Keeping Your Child In Bed So That You Can Stay In Yours

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It’s 2 AM. Do you know where your three-year-old is?

That’s easy. She’s standing next to your bed.

Sound familiar? Also a wee bit terrifying.

I recently did a post on why keeping your little one in a crib for as long as possible is the way to go, for many reasons. But the fact of the matter is, babies grow into small kids and they move out of their cribs – sometimes before they’re really ready. And that’s when the nightmare of bedside visits often begins. Here are a few tips to help get your previously good sleeper back on track.

Keep to (or develop) a schedule. The first rule of thumb when teaching a baby, toddler, or preschooler to be an independent sleeper is to first make sure she is sleeping at the right times and sleeping enough. In short, making her sleep a priority. Particularly during this period of transition, it’s wise to err on the side of caution and really keep to a schedule that is appropriate for your child’s age.

Many children who are transitioning to a bed might also be dropping a nap at the same time (given their age). So, during this time, use an early bedtime as much as possible. Later bedtimes will just result in an already over-tired child becoming even less reasonable than you thought was humanly possible.

Have a family sleep meeting and establish sleep rules. It might sound a little hokey, but it really works! Children at this age have a better mastery of understanding complex topics than we think – use that to your advantage. Sit down as a family over a meal and talk to your child about the importance of sleep for not only her, but for her parents, siblings, etc., as well. Remind them that the more you sleep, the more fun things they can do during the day. Have fun with it!

When you are discussing what your child’s sleep rules will be, be very clear and simple. Some examples include, “Lie quietly in bed, close your eyes, and go to sleep,” or “At bedtime, no calling for – or making requests to – mom or dad after they leave the room.” Choose rules that work well for your family and your child’s temperament. But remember, the goal is for her to go to sleep and stay asleep on her own and the rules need to reflect that.

Have a set bedtime routine. Just as with a smaller baby, recognizing the steps they will take before bedtime gives your youngsters a sense of comfort and confidence. It is also a great way to give a clear delineation when time together is ending and bedtime begins. No more “one last things” that turn into another half hour of tomfoolery.

Have fun with the bedtime routine too! Here is a great tutorial about how to document the bedtime routine so that your child can see it. Visual cues are powerful reminders, even when sleep is going well.

Invest in a toddler clock. These are great, particularly for early risers. Any toddler clock that can indicate with a light when it is okay to get out of bed will work well. A clock is also a way to get your child excited about the change (read: mommy and daddy are no longer doing all of this work for you) that’s happening. Make a big deal of presenting the clock as a gift and get your child involved in how it works and setting it up. Keeping your child involved in this process gives him a feeling of pride and manageable responsibility that makes him more likely to take to the changes easily.

When in doubt, employ the silent return. Many parents are familiar with this technique, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – silently returning your wandering child to his or her bed any time he or she wakes. But what a lot of parents don’t realize is that silent return can become a real exercise in frustration when you make even the slightest deviation when returning them to bed.

So, things like tucking your child in, giving an extra sip of water, finding an extra special stuffed animal that they haven’t played with in two years, but suddenly need RIGHT. NOW. All of those little things that seem innocuous can actually substantially derail the effectiveness of silent return. So try as hard as you can to resist those urges, use a true silent return, and you will see results much quicker.

Finally, be consistent. Ah yes, the “c-word” of sleep. Listen, I get it! It’s hard in the middle of the night to want to be consistent about anything except SLEEP. But if you can remind yourself that a few nights of work will get you back to your quiet nights, you will get there faster.

Remember, you can get your good sleeper back. Just know that the most important piece of all of this is coming up with a plan and sticking to it.

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Kristina Amerikaner is the (mostly) rested mom of two and a certified pediatric sleep consultant with Good Night Sleep Site New Jersey. You can also connect with her on Facebook or over on that newfangled contraption known as Twitter. When not thinking about sleep (yours and hers), she loves reading, baking, and tackling The New York Times crossword puzzle. She lives with her family in Northern New Jersey, her native state.

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