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.
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.