Does your toddler end up in your bed at night, after having started the evening in his own bed? If this is becoming a habit, here’s how to deal with the problem, and why it could be happening.
How to get your toddler to stop sleeping in your bed
Remember – this isn’t going to be a one-step, overnight change. Your toddler is used to sleeping in your bed, even if he starts off the night in his own. It’s a routine that’ll take time to alter. You need to plan the change without him knowing at first.
- Start by encouraging your toddler to play in his bedroom, and particularly on his bed, before he actually sleeps there.
- Then, pick a night when he’ll start to sleep there and explain that he will be sleeping there all night. The chances are he’ll feel strange in his own bed at first, so expect it to take a few weeks before he gets used to sleeping there all night.
- Each time he appears in your room, patiently take him back to his own bed. Remind yourself: this will suit everyone, eventually.
Bed-sharing because of habit
It’s really common for toddlers to start the night in their own bed but, by the middle of the night, try and get in yours. Often you’re too tired to do anything about it, or they’re resistant to get back to their own room. It’s not uncommon for toddlers who do settle back into their own bed to come back to yours multiple times in the night.
Children’s sleep consultant, Melissa Bielecki, says, “Most little ones do wake up and feel anxious at a certain stage, and even though the anxiety passes, the habit stays. By age 2, it’s so ingrained that the only way to tackle it is to set aside four or five nights in which you’re determinedly settling him every time he stirs. Don’t chat to him about it and don’t use bribery. Just say, ‘Come on, into bed’. Be firm but fair. Never shout, but do try to create a different habit, and be consistent every night.”
Bed-sharing caused by nightmares
When your toddler has a nightmare, they often end up in your bed. If it happens a lot, it can become a habit, though.
You naturally want to reassure your toddler, so it’s always best to do the soothing and straight-talking in your toddler’s room.
“Don’t belittle your child’s fears, but don’t promote anxious behaviour,” says Halsey. “Say, ‘There are no monsters in our house, so we’re going to have a big cuddle with teddy and we’re going back to sleep.’”
What to do when your child is sick
“If your child is ill, stay with her in her room if you feel you should,” recommends Mandy Gurney, co-founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic. “Then, as soon as she’s well enough to be on her own, go back to your usual routine.”
- What to do if your toddler is waking early
- Moving your toddler from a cot to a bed
- When your toddler is scared of the dark
Tips to get your toddler sleeping in her own bed
- If you have an older child, try reward schemes to keep her in her bed Tell me more about using rewards with my toddler
- Make your toddler’s bedroom cosy and child-friendly – not a junk room you wouldn’t want to spend any time in
- Let your toddler take something cuddly to bed – a soft toy or even the T-shirt you’re wearing
- If your toddler can creep into your bed without you noticing, put a cowbell on his door handle
- If your child comes into your room at night, be firm. Take him back to bed and say again, “You sleep in your own bed now. You’re not to get out of bed.”
- Get some perspective – stand back and look at what’s causing the night waking. Address that during the day rather than leaving it until the next time she appears at 3am
- Be consistent. You and your partner have to be united on whether or not you let your toddler come into your bed in the night. Discuss in advance which one of you is going to get up as you won’t have a very civilised debate in the middle of the night!
- Be strong. But if you feel that controlled crying is too harsh, you can use gradual withdrawal instead. Tell me more about controlled crying
What is gradual withdrawal?
This starts with you sitting on your child’s bed and then moving gradually further away until your child no longer needs you to be present to get to sleep. This dissolves the sleep association she has with you.
Obviously, results with gradual withdrawal may take longer than techniques like controlled crying.
Why your bed appeals to your toddler
Toddlerhood is a life stage where your child experiences a real leap in her motor, cognitive and social skills – not to mention a growth in her desire for independence. Yet he may be experiencing feelings of insecurity, too. And let’s face it, what better way to feel safe and assured than snuggling up in bed with mum and dad?
On our forum, one dad asks for help because his daughter can’t get to sleep without her mother holding her. RicW says, “[My wife] sleeps in the same room as [my 2.5-year-old daughter], and lays with her to get her to sleep each night at 8:30 and each time she wakes, before moving to the mattress on the floor. This can be as much as three times during the night.”
“A child finds skin-to-skin contact rewarding and beneficial,” says Claire Halsey, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert, “but it doesn’t have to be done at night time. Toddlers are ready to sleep alone.”
What happens if you’ve tried everything and it still doesn’t work? Deli3 on our forum says wait a bit longer if you can stand it. “My first born (now 19) was a awful sleeper. By the age of 4 she was a great sleeper and prefered her own bed and her own room. Don’t despair as one day you will find you cant get them out of bed before midday!”
About Claire Halsey
Dr Claire Halsey is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, author and broadcaster specialising in parenting and family
About Melissa Bielecki
Melissa Bielecki is a mother of two and a former nanny and specialist sleep consultant