The pitter patter of feet and other bedtime challenges
Ahh there is nothing sweeter than the pitter patter of little toddler feet, unless it is two minutes after putting them in bed or you wake to that sound at 2:00 am! Once toddlers figure out that they can get out of a bed, why not pay Mom and Dad a visit? Going to bed is such a disruption in their life! They would much rather be with you cuddling back to sleep or seeing what fun things you are doing while they are in bed!
It seems harmless enough to bring them back to bed and lie down with them until they sleep or to throw your covers back and let them crawl into bed with you….that is until you wake up with a toddler’s feet in the small of your back or lying on your head! Toddlers need to learn to separate and sleep on their own! It is a life skill for them and makes your evenings and nights so much more restful. So, what is a parent to do when they hear the pitter patter of little feet?
Toddler’s who get up during the middle of the night:
- The key is consistency…the same response EVERY time
- Take your child by the hand and walk quietly back to his or her bedroom.
- Tuck your child back into bed, give a kiss, and say ,“It is night-time, you sleep in your bed. Love you.”
- Walk out, no further discussion. You want your response to be very boring! Your little one has to realize that there is no benefit at all in getting up, not even a long explanation of why she should stay in bed!
- It is likely that your child will return in a few minutes…follow the same routine with no other discussion.
- This may happen many times the first night, and your response should be exactly the same. No yelling, no punishment, no rocking, no cuddling, no crawling in bed with them.
- The second night you may hear the pitter patter of little feet again, follow the same routine. Most likely it will be fewer times.
- Usually by the third or fourth night your child will stay in bed when he or she wakes and self comfort back to sleep, if you are consistent and do not give in! If you give in and rock, cuddle, or allow your child to sleep with you; then you have sent a very confusing message to your child. Your child will think, “If I get up enough, then mommy or daddy will let me sleep with them!”
- There are times when your child is ill or when your child is very scared that you might give in to letting your child sleep with you, but the quicker you go back to this technique, the easier it is for you and your child!
- An alternate response could be to keep a sleeping bag in your room. You can tell your child that if he or she is scared and wants to sleep in your room, they can pull out the sleeping bag and sleep next to your bed. This will give them the opportunity to be close but not in your bed. Some parents have liked this option. Once again, consistency is the key.
Toddlers who get up as soon as you put them in bed:
- Option one is the one above. Continue to walk your child back to bed without much interaction, no cuddling, no rocking, no yelling. Place the child back in bed and leave. This may happen 10 times and with a lot of crying, but if the response is exactly the same each time. Your child will eventually fall asleep on his or her own. This usually takes about 3 nights if you are consistent!
- Option two works well when you have just transitioned from the crib. Sit next to your child’s bed. Do not look at your child or speak to your child. If your child is chattering with you, respond with “It is bed time go to sleep.” No other words or explanations. Place your hand on your child and make no eye contact. Every time your child tries to get up, gently lie them back down. Sit with your hand on your child the first couple of nights. After the first few nights, move your chair to the foot of the bed. Same position, same words if your child is talking, if your child starts to get up, respond with “It is bed time lie down.” Speak very calmly with no other words. The next night move your chair to outside of the door and look into the room. Respond exactly the same way every time your child speaks or tries to get up. This will eventually teach your child to stay in bed and settle to sleep if you are consistent!
- Option three can be used too, there is nothing wrong with putting a gate at your child’s door. If your child tries to climb the gate it is not a safe option. Do not lock your child in their room, this can be a safety issue. The first two options are better learning techniques for your child.
- Option four is better for older toddlers, at least age two or older. Depending on your child’s temperament, a reward system may be all you need. You can devise a sticker chart and let your child place a sticker on the chart for every night or nap he or she stays in bed. Sometimes toddlers prefer to wear their sticker! A single sticker may work, or you might have an incentive of two or three stickers and then your child is rewarded with a small treat or something fun to do with you. Then move the number of stickers required to get their prize up until you no longer need the incentive.
- Option five is good for three and older. You can give your older toddler or preschooler a “free pass”. Make two “passes” using 3×5 index cards. Let your child help you decorate them. Tell your child that they have two “free passes” to call you and you will come in and see what they need. Once those passes are gone, you will not come into their room and they will not be allowed up without a consequence the next day. Most children will start out using the passes and then quickly start saving at least one “pass” just in case. Eventually you can give your child just one “free pass” to use. Most of the time this breaks them from calling you or getting out of bed. This gives them some control of the situation.
All these techniques will help your toddler learn to fall asleep on his or her own, make the bedtime process much more enjoyable for you and your child, and give you time to have an evening to recharge and get a good night’s sleep without a toddler spread eagle in the middle of your bed! Remember, teaching your child to sleep on his or her own is a necessity! Happy sleeping!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.