If the patter of tiny feet at 3am every night is resulting in huge bags under your eyes, these expert tips might just save your sanity.
Do you wake up every night with a wriggly toddler in the bed? There are a number of reasons why your child might be resistant to sleeping in their own bed at night, from being scared of the dark to simply needing the comfort of mum and dad to help them nod off again.
If you have a big enough bed to fit everyone and an admirably high tolerance for being elbowed every time your little darling turns over, happy days. But if junior’s nocturnal wanderings are proving exhausting for the whole family, it might be time to take action. We speak to Child sleep expert Andrea Grace about how to navigate bed hopping in the wee hours.
How to develop positive sleeping habits
✔️ Be positive
The first step to embracing bedtime is a positive attitude. ‘Helping your child feel safe and secure in their own bed is one of the best skills you can teach them,’ explains Grace. ‘They will take their cues about bedtime in general from you, so it’s really important that you’re cheerful and confident about going to bed so that they understand it’s a lovely way to end the day rather than something to be feared.’
✔️ Be consistent
It’s a parenting expert mantra, and for good reason. Keeping to a consistent routine – bath, story, kiss and goodnight – means your child knows what to expect every single night and finds comfort in this. Create positive associations around bedtime and their own bed in particular – perhaps they have a teddy that is their special bedtime bear, for instance. The more secure they feel, the better they’ll be able to settle themselves when they do wake in the night.
✔️ Communicate your expectations
Talk to them about what’s expected – and offer an incentive. ‘So it’s, “Tonight, I know you can be a really good girl and stay in your bed ALL night”,’ says Grace. ‘There’s nothing wrong with rewarding your child for good behaviour – we all respond well to rewards and it’s up to you how you do it.’
‘Younger children may respond better to something small in the morning after they’ve stayed in their own bed all night, whereas older children, who are better able to defer gratification, might prefer a bigger treat at the end of the week,’ she adds. ‘The key here is to deliver the incentive as promised if they stay put and not give in to crying or whining if they don’t!’
✔️ Don’t stay with your child until they fall asleep
After the goodnight routine, leave your child to drift off. ‘Children need to be able to fall asleep by themselves so that they can self-settle when they wake in the night and you’re not there,’ says Grace. ‘If you pat, stroke or cuddle them to sleep, they’ll expect the same thing when they wake at 2am.
✔️ Keep your cool
Don’t overreact or get angry when your child appears at your bedside – if it’s a long-term habit it’s going to take time to change what has become an automatic response to waking in the night.
‘Say something like, “Remember how we said you were staying in your bed tonight? Quickly, back we go now,”‘ says Andrea. ‘Keep interaction to a minimum. Say, “Snuggle down now, I’ll be back in a few minutes to check on you.” Then keep to your word – no matter how tired you might feel.’
✔️ Expect a few tears
Tears at bedtime are perfectly normal. ‘Keep going back in, reassuring your child and telling them how well they’re doing, but do not allow them back into your bed,’ says Grace.
‘Be kind but firm. If you take them back to bed 50 times but on the 51st give in, all your hard work is for nothing. Demonstrate a calm resolve and by night three you should have a child happy to stay in their own bed all night – as long as you’re consistent.’