It’s 2 a.m. Do you know where your three year-old is?
That’s easy. She’s standing next to your bed. Sound familiar? Also, terrifying.
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We’ve shared blog posts on why keeping your little one in a crib for as long as possible is the way to go, but the fact of the matter is, kids grow up, they move out of their cribs, sometimes before they’re really ready. It can be a parental nightmare when the constant midnight bedside visits begins and you are at a loss for how to make them stop. We can offer a few tips to help get your little one back on track.
Tips To Avoid Late Night Bedside Visits
You can absolutely make it clear to your child that if they are sick or scared, they can come and see Mom or Dad. What we are talking about is the late night visits asking where that long lost toy might be or what’s for breakfast!
Keep to (or develop) a schedule. The first rule of thumb when teaching a baby, toddler, or preschooler to be an independent sleeper is to make sure they are sleeping at the right times and sleeping enough. In short, making their sleep a priority. Particularly during this period of transition, it’s wise to err on the side of caution and keep to a schedule that is appropriate for your child’s age. Many toddlers who are transitioning to a bed might also be dropping a nap at the same time (given their age) so during this time use an early bedtime as much as possible. Later bedtimes will just result in an already overtired child becoming even less reasonable than you thought was humanly possible.
Have a family sleep meeting and establish sleep rules. It might sound a little hokey, but it really works! Children at this age have a better mastery of understanding complex topics than we think so use that to your advantage. Sit down as a family and talk about the importance of sleep for everyone in the family and create your family sleep rules. Remind them that the more you sleep, the more fun things they can do during the day. Have fun with it!
When you are discussing what your child’s sleep rules will be, be very clear and simple. Some examples include, “Lie quietly in bed, close your eyes, and go to sleep,” or “At bedtime, no calling for, or making requests to Mom or Dad after they leave the room.” Choose rules that work well for your family and your child’s temperament. But remember, the goal is for her to sleep on her own and the rules need to reflect that.
Have a set bedtime routine. Just as with a smaller baby, recognizing steps that a toddler will take before bedtime gives them a sense of comfort and confidence. It also is a great way to give a clear delineation when time together is ending and bedtime begins. No more “one last things” that turn into another half hour of hijinks. Have fun with the bedtime routine too! Visual cues are powerful reminders, even when sleep is going well, so think about making a routine chart.
Invest in a toddler clock. These are great particularly for early risers. Any toddler clock that can indicate with a light when it is okay to get out of bed will work well. A clock is also a way to get your child excited about the change (read: mommy and daddy are no longer doing all of this work for you) that’s happening. Make a big deal of presenting the clock as a gift and get them involved in how it works and setting it up. Keeping your child involved in this process gives them a feeling of pride and manageable responsibility that makes them more likely to take to the changes easily.
When in doubt, employ the silent return. Many parents are familiar with this technique, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—silently returning your wandering child to his or her bed any time he or she wakes. But what a lot of parents don’t realize is that silent return can become a real exercise in frustration when you make even the slightest deviation to returning them to bed. So, things like tucking your child in, giving an extra sip of water, finding an extra special stuffed animal that they haven’t played with in two years but suddenly need RIGHT. NOW. All of those little things that seem innocuous can actually substantially derail the effectiveness of silent return. So try as hard as you can to resist those urges, use a true silent return, and you will see results much quicker.
Finally, be consistent. Ah yes, the “c-word” of sleep. Listen, I get it! It’s hard in the middle of the night to want to be consistent about anything except SLEEP. But if you can remind yourself that a few nights of work will get you back to your quiet nights, you will get there faster.
Remember, you can help your child become a good sleeper or help get your good sleeper back on track. Just know that the most important piece of all of this is coming up with a plan and sticking to it.
Written by Good Night Sleep Site Consultant.
Good Night Sleep Site provides free child and family sleep support through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We invite you to join our sleep community as we work towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips, subscribe to our newsletter and visit Good Night Sleep Site.