What age should your child stop sleeping in your bed?
Posted by: Sue Atkins
Getting your child to stop sleeping in your bed can be a hard habit to break.
While lots of parents love to have the kids, all jumping in and cuddling up on a Saturday morning, night after night of interrupted sleep isn’t funny for anyone. The flaying legs, the pulled off duvet and the grumpy partner in the morning aren’t always the idyllic dream of family life you wanted it to be.
So, what can you do when the kids have got into some bad habits, have recovered from that chesty cold, have finished with that nightmare or come through that divorce?
Convincing your child to sleep in their own bed again can be a challenge once they’ve got into the habit of sleeping with you – as let’s face it it’s cosy, safe and reassuring.
Whether your child refuses to fall asleep in their own bed or ends up crawling into your bed in the middle of the night, kids who don’t want to sleep alone can be persistent.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to reclaim your bed if you’re tired of sharing.
Here are 8 ways to stop kids from sleeping in your bed.
Make Your Child’s Room Sleep-Friendly
Before you start insisting on your child staying in their bedroom create a relaxing environment with less toys, less stimulus, a calming colour scheme & less technology.
Create calm – it promotes sleep.
Each child’s idea of what a relaxing environment looks like is different, however.
While one child may enjoy some white noise and a night light, another may want a stuffed cuddly toy, complete darkness, and utter silence.
So, experiment with what looks, sounds and feels calm for your child – and ask them how they’d like their sleeping environment to be.
Experiment with a few different things to see what helps your child feel most relaxed ready to drift off independently.
Easing their night-time fears can be the key to getting your child to sleep independently.
‘Talk & Teach’ your Child to Self Soothe.
Self-soothing, is the name that involves a child learning how to calm themselves down by themselves, when they wake up, or find themselves a little anxious, or stressed.
Encouraging, nurturing and allowing your child to self soothe can be a wonderful life skill.
This is not allowing your child to ‘cry themselves to sleep’ as I am not an advocate of ‘crying it out’ – that creates trauma and a child who feels that they can’t trust the world as their needs are not being met.
This is different.
This is allowing your little one to learn to fall asleep on their own.
How To Teach Your Child To Self-Soothe Tips.
You can teach your little one to self-soothe in various ways but just don’t rush it. Take one step at a time and allow for your child’s body and mind to learn and adapt to the new skill.
The secret is for you to relax. If you get tense, then your child gets tense, as they pick up on your anxiety or tension. Simply have the intention to progress from having to hold, rock, sing, swing or co-sleep with your child to putting them to sleep so they can fall asleep by themselves.
Step 1: Prepare yourself to be ready to let go. This is perhaps the most difficult step for you as a parent. Just remind yourself that this is teaching your child to fall asleep on their own. Nothing scary – you won’t be far away. You won’t let them cry for ages. You just want to teach them that falling asleep is natural, safe and OK.
Step 2: When you are ready to teach your little one to sleep on their own, put them down a bit earlier than usual.
Step 3: Gradually & incrementally bring forward the time that you put your little one down: from them being properly, deep asleep, to just dozing, and then finally when they are still awake but ready for their nap or sleep. Be patient, take the long-term view of this gentle process and relax. Don’t give up too soon.
Step 4: Choose a toy, blanket, or favourite cuddly which your child loves & teach your child to use it as a soother. Begin the process of transferring from you to the soother as they will begin to associate going down to sleep with their comforter instead of you.
If your child starts to cry at night, give them their comforter instead of automatically picking them up, or letting them climb into your bed.
Put them back into their bed gently but calmly. This is about common sense & kindness, but persistence.
Check out my Sleep Fairy Technique for older children.
Perhaps they can listen to calming music, meditation for kids or stories.
Learning to fall asleep on their own, comfort themselves and self soothe is an important milestone that will serve you all as family long term.
Create Clear Expectations
Talk to your child about the change in sleep habits that you’re going to make ahead of time. Say, “You’ve been sleeping in my bed every night since you were poorly 3 weeks ago. Tonight, you’re going to start sleeping in your bed again.”
Validate your child’s feelings, acknowledge them & show empathy, but encourage them to stay in their own bed all night as they are growing up and everyone needs a good night’s sleep. Don’t get drawn into the tears or tantrums by feeling guilty – this is about teaching them a new life skill – that will change your mindset around what you are doing.
This is what I call ‘meaning business’ – by your tone of voice, and body language and intention to ‘mean what you say.’ No half-hearted, ‘oh go on then, just this once’ again – that’s what got you in trouble in the fist place!
Don’t just ‘try’ this for a couple of nights – it can take up to 3 weeks to break a habit. Keep focused on the long term, bigger picture of everyone getting a really good night’s sleep & hold that in your mind as you psyche up to kindly break this habit!
Take it One Step at a Time
If your child has been sleeping in your bed for a long time—perhaps even all of their life—they will need a little help with the transition to their own bed. Create a step-by-step plan that will help your child become more independent a little at a time.
For example, you might tell your child they can come into your room in the morning when they can have a cuddle. Young children don’t understand time so buy a clock that opens its eyes when you set it and that’s the signal that it’s OK to come into your bedroom.
Have a couple of simple toys around or books so they can play on their own while they wait to come into your bedroom.
Establish a Helpful Bedtime Routine
A healthy bedtime routine will help your child unwind and get ready for sleep. A warm bath, a bedtime story, a hot drink and some cuddling can help your child get ready to sleep in their own bed.
It will become a recollection that will last a lifetime of happy, relaxing, positive memories as they get ready to drift off to sleep on their own.
To settle your child put them in their bed, and potter around, hanging up freshly washed clothes or pretending to tidy a cupboard.
Then step into ‘just popping down to check on the potatoes’ for a few minutes and coming back.
They learn that you go but you come back and make the time longer and longer between popping back until they learn that it’s safe and ok to fall asleep on their own in their own bed.
Then, when it’s time for lights out, turn off the light, or leave the hall light on or the night light whichever they prefer, and leave the room so they can practice falling asleep on their own.
While most parents want to consistently return their child to their own bed when they sneak into their bed during the middle of the night, they’re often too tired or frustrated to be consistent. But if you want your child to stop sleeping in your bed, you have to send a clear consistent message every single night.
If your child sees that their persistence and protests are effective, you’ll teach them that they can manipulate you with their behaviour. Be consistent in returning your child to their bed every time and don’t make exceptions that say they can sleep in your bed because they’re tired or because you had a tough day. Sending mixed messages will only prolong the problem.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Reward your child for sleeping in their own bed. Sticker charts work well for toddlers and pre-schoolers.
Perhaps you could try, an extra story, a friend round to play or earning the right to stay up an extra 15 minutes on Saturday night if they stay in their bed. Combine rewards with praise and make it clear that you’re pleased with your child’s progress.
Let them overhear you telling Grandma how proud you are of them for staying in their own bed now. It works wonders for your child’s self-esteem!
You will probably hit a few problems when getting your child to sleep in their own bed so be prepared for 3 steps forward, two steps back, while you change their habits and are transitioning. Perhaps your child sneaks into your room so quietly you don’t even hear them (you could try hanging wind chimes on your door that might help wake you if you fancy that!)
Or maybe, you’ve just had another baby and your child is sleeping in your room because they’re a little jealous of their new sibling. So, make ‘special time’ to play, chat, read and eat with your older child during the day so they can receive the positive attention they need to feel special & not crave it during the night.
When your child seems to go backwards or you’re encountering problems that get in the way of getting them to successfully sleep in their own bed, take a step back.
‘Pause to Ponder’ the potential reasons why and problem-solve and brainstorm how to address the issue most effectively with your partner.
Getting your child into their own bed takes time and patience so relax, ‘mean business’ but be kind to yourself as you go this particular phase – & remember this too shall pass because by the time they are 14 you won’t be able to get them out of bed & that’s another story for another day?