Nothing can ruin a romantic evening in the bedroom faster than your toddler running in and wanting to sleep between the two of you. If you're lucky, this behavior only happens occasionally during thunderstorms or other frightening events. Some toddlers, however, simply want to sleep with mommy and daddy as often as they'll allow it. There are some ways you can train your toddler to sleep in their own bed throughout the night if you have some patience and determination.
- Recognize why your toddler wants to sleep with you - There are several reasons your toddler might want to sleep with you. Different reasons may have different ways of dealing with them. Some nights, they might feel like they're missing out on something and they want to be involved with all the "happenings." Other toddlers might be afraid of the dark or they might just have a case of severe separation anxiety. Once you can determine the cause, you're halfway to solving the problem.
- Create a transitional object for your toddler - Young children tend to internalize their comfortable feelings toward their parents by transferring it to an inanimate object. Blankets, teddy bears and other objects help young toddlers feel secure during the night and in their own bedroom. Beyond objects, it may also be helpful to have your kids go to the store with you and pick out their own kids furniture - this may help them feel a deeper sense of "ownership" of their own room.
- Help your toddler create an imaginary friend - It might sound silly to you, but imaginary friends provide a sense of comfort and security. Act like you're tucking your toddler's imaginary friend in at night and pretend it's a real person. If your toddler gets scared during the night, they can look to their "friend" so they won't feel so alone.
- Have a consistent bedtime - Children need boundaries and schedules. Allowing your toddler to go to bed at 10 P.M. one night and then 8 P.M. the next night only confuses them and it doesn't offer the strict scheduling they need. Make sure you put them to bed around the same time every night unless there is a special occasion that prevents that from happening.
- Use positive reinforcement - Toddlers are suckers for small rewards. If you have a problem keeping your toddler in bed all night, make a chart for them and give them a sticker for each night they sleep in their bedroom throughout the night. If an entire night is too much to do right away, give a sticker for every hour they stay in their bedroom. After a few nights, give them a bigger reward like a toy or something they enjoy.
- Gradually increase away time - You might hear your toddler crying because they want to sleep with mommy and daddy. But giving in to their cries will only make the problem worse. Instead, go in their bedroom every two minutes to calm them down. If they keep it up, go in at five-minute intervals. Gradually increase the time until they stop crying and they have gone to sleep.
- Don't reinforce their behavior - Many times when a toddler crawls into bed with their parents, they are simply looking for attention. By talking to them, you give them the attention they crave. Instead of yelling or scolding your toddler, simply carry them back to their bed, tuck them back in and leave the room. Do this as many times as necessary until the toddler learns to stay in their bedroom.
- Kill the monsters before bedtime - There's a story about Vince McMahon, owner of the World Wrestling Entertainment Corporation. When his son or daughter was afraid of the "monsters" in the closet during the night, Vince would walk in the closet and "beat up the monsters" inside. He'd then walk out and tell his toddlers that those monsters won't be bothering them anymore. Other parents have sprayed air freshener in the room and called it "Monster-Away" to give the impression that the monsters will stay away for the night.
- Get a bed with boundaries - One reason toddlers crawl out of bed is because they don't have any visible boundaries reminding them to stay in bed. As a result, they follow their impulses and leave their bed anytime they want to. Find a small bed with rails or something similar and age-appropriate to help teach your toddler to stay in their beds throughout the night.
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