This is where the magic….doesn’t happen.
Not likely to be the catchphrase of the year, but certainly a sentiment shared by many parents that allow their children to occupy valuable real estate.
“This is a common thing that happens with kids, and there are things that parents can do to help them, but the approach they decide to use has to be what’s going to fit with their family and something they can live with and be consistent with,” said Angela Mattke, MD, in Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Whether you’re looking to restore magic in the bedroom, or simply longing for a night of peaceful sleep, experts say it’s important to implement a strategy that breaks the child’s association of sleep with parents. According to Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, parents should strive to develop a bedtime routine for their children.
“We recommend that children need routine and structure,” Moorjani said. “A calm bedtime routine, so they know what to expect every night. Whether that’s turning off any kind of screens, movies video games, and reading on their own or with a family member, bath-time, brushing their teeth.”
Here are some general guidelines for getting your children used to sleeping in their own bed.
Make a plan during the day, and stick with it at night
Mattke said there are typically two groups of children: the ones who start out in their bed and come to their parents in the middle of the night, and those who are sleeping with their parents all the time.
Once you decide to reclaim your bedroom, formulate a plan and be ready to stick with it, even if you’re tired.
“I recommend thinking about it before the middle of the night when you’re exhausted and have little ability to withstand more crying,” Mattke said. “Talk about what will fit for you guys and a plan you can live with, and be consistent. Once you implement it, you don’t go back once they are out of bed they are out. You don’t say ‘oh, for five minutes,’ or ‘they had a bad day.’”
For those who start out in their bed
As soon as you hear the pitter patter of little feet, take the child’s hand and walk them back to their bedroom. Give them a kiss, and walk back to your bed, Moorjani advises. Regardless of how tired you are, be prepared to do this as many times as is necessary.
“We call it the ‘100 walks,'” Moorjani said. “You tuck your child in and walk out, and your child walks out too. You walk them back and tuck them in, and it can happen many times but if you maintain no reaction the child will realize, ‘well mom isn’t here to play with me.'”
Parents should remain neutral and show no emotion when they walk the child back. No matter how exhausted you are keep your cool and don’t get angry. Have as little positive or negative interactions with them as possible, because they’re looking for a response from you and will feed off of it.
Parents should walk through the plan with their child during the day so they know what to expect, and you can mentally prepare to implement the plan.
Another trick of the trade is to use sticker charts and set goals. Be sure to keep expectations low at first so the child can succeed early on.
“Kids can see [the sticker charts] and see the good things they are doing, so it’s very concrete,” Moorjani said. “If you sleep through one night in your bed– you get a star. Whatever the family wants to work out for the reward system where the child gets that positive reinforcement,” Mattke advises.
It may take anywhere from a few nights to a few months, but soon the child will understand that going into their parent’s room results in a swift walk back to their room and not a night in their parent’s bed.
“Give them the reassurance that if they need something, if they are sick they can call out – but if they are fine mom and dad will put them back, kiss them and walk out.”
The phase out method
For children who have grown accustomed to sleeping in the comforts of their parents bed, the phase out method may help them feel safe in their bedrooms.
In order to begin the process of phasing the child out of your bed, put the child in their bed and sleep on the floor next to them. Gradually decrease your presence in their room, going from sleeping on the floor, to sitting in a chair until they fall asleep, and ultimately standing by the door until the child is sleepy and then closing the door.
This will build confidence in their ability to fall asleep on their own. By telling the child ‘I will check on you once you are sleeping,’ it builds confidence that mom and dad will check on me,” she said.
Mattke said some parents start the process in their bedroom, and place the child on the floor next to the bed and slowly move them to their room. During this process, the parents bedroom should be off limits, she said.
“It shouldn’t be parents bed for nap-time and their bedroom for bedtime, it should be this is your bed where you sleep,” she said.
The bedtime pass system
This system is great for kids in preschool and up. Each night, the parents give their child one pass to leave their room. Whether that’s for a drink of water, a hug, or to tell their parents something before they go to sleep, they only get one chance to leave their bedroom each night, Moorjani said, adding that studies have shown it works.
“It seems so simple, but it’s a concrete way for kids to understand the rules and limits,” she said. “‘OK it’s bedtime and I need to go to sleep,’ but they have some control that they know ‘I can come out one more time.'”
Regardless of what you are dealing with, consistency will pay off.
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