What Do I Do? If My Child Wanders Into Our Bedroom At Night

Have a child who wanders to your bedroom at night? Reclaim your bed, and say goodbye to restlessness.

If you’ve got a young child who wanders into your bedroom at night and are wondering what to do about it, you’re not alone. Plenty of toddlers, preschooler, even school-aged children nationwide are sleeping with their parents at least some of the time. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), as many as 24% of parents have their children sleep in their beds for at least part of the night.

A child’s wide eyes, often wet with tears and sometimes lack of sleep, are often combined with excuses to melt almost any heart and diffuse parental protests, especially if it’s 3 a.m. and you need to work in the morning. But after enduring nights of tossing and turning of a wiggly child, loss of privacy, a child hard to awaken in the morning in time for school or daycare, you know the habit of your child sneaking into your bed must change. But how?

Here’s how to transition your child to sleep in his own bed all night:

Start Early
It’s easier to train a toddler to sleep in his room when he’s in a crib, since he won’t be able to get out of bed and look for you. If a child in a bed thinks he can visit you at bedtime, it can turn into a game, and that’s usually when problems occur.

Use Positive Language
Be encouraging and you can make your child eager to make the switch. Say, “Guess what? You’re three! Three-year-olds get to sleep in their beds all night! Isn’t this great?” It’s a positive spin, like “You get to wear underwear!” instead of “You shouldn’t be wearing diapers.'”

Address anxiety issues
Some kids seek your company because they’re worried about being alone. Help your child conquer those fears. If they’re scared of the dark, buy a cool night light. Or they could be scared of monsters—spray some ‘anti-monster spray’ in their room before bed.

Reconfigure Bedtime and Teach Your Child How To Fall Asleep Solo
Do you wait in your child’s room or cuddle her as she falls asleep? It may be what’s standing in the way of your child’s nighttime independence. When they awaken later, they may seek you out because they think they need you there in order to nod off again. If your child can’t fall asleep without your presence, slowly withdraw yourself from the equation. Instead of lying in your bed together, sit on your child’s bed until she falls asleep. After a few days, try the “chair method,” a popular sleep-training technique for infants that can work on bigger kids too. Start by sitting in a chair by the bedside and stay until they fall asleep, and after a few days, move the chair to the middle of the room, then to the doorway and, eventually, out of the room.

Establish a Memorable Bedtime Routine
The routine does not need to be elaborate; however, it should be something your child looks forward to each night and considers a special time. This can be as simple as reading a favorite book in a special part of the room, having a bath to soothing music, eating a snack and then brushing teeth, singing a favorite song, saying a prayer, exchanging highlights of the day, or even a special bedtime kiss-n-hug ritual.

Take Small Steps
It may not be reasonable to demand that a child who’s accustomed to sleeping in your bed suddenly stay in her own room all night. So try making the separation more gradual. Some parents have their children sleep alongside their bed in a sleeping bag. Or decide that they can have 15 minutes in your bed and then they go back.

Be Consistent
It may be hard to walk your son back to his room at 3 a.m. when you have work in the morning, but be firm every night. Think about the long term. You’ll have a few difficult nights, but soon, you’ll all be sleeping all night. Walk your child back to his/her room immediately. Don’t overreact or give too much attention; simply say, “The rules are that you sleep in your own bed.”

Make it Worth Their While
Some parents offer sticker charts; others give rewards like extra playtime.

Introduce a Clock
Place an inexpensive digital clock by your preschooler’s bedside. Put duct tape over the minutes and talk about the number she’ll see in the darks. Say, “In our house, nobody gets up before 7. If it’s not showing a 7, go back to sleep.”

Create a Plan of Action
Instead of simply telling your child not to get out of bed, teach her how to fall back asleep. Try telling them to stay in bed, close their eyes, and think about something fun. Giving them something to think about is a great tool to help them fall back asleep.

Don’t Cave in for Special Circumstances
When your daughter is sick or she can’t fall asleep after watching a scary movie, you can still comfort her without inviting her into your bed. A lot of parents forget that they can go to the kid. You can sleep in their room [on an air mattress].

Relocate temporarily
If your child wakes up in the middle of the night and needs to be comforted, rather than allowing your child into your bed, think about sleeping in their room. (It’s easier to extract yourself from their bedroom than to get them to stop joining you in yours.)

Make Your Child’s Room Inviting
Consider allowing your child to help decorate by at the very least picking out the bedding. For the more ambitious adventurers, give your child choices of a bedroom theme, the positioning of bed and furniture (with your help, of course), and overall look and feel. The general idea is you want your child to absolutely LOVE his/her room and want to spend time in it!

Consider the Bed
Some parents move their child to a twin or even larger bed as soon as child graduates from the crib. For some children, that is fine, but others may feel intimidated or even threatened by its size. Depending on a child’s nature, toddler beds can provide a good transition between crib and twin. These beds often are available in theme designs, such as a race car or castle. Make sure your child can easily get in and out of bed and feels comfortable in it.

If you maintain consistency and the rules, your child will be sleeping in his or her bed throughout the night in no time. And, you and your child will both get improved shut-eye and be better prepared to face the new day together.