Keeping Your Kid in Their Own Bed at Night

Girl reading book in bed.

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If you are one of the lucky ones, the blissful evening silence of bedtime may carry over to morning. But for many parents of young children, the bedtime calm may last only seconds, minutes, or into the middle of the night, with the persistent evening creep back into your room.

A child's nighttime excuses can melt almost any heart and diffuse parental protests, especially if it's 3 a.m. and you need to work in the morning.

"My room is making noises," "I need a drink," "I'm hungry," "I miss you so much," "I'm scared," "I'm lonely," "I'm sick" or simply, "I can't sleep." Name the argument; some parent has already heard it before.

It's easy for a sleep-deprived parent to simply turn down the sheet and half-heartedly let a young child sleep in their bed. But the next morning–after enduring a night of tossing and turning and a child that's hard to wake–some parents regret the choice to invite their child into bed with them. If you want to break your child's habit of sneaking into bed with you, there are some things you can do.

Make It a Milestone

Some parents find it helpful to introduce the idea of a child staying in their own bed with a celebration. You could say something like, "Now that you are starting kindergarten, you are old enough to stay in your own bed every night!" Or "As a 4-year-old, you will get new privileges. One of those is the excitement of picking the toy you want to sleep with in your own bed every night."

A reward system may also provide an incentive for your child. The "sleep fairy" might bring your child a reward for staying in their bed at night. Rewards could be a quarter or another small item your child would enjoy. A chart and sticker system can also be helpful.

Establish a Bedtime Routine

Bedtime routines do not need to be elaborate, but they do need to be consistent. A bedtime routine is something your child should look forward to each night and considers a special time. Bedtime routines are important because they help prepare your child for bed in a relaxing way. The predictability also gives your child a sense of security and helps them learn how to fall asleep on their own.

This can be as simple as reading a favorite book in a special part of the room, having a bath to soothing music, eating a snack and then brushing teeth, exchanging highlights of the day, or even a special bedtime kiss and hug ritual.

Sleep health, including consistent sleep routines, is critical to a child's physical, mental, and developmental health.

Be Consistent

When starting something new, it's important to be consistent so that kids know what to expect. With sleep, in general, consistency is important no matter the age.

Sleep and Wake Times

Keeping a regular bedtime is part of healthy sleep hygiene. It also helps ensure that your child gets an adequate amount of sleep every day. Kids who get inadequate sleep are more likely to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

How much sleep your child needs depends on their age. The younger the child, the more hours they need to sleep. Toddlers require 11-14 hours of combined nap and nighttime sleep, preschools need 10-13 hours, and school-aged children need 9-12 hours.

A wake-up clock is a special clock for younger kids who are unable to read or tell time. It displays colors that indicate when it is time to sleep and when it is time to get up. This may be a valuable tool to keep in your arsenal as you teach your child to stay in their own bed.

Don't Give In

Make sure that your child understands the new situation. Explain that when the bedtime routine is over, it's time to go to sleep. You are not going to keep coming in for kisses, hugs, or conversations. If your child leaves the room, simply re-direct the child back without discussion.

Maintain consistency and soon you and your child will both get improved shut-eye and be better prepared to face the new day together.

Make Their Space Inviting

Your child's room should be a comfortable space that invites sleep. In addition, their bedroom should be a room that is reserved for sleeping. That means no screens in the room, even when it's not bedtime. And keep the room cool and dark with blackout curtains. Using a white noise machine or fan may also help to drown out noises that might distract them from sleep.

Give Them Ownership

Consider allowing your child to help decorate their room. Let them pick out the bedding and give your child choices of a bedroom theme, the positioning of bed and furniture (with your help, of course), and overall look and feel. You want your child to love their room and want to spend time in it.

Consider the Size of the Bed

Some parents move their child to a twin or even larger bed as soon as their child graduates from the crib. For some children, that is fine, but others may feel intimidated or even threatened by its size.

Keeping a toddler in a crib until they are 3 years old may help a child sleep better.

Depending on a child's nature, toddler beds can provide a nice transition between crib and twin. These beds often are available in theme designs, such as a race car or castle, and many cribs convert to a toddler bed. When your child transitions from crib to big bed, make sure they can easily get in and out of bed and that they feel comfortable in it.

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