Sticking to a firm nighttime routine will help child learn to sleep in his own bed

The Baltimore Sun

A local father who reads the Charm City Moms blog asked me: "How do we get our 3-year-old out of our bed?"

Kim West, a Severna Park social worker who tackles children's sleep problems as "The Sleep Lady," says that many of her clients start out committed to "co-sleeping" with their young kids, but find it doesn't quite work out for them. "I also encounter lots of 'we didn't plan it this way' couples seeking help in finally breaking the pattern. These families end up missing their privacy, or they end up just not getting very much sleep."

West writes that when you do move a child out of your bed, you must be completely consistent. "You mustn't cave in and take him into your bed sometimes, not even when it's almost morning, or you are going to confuse him," she writes.

If a child has been in your bed for months or years, here's how West suggests you help him sleep in his own room:

* Daytime acclimation to his room if he rarely spends time in it. Play in there, get him changed in there, redecorate it, talk up how great it is to have your own room and how safe and cozy it is. You may even share what your room was like when you were a child.

* Have him start napping in his room.

* You could decide to co-sleep with him for a few nights in his room, West says, but this is not necessary.

* Have a family meeting. Tell your son that it is now time for him to go to bed and sleep all night in his own room. He may be shocked if he has never had to do that. Explain to him that you will stay with him as he learns how to put himself to sleep. Remind him that when he gets up, you will return him to his bed and stay with him until he goes back to sleep. Most of all, tell him how proud of himself he will be. Tell him about other people he knows who sleep in their own bed all night long - older cousins, grandparents, when you were little, etc.

* Create a sticker chart with "sleep manners" - the behaviors you expect - such as, "lies quietly in bed," "puts self to sleep without Daddy lying down next to you," and so on.

* Then pick your first night. Review the manners at bedtime (and the next morning). Have a comforting bedtime routine, kisses and lights out. Sit by the child's bed and offer verbal and physical reassurance, but do not lie down with him. Stay there, engaging very little until he is asleep. Each time he wakes, quietly return him to his bed, remind him that it is not time to wake up, and sit by his bed. Move your chair every three days. The next position is in the room but by the door, then in the hall but still in view and then out of view.

There's more on the subject in West's book, Good Night, Sleep Tight.

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