It may have started with them having a bad dream, coming into your room with tears streaming down their faces. So you let them crawl into bed with you, snuggled in where they knew they were safe and secure. Maybe it was that week-long bout of croup, and you decided it was easier to have them next to you so you could watch their breathing. Or perhaps you’ve always let your little one sleep with you at night.
Whatever the case, getting children to sleep in their bed at night isn't easy. However, everyone involved will likely get better, more restorative sleep in their bedrooms.
You can’t train your child to sleep well per se, but you can give them the tools and mindset needed to fall asleep and doze uninterrupted through the night.
These seven steps or ideas will help you transition and get your child to sleep well in their own bed.
1. Build a Time-Limited Routine
Experienced parents have learned that when it comes to children, it can be challenging to get them to do anything at the drop of a hat—unless it involves something they love, like ice cream or a trip to the toy store. Having a routine or something leading up to a big event is also beneficial so they know what to expect.
So instead of realizing what time it is and telling them they need to go to bed immediately, one of the best things you can do is create a time-limited routine to follow at night. Something like “bath, book, and bed” or similar.
Bedtime routines for children should take about 30 minutes and consist of three or four different activities, always done in the same order.
If you don’t bathe your child every night, the bedtime routine can extend up to an hour on bath night.
Remember that many experts recommend bathing babies, toddlers, and young children 2 to 3 times a week instead of daily to keep their skin from drying out too much and becoming irritated.
Great ideas to include in the bedtime routine include:
- Bath, wipe down with a washcloth or diaper change
- Bottle or breastfeeding
- Nutritious snack
- Brushing teeth and using the bathroom
- Reading a book
- Talking about their day
- Singing a lullaby or a song together
- Massage, cuddling, and rocking
If your child is old enough, let them help choose the plan and make sure to review it before you begin. When there is clear communication and the routine is rehearsed, children will be less likely to ask for something out of routine.
2. Difference Between Day and Night
Another essential part of getting kids ready for bed is settling them for the evening. Instilling in them a difference between day and night is essential. The day is about happiness and fun, playing around, and being loud. Nighttime is about calm and quietness.
Give your kiddo plenty of chances to burn off steam during the day, but keep them from working themselves into a frenzy in the evening, or they'll be too wound up to sleep.
3. Keep To A Consistent Schedule
Not only is a consistent sleep schedule helpful for everyone, regardless of age, but when starting something new with kids, it's important to be consistent so they know what to expect. For kids, this means beginning their bedtime routine and putting them to bed at the same time daily.
We’ve discussed how crucial it is to maintain a regular bedtime as part of your healthy sleep hygiene. Keeping to a consistent schedule allows your body to adjust its sleep cycles so you wake up feeling refreshed. A plan also helps ensure your child gets adequate sleep daily.
The exact amount of sleep your little one needs depends on their age. The younger they are, the most sleep they need.
4. Minimize Blue Light Exposure
Like us as adults, it’s vital to keep kids off electronics for at least an hour before bedtime.
When we get up, our bodies are exposed to blue light wavelengths in the sunlight. This exposure causes melatonin production to decrease, so we feel awake and alert.
Therefore, during the day, the sunlight’s blue light is helpful. The wavelengths improve our mood, boost attention spans, and help reaction times.
As the sun sets in the evening, our retinas detect fading light, and melatonin production ramps up to help prepare our bodies for bed. During the evening, blue light exposure from smartphones, tablets, and television disrupts the body’s natural production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep when it’s time to go to bed.
While, in general, parents should be mindful of how much time their kids spend on electronics or watching television, this tip only relates to blue light exposure and how it affects sleep.
5. Create a Calming, Personal Environment
Another thing we can copy from our personal lives is to create a comfortable, calming space in our children’s bedrooms. Their room should be a space reserved for sleeping.
To create a soothing space that promotes sleep:
- Avoid letting them have screens in their room, even during the daytime.
- Keep the room cooler. The recommended temperature for sleeping is 65°F.
- Darken the room with heavy shades or blackout curtains.
- Use a fan or white noise machine or fan to drown out distracting noises.
If your child is old enough, let them help decorate the room. Give them choices regarding the bedroom theme, let them help pick out bedding, and even offer them different ways to position the bed and other furniture. When they have a say in their room, they’ll be more inclined to want to spend time in it.
6. Celebrate the Milestones
With some kids, it may be helpful to present the idea of a child sleeping in their bed as a celebration of another significant step in life. Perhaps say something like, “Now that you are starting preschool, you’re big enough to stay in your room at night!” Or “As a potty-trained big kid, you get new privileges. One of those is picking a new toy you want to take with you to sleep in your bed.”
Implementing a reward system to incentivize your child to stay in their own bed may also be helpful. Starting on day one, the “sleep fairy” can bring them a reward, such as a quarter or another small trinket. For some kids, a charter and reward sticker system is helpful.
7. Make Use of “Fading”
Some children will resist sleeping in their bed, no matter what you try. In that case, you’ll want to try a technique known as “fading,” where you gradually fade your presence at bedtime.
There are many different ways to implement this. Many parents start by putting the child in his own bed and then sitting in a chair next to the bed until they fall asleep. When the child can do that independently, gradually move the chair further from the bed, giving him time to adjust to the new position. Once they’re accustomed to that, move the chair again and repeat until you sit outside the bedroom with the door wide open.
Every step of the way, offer genuine praise to your child. This process is hard work for everyone involved, and everybody should feel ecstatic about the strides and progress being made. It might also be helpful to implement a reward or point system where they work their way towards a highly motivating prize.