It starts out innocently enough. Your child has a bad dream and wants to snuggle with you in the middle of the night. Since you want to offer your kiddo comfort (and you’re too tired to resist), you open up the covers and usher your child into your bed. And that’s where it all begins — bad sleep for both of you. But teaching your toddler to sleep alone means that you’ll all have sweet dreams.
“Once a parent invites their child into their bed, it requires a mountain of effort to get the little one back in their own bed sleeping through the night,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, leading couples relationship and family psychologist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building A Better Bond with Your Child. But even if you’ve been co-sleeping for a while, you can teach your toddler to sleep alone. Here is a step-by-step way to do it.
Keep It Consistent
If your child goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. one night (and closer to 10 p.m. on another), it’s going to wreak havoc with their sleep cycle. “Parents need to maintain consistency in the routine around children’s bed times,” Dr. Robert Oexman, a sleep expert and Director of the Sleep to Live Institute, tells Celebrity Parents. “A routine could include verbalizing (even with infants that may not understand in the beginning what you are saying) that it is time to get ready for bed.” You can try by running a warm bath to set the stage for sleep. ”A warm bath sets the tone that it is relaxing and helps to drop core body temperature which is needed for sleep onset.”
Create A Routine
Having a warm bath is just the first step in creating a soothing environment to welcome sleep. “Go into the infant’s room and turn the lights low,” advises Dr. Oexman. “Read them a book, sing to them, or pray with them. Again, they may not be able to understand you now, but this will become the routine as they get older.” To ensure that the room isn’t too bright, you should use a low blue light night lite for the room. And if your child likes to sleep with a little noise, a white noise machine is also optimal for the infant’s sleep.
Give Her A Lovey
Sometimes your child might need something to snuggle with while trying to fall asleep. “A transitional object aids your baby in the self-soothing process,” says Dr. Walfish. “Encourage her interest and attachment to a transitional object that may include a pacifier, soft cuddly blanket or pillow, or stuffed animal toy.” You can even encourage your child to “show” her lovey how to fall asleep, so that she learns that they both need to sleep well at nighttime.
Take Your Exit
When it’s time for bed, you can tell your child that you need to leave the room for a second, then leave the room and come right back. This time, stay for about 30 seconds and this time tell your kid that you need to check something in the other room and that you will be back in just a moment. Come back in about 30 seconds. “Continue this method of coming back in for 30 seconds and then exit the room for longer periods of time,” advises Dr. Oexman. “If the child ever gets out of bed take them back to their room and continue the process. Do not let them fall asleep in any other room or watching television.” Although it might be an arduous process, Dr. Oexman says that there’s hope. “This will be very tough on the parents for about two weeks, but the vast majority of people I work with have the child sleeping alone in about 2 to 3 weeks.”
When you don’t hear your child moving around in her bed, you might be tempted to keep checking on her. But all it takes is one creaky floorboard to wake up your child—and have to start the entire process all over again. “Do not go in and out of your child’s bedroom checking on her,” advises Dr. Walfish. “This is very confusing to young children.” If she’s struggling to fall asleep, you can sit on a chair in full view and position yourself as a supportive, disengaged (but non chatting) companion.
Although it can be sweet that your child wants to be with you at nighttime, teaching your toddler to sleep alone will ultimately help both of you in the long room. Which means a better night’s rest for everyone — especially you.