Do you have a slightly unwanted visitor in the night… most nights? Do you bury deep beneath the covers hearing the little footsteps make their way down the hall hoping that if you hide a little deeper they might not find you tonight? Haha! Do you begrudgingly allow your preschooler to join you in bed because you feel a little guilty about how much time you spent at work that day, and worry they need more connection?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you are really not alone. Many parents (including myself), experience their preschooler joining them in the middle of the night from time to time. I know many parents have mixed feelings on the subject. Some families truly enjoy the extra cuddles most nights, knowing their son or daughter isn’t going to be climbing into their bed forever. Others feel it really disrupts their sleep, and they are unable to resettle easily after being woken. Some families worry about how it is affecting their own child’s sleep; knowing the trek down the hall means they are not getting the 11 – 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep that is prescribed for healthy physical and social development in preschoolers. Others really feel they can’t sleep with a foot in their face, and an elbow jabbing their side! Haha. Will she still be here when she’s 10?!
So..what can we do here? Is there a tried and true solution to keeping your little one tucked in their own bed all night long?
Well, I am here to tell you there probably is not. Each family is different, and children do come into their parents’ beds for a number of different reasons. But if you are finding yourself in a situation that you would like to change; here are some ideas for you to consider.
1. When did this behavior start?
Can you correlate your child’s bedroom shuffling with any major changes or shifts within the family? A big move, perhaps? The loss of a grandparent or family pet? Or, the separation of two loved ones? Sometimes the things we think our family is taking in stride do have a significant emotional impact on our children. Getting to the root of the cause can help us find ways to remedy it!
2. What is the motivation for staying in their own bed?
Does your child have a reason to stay put? Or, a reason not to? Could it be a comfort issue that could be remedied with a softer mattress, pillow, or brighter nightlight? Have you talked with your child about how it makes YOU feel when they disrupt your sleep? Is there a reward for staying in one’s own bed for the length of the night? Perhaps this reward might be extra check-ins from mom or dad after they’ve gone to sleep for the night, or an exciting new bedtime book after several successful nights on their own! Does your child know when morning has come? Toddler clocks such as the “Okay to Wake” or “Gro Clock” can be quite helpful with this transition.
3. Is the middle of the night meet-up actually a cry out for more one-on-one time during the day?
Sometimes our children look for us in the middle of the night as a means of comfort to make up for time lost during the day. You may find their middle of the night appearances increase during a busy time for you at work, or a time that has been go-go-go in your own life. Adding 15 extra minutes of focused 1:1 time (without siblings present), can sometimes help to eliminate some of the middle of the night visits.
4. How does your child expect you will react?
Take a close look at your own behavior. Sometimes it can be hard to see in ourselves, so opening up about your struggle with a close friend or family member can help give you a new perspective. Do you welcome your child with open arms? Do you silently walk them back to their room, and give them a cuddle upon arrival? How you react the majority of the time is what your child has come to expect from you, so try to remember this and use a consistent response to your advantage. I can tell you from experience – it pays to be BORING here. The more exciting you are, the longer and more eventful your visits will be.
5. Does your child still have a sleep “prop” they require to return themselves to sleep? Is it you?
We all know that it is important for our children to be able to get themselves to sleep, and return themselves to sleep throughout the night on their own. Most of us have accomplished this in some way, shape or form, throughout our child’s infancy when we taught them to “self-soothe”. But what can sometimes be a resolved sleep issue from when they were babies, can sometimes pop up in a different way with preschoolers. I once worked with a family who realized their 3 year old now needed them to hold their hand to return to sleep, when that hadn’t previously been an issue. Another found they had to sing “twinkle twinkle,” and their toddler would go right back to sleep. This ties in closely with the point above about how your child expects you will react.
So there you have some ideas to consider. Of course as I always say, nothing to do with your family’s sleep is a problem, until YOU have decided that it is a problem for YOU. Sleep is a personal part of every family’s story, and there is no need to compare what is normal for you, to what is normal for the family down the street.
If at the end of the day, you still feel like your family is struggling, I would love to dive deeper with you. A concrete strategy and sleep resolution is what I specialize in, and I would love to give you the gift of your night back through a personal consultation if that is what you so desire.
Much love, and happy sleep to you all!