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Solutions for a Middle-of-the-Night Visitor in Your Bed

There are a few 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 situation in a unique way.

What follows is a list of ideas for you to choose from. Pick one, two, or more that sound right for you and give them an honest try. Keep in mind that your child is happy and would most likely be content to keep things as they are so if you want to avoid tears, struggle, and anger from your child, don’t expect things to happen in a night or two.

Be patient and keep to your plan. How quickly you see a change depends on your child’s personality and how motivated you are to move things along. Very often the process is erratic - your child will spend one night sleeping alone in their own bed, and then arrive in your bed for the next two nights. After that, he may not show up at your bedside for two or three nights, and soon a week will go by without a visit to your bedroom. It’s easiest to move along at this pace if you have no ‘deadline’ for keeping your child in their own bed 100 per cent of the time.

The solutions

What follows are ideas that have worked for other families like yours. You can choose from these ideas or combine bits and pieces to create your unique solution. Be patient with yourself and your child as you proceed.

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 your child out of your bed, then set up a sleeping place for your child in your bedroom. This place can be as simple as a futon and blanket on the floor to a den made out of a folding card table draped with a sheet which houses a sleeping bag and pillow.

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

Over time, it will then be easier to take the next step and encourage him to stay in his bed, since he’ll be giving up only a pad on the floor, instead of your bed, for his own cozy 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.

The weekend promise

With this approach, begin by explaining to your child that you want her to sleep in her bed all night. Tell her that when she stays in her bed all week, then she can sleep with you on the weekend, or on Sunday. Post a calendar and let her adhere a star to each day that she sleeps all night without waking you. Create a special design that indicates the weekend days or Sunday.

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 this suggestion may work with your little one, give it a try!

The special big-kid’ bedroom

Some children can be enticed to stay in their own bedroom all night if you choose a special date for this event to occur, such as a birthday or a made-up ‘Big Kid Day.’ Leading up to this big day, you can rearrange their bedroom, buy new bed linens, decorate their walls with happy pictures or posters, put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, etc.

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 as well as for a parent who’s willing to get out of bed repeatedly for a week or so. When you’re consistent, this plan often has excellent results in just a week or two.

Just before your bedtime routine begins, explain briefly why you want your child to stay in her own bed; for example, “When you come in my room during the night, you wake me up and then I’m grumpy.” And 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. Any time she gets up, every time she gets out of bed, calmly, peacefully, and lovingly put her back to bed. Kiss her, hug her, rub her back. And if necessary, sit or lie next to her until she falls back to sleep in her own bed.

You may have to repeat this routine 10 times the first few nights but with consistency, you should see reduced night-time visits quickly. In order for this to work, you need to be calm, boring, loving, and very consistent.

Gift-wrapped motivation

My sleep survey uncovered the fact that most preschoolers can be highly motivated to make changes when offered a prize (which, I’m sure, if you have a preschooler, is no great surprise to you!).

Give your child a tiny prize any morning she stays in her bed all night. A prize can be a small plastic animal, for example. Also, the sticker approach has been a popular choice. Purchase a calendar and put it in a visible place on the wall. Allow your child to put a sticker on the calendar each morning after he stays in his own bed.

How long the process of change will take depends on how strong your child’s need is to be with you during the night - she may well feel that you are a much better prize than any toy you could offer - and isn’t it glorious to be loved so much?

Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling No-Cry Solution series on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating, and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Check out her latest book available to purchase on Amazon, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Newborns. For more information, visit elizabethpantley.com

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