Pitter and Patter After Hours:
Keeping Your Toddler in Bed
It’s sometimes hard for adults to understand the aversion kids have to sleep; after all, naps are extremely appealing to us grownups. Yet children don’t view rest as remarkable……and that often leaves them getting up to see what the world is doing.
While this frustrates parents, it’s a common occurrence and one that has a remedy. Toddlers don’t need to toddle over to your bedside, night after night.
Reasons Kids Get Out of Bed
The first step in figuring out how to stop your child from getting out of bed is figuring out why they’re getting out of bed. Sometimes, the reasons are understandable: they need to use the bathroom, they’re thirsty, a family of moths have taken over their nightlight.
But, sometimes, the reasons are below the surface…….….
If your child’s getting out of bed is a pattern, showing up in your room regularly, separation anxiety is a likely culprit. This happens most often around eight months of age, before peaking around 14-18 months.
Developmentally, these behaviors are normal and usually fade as the child grows older. In the meantime, it helps to understand exactly what you’re dealing with.
Working with Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety doesn’t only happen in children; it happens in our four-legged friends too. And there’s a reason kids and canines share this commonality: neither understand the concept of time. Just as your dog fears that you’ll leave them forever the second you step out to get the mail, your child has similar reservations. They don’t know when you’re coming back (or if) and that makes them want to look for you, be near you, and not let you out of their sight.
So, what can you do to ease your child into comfort? One of the most vital keys is to create a nighttime ritual (and stick with it!). Routine makes the unknown known (and the unknown is especially scary for kids). By telling them what to expect, you’re also telling them, “Don’t worry. In 10-12 hours, we’ll reunite in the living room.”
To help make your routine as effective as possible, keep the following in mind:
Be consistent: Letting your child go to bed at 8:00 one night and 9:30 the next won’t do you any favors. If you keep times consistent, on the other hand, they learn to quiet down on their own, preparing themselves for rest without prompt.
Give yourself an hour to spare: Going from playtime to bedtime in two minutes flat will throw your child for a loop. Instead, prepare for bedtime over the course of an hour. Let them transition and adjust.
Choose non-stimulating activities: There are several activities you can choose from to help your child board the train to Sleepy Town, USA. A warm bath, story time, or listening to lullabies are conducive to calm.
Avoid noise and lights: Anything that revs your baby’s system – be it bright lights or loud noises – will make them lose on the snooze. Not only that, but too much light blocks melatonin, a hormone necessary for adequate sleep.
A nighttime routine is best used as a proactive measure; if your child has already turned into a frequent midnight visitor, you might consider professional help.
Why Consistency Counts
Consistency is a key to parenthood, whether you’re dealing with sleep issues, potty training, chores, or any other child-centric issue. With sleep, specifically, consistency must be compounded by communication: make it clear to your child that their bedroom = good, your bedroom = bad.
This doesn’t mean they can’t call on you if necessary. Let them know that they can yell out if they need something – you’ll come running while they stay put.
How to Handle Midnight Visits
Of course, we can lay down all the rules we want but kids have minds of their own. That’s why you need a plan on what to do when your child visits after hours. First, recognize that your kiddo is getting something out of the visit – they want to see you, they want to be near you, they want to feel safe.
Whatever you do, don’t reinforce the behavior. Avoid anything that might be construed as positive – don’t sing to your child, don’t read them a story at three in the morning, don’t fetch them a warm glass of milk (and, especially, don’t make it chocolate milk!).
Instead, be boring. Be uncool. Be unhip. Be the parent they’ll accuse you of being when they reach their teenage years.
When you walk your child back to their bed, remind them they are safe, loved, and that you’ll see them in the morning. Importantly, don’t get upset or mad (no matter how sleep deprived you feel). Even negative attention is still attention.
Reward Your Child When It’s Right
Whenever your child sleeps through the night, don’t let it go unnoticed. Shower them with praise, reward them, give them a high five for their eleven hours of shuteye.
Do this as soon as your child wakes up. Breakfast is the perfect time to offer them a sticker, a small toy, or a piece of candy. Consider a more complex reward system (like a chart) once your child gets the hang of it. Kids love to see their progress.
Breaking the cycle is simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy: it takes grit, strength, and the willpower not to just roll over and make room on your king-sized mattress. Yet keep in mind that it’s much harder to break bad habits than it is to foster good ones.