Please view my video below to learn what to do when your child keeps coming into your bed.
Questions about your child’s sleep? Advice to give other parents? Join the discussion in the ‘Comments’ section below!View the Video Transcript
If you’d rather read than watch, here’s a transcription of the video…
This week’s question comes from Jackie. She writes:
“I have a 4-year-old son who crawls into bed with me in the middle of the night and falls asleep. When I wake up, or if I hear him, I’ll put him back in his bed. A few hours later he’s back in my bed. What can I do to keep him in his bed all night long?”
Okay, so first of all, I think the most important thing a parent needs to ask themselves is, “How much of a problem is this?” If it doesn’t bother you that much and it’s not that disruptive to your sleep, or to your husband’s sleep, then it might be something you want to just let sit for a while, because it’s going to take a bit of work to fix and so you have to really in your mind be dedicated to the idea that, yes, I want him to sleep in his own bed, and yes, I’m willing to do the work.
I think you should, because I think, even if it’s not that bothersome to you, it’s still disruptive to his nighttime sleep. He should be sleeping basically straight through the night with very tiny, little wakeups in between, but what’s happening in this case is he’s having a wakeup, now he’s fully awake and he’s coming into your bed, and his sleep should be straight through and seamless. It’s now very fragmented with all of these visits to your bed. So, I don’t think it’s good for his sleep, and it’s probably not good for yours either if you wake up and notice he’s there, and have to move him back to his bed. So, I think you should do it, but like I said, you need to be ready and you need to be committed to making this work.
And so, because of his age, the great news is that you can really get him involved in this process. For a lot of 4-year-olds, a reward chart works really well, where you write it out with his name on it and say, “Jack sleeps in his bed all night. In the morning he can have a ____,” and whatever the reward might be — a little car, or a sticker, or a treat of some kind, a small treat.
Now, the thing you want to remember about rewards, though, is that they have to be as immediate as possible in order for them to be successful, so you’re not going to make him wait all day long, until after supper, for his reward. You really want to try to give it to him as fast as you can. So, if he has got a clock in his room – and I suggest you do put a clock in his room. Get a digital clock, tape over minutes so all he can see is the hour, and tell him what number it is when it is morning. So, when you get up, it’s seven, “You’ve go to wait until that clock says seven before you can come to my room, “ and then you can have some morning cuddle time in bed, but it won’t be for the sake of sleep.
So those are some tweaks to kind of keep this on the positive side, that you would like him to stay all night in his bed. If he can, there will be a reward for that. And, you might even introduce a new lovey of some kind, and one thing I find that works well for children who have sort of a small attachment to the idea of sleeping with their parents, is to give him one of your shirts to sleep with. Maybe you put it around the teddy, or you just give it right to him and say, you know, “When you wake up in the night, and you feel like coming to my room, instead just hug my shirt and go back to sleep,” and that give children a lot of comfort and I find that the can be a very easy way to resolve this problem.
Now, if he still shows up, even after all those things, you are going to have to put him back into his bed, and as best you can I want you to try to be alert or aware enough to know when he’s crawling and stop it before he actually falls asleep there, and just quietly take him back to his room and just set that tone that he’s no longer allowed to sleep in your bed with you. At bedtime, if you are laying down with him when he falls asleep at bedtime, you need to stop that as well, okay? Or if he lays down with you in your bed at bedtime, those two things would have to change so that he can learn a consistent way of getting himself to sleep or back to sleep on his own without your presence.
So, if you’ve been in bed with him at bedtime then start the stay-in-the-room process where you move to a chair beside the bed, and then slowly move your way completely out of his bedroom so that he learns that this is okay, I can be alone in my room. It’s a safe place to be. I can fall asleep all on my own. You really want to give him the confidence he needs in order to be able to feel like he can do this, and so he needs to practice that.
So, all of that combined into one should be a great way to keep him in his own bed, and for both of you to get a better night’s sleep. Thanks for your question and sleep well.