with the transition.
You need to remember that this is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, and dividing the larger goal into more straightforward steps can help you stay on track and remain motivated. Create a checklist or a step-by-step plan that will help foster independence in your little one.
For example, you can start by allowing your child to sleep on the floor of your room on their mattress for kids, rather than in your bed. They may find this fun, and it’s an excellent first step to getting them out of your bed. Next, you may have them sleeping in a tent, so there’s no visual contact, and so on until they feel comfortable enough to sleep in their own bed.
When is a child too old to sleep with parents?
The answer to this question will vary from child to child and from family to family, so we can’t give you an exact number. What we can say is that sharing your bed with your kid is probably not a good idea, to begin with, and you should try getting them to sleep independently as soon as possible.
Offering some comfort to your little one when they are stressed and anxious is perfectly fine, but creating a consistent routine of sleeping in the same bed is something you should avoid, no matter how young your kid is.
My toddler won’t stay in bed because he is too afraid to sleep alone. What can I do?
As adults, we tend to forget the fears that we had as children, and how real they felt back then. We often find our children’s concerns to be ridiculous and unfounded, but it’s important not to dismiss them.
Try to get involved in your child’s imagination and create ways to defend them from the fears they have. If they are afraid of monsters, you can create spells and potions together to keep the monsters away, or if they are fearful of the dark, leaving the door cracked open, or a nightlight could do the trick.
When can I start sleep-training my child?
In our opinion, it’s never too early to start training them to sleep alone. Keep in mind that in the first three or four months, you’re going to have to wake up and feed the baby every couple of hours, but after that, having them sleep in their own space is a good idea.
If you have a little one with trouble sleeping in their crib, check out some excellent crib mattresses. You may experience some regressions along the way, but we suggest starting as early as possible.
Getting a toddler to sleep in their own bed is not an easy feat, especially if they have spent most of their life sharing yours. Toddlers are surprisingly bright, and they can be skilled at emotional manipulation and negotiation.
Don’t let your kid catch you off-guard, though, because as unlikely as it may seem in some situations, you’re the one in charge, and being in charge sometimes means taking some difficult steps. You should never sacrifice the overall good of your child for their immediate affection.
Setting clear boundaries and sticking to them will get you results in pretty much any department when it comes to raising a little one. Just remember to be patient, and don’t despair when things don’t go your way. Stay consistent night after night, and you’ll start to see some results quickly, we promise. If you’re wondering about other parenting and sleep-related questions like ‘When to transition to a toddler bed?’ or ‘How much sleep do kids need?’ check out our articles on these subjects.