A mom of a 2.5 year old boy recently came to me with a dilemma, one I had experienced with my own son. Her child comes into her room every night around 2 or 3 in the morning, wanting to snuggle with her for a few minutes. He falls back asleep right away, then she takes him back to his bed, and he sleeps through the rest of the night. BUT, she doesn’t. The act of taking him back to his room keeps her up for a couple of hours. She wanted advice on how to get him to STAY in his bed from the get go. Here is my reply to her.
I have been here from time to time with my son, and as someone who needs a lot of sleep, it can be miserable! Here are your four options to deal with this dilemma. Using a lock or gate, a sticker chart, a special goodnight clock or having a rational conversation with your child. I think that using a gate or lock is premature at this point. It could definitely come to that, but at this point, it would confuse him and possibly upset him since it IS kind of a punishment. And right now, you are welcoming him into your bed for the snuggle, so he wouldn’t understand the lock/gate. And therefore it wouldn’t work. I also think the sticker chart and clock could work for him, but I think the first thing to try is the rational conversation.
Here are the steps to take:
- Since you and your husband both take part in bedtime, you each need to do this every night at the end of your bedtime routine. You say the exact same thing to him, every night – “Max, you have been coming into mommy’s bed in the middle of the night. But it is very important for Max to sleep in his bed, and mommy to sleep in her bed. We both get very tired when you wake up in the night. So tonight, I want you to try your hardest to stay in your own bed.” (side note – I do think leaving the door open with the bathroom light on might help this too.) And that’s all you say before kissing him goodnight and leaving.
- Then, he will probably still come into your room at the same time (2 or 3am). You must immediately say similar words. “Max, remember what mommy said? It is important for you to sleep in your bed and mommy to sleep in her bed. We both get very tired when you wake up in the night. Let’s go back to your bed now and I’ll give you a BIG hug and tuck you in.” Then you do that, WITHOUT letting him into your bed. And he might come right back in, and he might do it again and again for two hours. But you MUST stand your ground. And I would do this for two weeks. You have to break this current routine with him with this middle of the night snuggle, and now it is all about setting a new routine for him. You’ll be exhausted and crabby, but better to break the habit now!
- If that doesn’t work, I would move on to the sticker chart. He is a little young for it, but you can try, if the above fails. Buy an 11x14 piece of brightly colored poster board and then draw in colorful markers at the top “Max’s Sticker Chart.” (it is horizontal.) Then, you make about four rows with a ruler that will be about three inches tall. And you buy about three different packs of kiddy stickers. And you tape the poster board to the outside of his door, at his eye level. Make sure to keep the stickers out of his reach, but always in the same place. And you put one sticker on it, in row one. And you tell him that this is his very special sticker chart. And every time he stays in his bed from bed time until morning, he gets one sticker. And if he can get 5 stickers (or 3 or 7, whatever you want), he gets a NEW book!!! And you have a supply of books hidden and he gets to pick one from a special drawer or wherever.
- And if he messes up, and comes into your room, say the same words you have been saying every time he comes into your room. Then, the next morning, you take him to the chart and explain that you are starting a new row b/c he came into your room. Maybe he already has three stickers in row one, then you put a new sticker on a new row, and explain he is starting over with his goal of getting a NEW book (or a new toy, whatever you think will motivate him.)
- You could also do the goodnight clock in conjunction with the sticker chart. Tell him that if he comes into your room before “sunny bunny” is up, he won’t get a sticker. I think that this clock is better suited for a child of about the age of three, but this process could take that long! You know your child best and probably know if the clock and sticker chart would be effective or maybe too overwhelming.
Goodnight clock that we use, and we call the bunny “Sunny Bunny.”
Remember, kids love routine. Sometimes, they create or add something to their routine that us parents don’t want. It is our job to alter their routine so we all can have the best possible day. Kids need to eat right and SLEEP WELL! Sometimes, this means being a little stricter than is in our nature. But just keep in mind that kids look to their parents for this stability.
Good luck and let me know what works for you and Max!