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I Want My Bed Back

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Getting Your Child To Sleep In Their Own Bed

This tip is for the decided.

Not the waffling, not the curious, but the committed. You know who you are. You have had it. Enough. You have decided you want to take back your bed!

I get many requests for parents wishing to end "the bad habit they got into" by letting their toddlers "toddle" their way down the hall and into their bed at night.

Usually, the story goes that they tried to get the toddler to stay in their own room, but they kept coming back and in a losing battle with their own exhaustion they ended up just letting their toddler sleep there.

They share that they kind of liked sleeping with them, in the beginning. It was loving, it was supported by their readings on attachment parenting, and after all, other cultures embrace the family bed concept. All this lead them to decide that maybe they would just bunk down together for the time and figure it all out later.

Later has come. You feel differently now. This idea has lost its appeal. Mommy and Daddy want to sleep alone together for a night of uninterrupted shut-eye. For those of you have had it with the windmills arms or having your hair constantly twirled, here is the plan:

  • Confirm that you are decided. Once decided, there is no turning back. The night you start this new family routine is the last night you will have a toddler in your bed or vice versa. Are you sure you are ready to begin?
  • Explain to you toddler that mommy and daddy have their own bed, and they have their own bed. "We all need to sleep in our own beds now, not other people’s." You don’t need to go on more than this. Toddlers learn from what you DO more so than what you say.
  • Conduct your unusual tuck in.
  • When they come to your bed in the night you have two big goals:
    • Under NO circumstances can the toddler end up sleep in your bed.
    • Conduct yourself in a completely unimpressed, matter-of-fact, non-engaging way. Think of it as a "don’t mind me, I’m just going about my business" kind of an attitude.
  • When they come to your bed, make no eye contact, say no words. Simply walk them down the hall to their room and put them in bed without any extra tuck-ins, kisses, or back rubs. Then go back to your bed. Repeat this until the child chooses to stay in bed as they have come to learn:
    • "No matter how many times I try, there is just no sleeping in mom and dad’s bed"
    • "No matter how many times I try, there is just no getting any attention from mom and dad in the middle of the night"

And, yes, you have to repeat this step dozens of times over the course of several hours if need be.

If you feel you are unable to pull off the strategy above I have a Plan B.

Plan B

If your toddler leaves their room to follow you to bed you can give them a choice:

"Can you stay out of my room on your own? Or do I need to lock my door?"

If they enter again, walk them back to their room and return to bed, this time locking your self in your bedroom room.

Your toddler will cry himself/herself to sleep outside your door. Do NOT talk to them as they cry and pound. They will do this one night, maybe the next night too, but soon they will learn:

"No matter how many long I cry at their door it is just no use, there is no coming into mom and dad’s room at night."

It will be a tough few nights. In fact it may be really tough. But I promise it will only get tougher as your child ages.

Important Note Before You Begin: If after an hour of crying you can’t take it anymore and you let your toddler sleep with you, you will have successfully trained them to cry for at least an hour to get their way. Don’t start if you can’t manage the whole process.

Good Luck!

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

7 Responses to “I Want My Bed Back”

  1. Pamela

    How do get dad on board? I have tried many times to be firm but he just tends to give up before i do.
    Do you recommend doing this over a vacation period as we both work very long hours?
    Thank you very much

    Reply
  2. Alyson Schafer

    Hi Pamela,
    It sure helps if you can make a plan to do the training over a long weekend or holiday. Shouldn’t take more than a few night though. Best to have your husband on board BEFORE you start training though. If he is NOT on board and WANTS to sleep with her, perhaps suggest he sleep in the child’s room and respect that YOU deserve to have a good night sleep in your own bed. The decisions he makes for himself and daughter don’t have to impact you. Of course done in the wrong spirit – this will just lead to a power struggle between the parents, so try your best to find a solution that meets EVERYONE’s needs in the family.
    Hope that helps.
    Alyson

    Reply
  3. Pamela

    Thank you Alyson.
    We actually have a little boy sorry forgot to mention that.
    Actually after reading parts of your blog it gave me the perfect excuse to get talking with the hubby.
    I kind of intuitively wanted to do the lock the door plan and had discussed it with him before but we thought it to be cruel. I agree it makes sense now and i convinced him it would be better even so for our libido!
    So we are taking some time off in a few weeks and decided to take our bed back at that point!
    One more question though, Raphael might opt for his sister or brother’s bed if he can’t make it to ours should they lock their doors too?
    Thank you again for a very useful tool.
    Best regards.
    Pam

    Reply
  4. sadie-may

    I had a problem with my ten year old sleeping in my bed. She is an Aspie, which means that change is hard for her. Because Aspies absolutely have to have things a certain way or psychological dammage can ensue, since they do not perceive the world the same as we do, I had her take part in the process of making the change. I did the following when I decided it was time for her to sleep in her own room.
    1. I took her to the store and allowed her to pick out a favorite warm fuzzy, as I like to call it. She picked out a baby doll.
    2. For a few weeks, i still allowed her to sleep in my bed to give her time to get closer to the doll. When she did, I took the next step.
    3. I then started talking about how wonderful it would be for her to have her own room. Like any other Aspie, she strongly opposed, but I did not give up. I told her she could decorate it in any theme she’d like. She chose SpongeBob. So, we went and got everything SpongeBob. Aspie’s like to choose everything, so I let her have as much of a choice as possible. She even wanted to pain her room like she was living at the bottom of the sea, so we all did that together and made it fun. She got a SpongeBob TV set to watch also when she felt nervous.
    4. I did not start making her sleep in there right away. I told her that it would be very nice to go in there in play in her new room that she decorated. She loved the idea. A week later, I suggested that she sleep in there, too. Since I slowly eased her into being in there alone, she was fine with the change. For a few nights, she needed reassurance, and I gave it to her. Then, I did my next best thing.
    5. I told her that there was a SpongeBob chart and SpongeBob stickers. Each time she stayed in her room the entire night, she could put stickers on the chart. If the entire week was completed, she was able to choose a fun activity or a prize. I told her that if she felt scared, she had her doll there (This is the reason I had her get the doll in the beginning because it was a familiar object that would remind her of being in my bed and receiving my comfort.) And it worked.
    She now wants nothing to do with me at bedtime. If I intervene at all, she gets really angry. She has her own routine and wants no disturbances, and she still has and loves her SpongeBob themed room. when she gets into bed, she wil not talk to anyone. She will tune everyone out. As you well know, with an Aspie, it is one extreme or the other, and there are no gray areas. I do not care. My goal was achieved.

    Reply
  5. Kelly

    I have a 19 month old and we have been bed sharing since he was 6 months old. I’m ready to have my bed back but as he has never had his own bed, or room I’m not sure how to start. He is also still nursing at night and if he wakes up crying he immediately wants to nurse or just hold my breast for comfort. He can climb out of a crib, so it will have to be a toddler bed. Is it best to go cold turkey or do it in stages. Should I stop allowing access to my breast first, then move to his own bed? Should I start with a toddler bed in my room or completely stop the nursing and get him in his own room at the same time? I’m a single working mom and we both need some good sleep! I would really appreciate some help. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  6. Alyson Schafer

    Hello Kelly – thanks for the question. Just so you know – there is no “right” answer to this question, its about a fit between you, your child and what all three can best tolerate and follow through with. If your child has not yet learned to fall asleep or go back to sleep on their own without nursing, you may want to teach that skill first and THEN move them to a toddler bed in their new room. That way if they awake, it won’t be haunting you with the thought “he needs me to get re-settled”. Kids need to learn how to do that independently. Certainly at 19 mo he has no need for nutrition – its comfort and he has to learn to self-sooth instead of you being his sleep prop. Good luck! – Alyson

    Reply
  7. Semper

    Hi Alyson:

    Have you published any tips on eliminating this co-sleeping habit with older children and teens? I’m sure that some of the same principles apply. I’m concerned about the developmental impact…

    Reply

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