You beat the four-month sleep regression. Convinced your standing baby to let go of the crib rails and lay down for naps. It’s sleep victory—at least until you roll out the toddler bed. If you’re dealing with midnight visits to mom and dad’s bed, endless water requests before lights out, or a painfully early riser, check out this try-it-tonight advice from childhood development and sleep expert Julie Wright, MFT, founder of The Happy Sleeper.
Think of the bedroom as an ‘expanded crib’
Gearing up for the crib to toddler bed transition? “Since your child’s been contained for the first few years, containing them in their room can actually help them cope with all that newfound freedom, and keep them safe from wandering the home at night,” says Wright. Try putting a childproof cover on the door handle before the transition so that it becomes the norm. When they’re a little older and wiser (and stop trying to escape at 3am) you can pop it off.
Teach your little to fall asleep independently
There’s nothing better than snuggling up with a book and watching your child drift off to dreamland—but if they always fall asleep with you by their side, they’re more likely to come looking for you in the middle of the night, says Wright. (They’ll make the association that they need you to sleep—which they don’t!) If sticking around is already a habit, one option is to phase yourself out of the room by moving farther and farther away from your child’s bed after lights out. Start at the chair, then wait by the door, and finally in the hallway, until they fall asleep without needing you in sight. “The good news is, if you create a reliable, repetitive pattern of response that also ensures your child knows you are nearby and responding, the shift to independent sleep usually takes under a week,” says Wright.
Skip the bribes and rewards
“Research shows that rewards (sticker charts and the like) have only a short term benefit and can backfire—they send the signal that sleeping well must be distasteful or super difficult, which creates a negative feeling,” says Wright. Instead, try framing sleep as something we all love to do, and create an interesting, engaging, and happy bedtime routine the kids enjoy. “Kids who feel confident and capable, as they climb into their beds, welcome sleep,” says Wright.
Walk them back—as many times as it takes
Getting tired of your midnight visitor? There are a number of ways to ‘train’ your little to stay in their own room, but the most important thing when you decide on a plan of action is to stick with it, says Wright. (One popular method is the “100 walks” routine: every time your child comes in to your room, you calmly and uneventfully walk them back to their own room—for as many times as it takes. They’ll eventually tucker out and understand that you mean business.) While you might feel exasperated and stressed, the most effective tone to take (if you can manage, at 3am) is confident, matter of fact, and calm: “When our kids don’t do what we want them to do, they’re showing us that they need our help. We don’t need to muscle them with either praise or harsh words—they can learn the skills they need,” says Wright.
Try that “ok to wake” clock
Visual cues can be super helpful in teaching older kiddos to stay in their room during the wee hours of the morning, or at least until they get that ‘green light’ to come jump under your covers via an ‘ok to wake’ clock. One tip: make sure it truly only lights up when it’s time to wake, since a completely dark sleep environment is key, says Wright.