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When I saw this tweet go out earlier from my friend Melissa, I couldn’t ignore it.
There are many areas of parenting where I will freely admit that I’m confused, deficient, and in need of an intervention (the fact that I’m writing this while my kids watch the 11:30pm Family Guy proves this pretty handily). But when it comes to sleep, I’m something of a sleep fascist. After becoming a mom I knew without a doubt that I needed my bed to remain a kid-free zone a majority of the time.
My first piece of advice would be to not let your kids into your bed in the first place. Of course, kids love to cuddle in bed with you, so we had a rule with ours that if they slept all night in their beds, they could crawl into ours at six am. That reward was too much for them to risk and there were only a handful of times where we had to turn them away in the morning for breaking the rule.
But if that advice is coming too late for you, then the following may help.
My son Jake slept exclusively in his own crib from day one, and my daughter Fiona left our bed at eight months (she was nowhere near as good a sleeper as Jake when she was a baby, but that’s a whole other post). They both transitioned from convertible cribs to beds without a problem (although Fiona did it much later than Jake, since there wasn’t another baby on the way pushing her out of her crib). But at some point, each of them went through a period where they simply did not want to stay in their own beds. It was maddening, but solvable.
I can’t remember from whom I stole this method. It could’ve been the Super Nanny, it could’ve been Dr. Phil, or I might’ve read about it somewhere. All I know is that it worked, for both kids. The key is to be consistent. If your kid has been sleeping in your bed for a long time, I’m guessing it will take a lot longer for this to work than if they’re just having a little relapse, as mine were. But keep at it. You won’t regret it.
[As with anything I write that sounds like advice, I should point out that I’m not a parenting expert, or any other kind of expert, and I’m not responsible for anything that happens if you follow my advice.]
The [insert the person Amy stole it from] Method
1) Explain to your child that her bed is where she is going to sleep from now on at night, no exceptions. Now explain this to yourself, and make sure you understand. Because if you tell your child that she won’t be spending the night in your bed anymore and then you let her, you’re completely screwed. Read this over and over again until you really believe it and can swear on a stack of bibles that you will stick to it.
2) Figure out what your child loves the most, whether it’s stickers, video games, gum, playing board games with you, whatever. You need a reward that will get your child excited and motivated. If the reward is something big – buying her a new video game or going to the movies, for example – set up a chart and sticker system so that she can earn the video game. If it’s something small, like the stickers themselves, then you’re set. For the example below, I’m going to use gum (my daughter will do just about anything for gum).
3) The first night, go through your normal bedtime routine, whatever that is. Then, explain to her that if she stays in her bed for one minute, without crying or calling for you, she earns a piece of gum (that she’ll get in the morning). Tell her that as long as she stays in bed, you’ll be sitting right outside the door until she falls asleep. Kiss her, turn out the light, close the door, and count to sixty – fast. You want her to win this one.
4) Go back in quietly and praise her as if she’d just won the National Spelling Bee. Tell her the gum will be waiting for her in the morning, you’re so proud, etc. Then tell her that if she stays in bed for two minutes, she gets another piece of gum. Leave, count, repeat the praise.
5) Next up should be five minutes. Then ten. Then fifteen (I hope you brought a book or a laptop). Then half an hour. I never had to go above half an hour. I would go in and she would be asleep. Make sure when you go in you keep it low-key. You should be effusive with your praise, but that doesn’t mean yelling and jumping up and down. And for goodness sake, stay right on the other side of the door. You’re trying to build up trust here.
Now, what if this doesn’t work at first? What if she makes it through one minute, then two, but not five? That’s OK. Start over with one, and build back up. Eventually she’ll fall asleep, and you can try it again the next night. Keep it going until it works consistently, and you only have to go back in two or three times before she’s asleep. Eventually it can just fade out of existence. I never told my kids we were done, I just stopped doing it once I sensed they didn’t need it. I think it took about two weeks (but by the end, the entire process lasted less than ten minutes anyway).
This will be a time commitment at first, but it will get better, and will be so worth it.
Ummm, we can’t even get past step one
But what if you can’t even get your little angel to stay in bed for one minute? What if she kicks and screams and jumps out of bed as soon as you put her there? What if she’s too young to get the whole reward concept? You may need to go back a few steps. This next method might be better if you’re dealing with getting a child to sleep in his bed for the first time, or dealing with a younger child, or have a kid who is, for lack of a better word, a brat.
I know I learned the basics of this one from Jo Frost because I can picture her on TV, sitting cross-legged on a child’s floor, in the dark.
The key to this one is your demeanor. The point you’re trying to get across to your child with this method is that there is nothing for her out of bed after you’ve put her down. There will be no smile, no conversation, no additional goodnight kiss, no “five more minutes,” nothing. You’re not trying to be mean, but just a little cold. While we never officially used this method, this was our natural reaction when our kids would get out of bed in the middle of the night – it let them know that this was our time and they simply weren’t welcome.
1) Explain to your child that she has to stay in her own bed and go to sleep, no ifs ands or buts.
2) Go through your normal bedtime routine, then leave and go about your business.
3) If (when) your child comes looking for you, take her by the hand and lead her back to bed, or pick her up if you must. Make absolutely no eye contact and say nothing.
4) Repeat as often as necessary. On her show, Jo said something about it often taking several hours the first night, but just a small fraction of that the next, so don’t get discouraged if the first try goes very badly.
5) If your child is running out of bed the minute you put her down, you can try not leaving the room. Put her down, then sit next to the bed with your back to her. If she gets up, you’re right there to put her back down. The next night, you can move farther away, then farther again the next night, until finally you’re putting her down and leaving the room.
I can’t stress this enough: The key to both of these methods is consistency. If you break after an hour and let your child into your bed, you’ve taught your child that he just has to hang on for an hour in order to break you. He’ll be that much more resolved the next night. Kids are smart: they do what works. The flip side is that if you present a strong, consistent attitude to them, they will quickly learn that they cannot break you.
Good luck, and hopefully, good night.
Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.