To sleep train or not to sleep train? To let your child cry it out or do the gentler "sleep lady shuffle" (Kim West's popular "no-cry" method)? These are the kinds of sleep-related questions that bubbled up for many of us when our babies were in the 6-24 month range. But it's a different story once they reach the age of 3 or so, or at least it has been for me. I've found that no matter what approach my friends and I took during the baby and toddler years, our preschoolers now try to co-sleep, or to keep their tired parents in their rooms for part of the night. I've also found though, that there are things we can do to get our children back into their own beds, whether this is a new development or a continuation of longtime preferences.
Promoting Good Sleep Habits
- Maintain a consistent bedtime routine: My son finds comfort in knowing what to expect, so a bedtime routine that ends in happy sleep will be something he can always return to at the end of the day. If your preschooler likes routine, the bedtime ritual, whatever it is, is the most important one to nail.
- Keep an eye on your child's level of physical activity: Has bad weather kept your child from exercising enough? If so, make sure to do something active indoors that will adequately stimulate. If my son hasn't burned off enough energy during the day, he will try to make up for it at night—most likely right at bedtime!
- Make sure your child's room is conducive to rest: Some parents, such as Circle of Moms member Natalie E., suggest blackout shades to eliminate all stimulation. My son actually seems to prefer a little sound and soft light: listening to Hawaiian music and watching his spaceship nightlamp circle around.
Establishing New Patterns
If your child has never preferred to fall asleep alone, well, that's understandable. Most adults don't sleep alone, so why should kids?
But there are benefits to sleep independence. Besides the obvious benefits for you—sleeping through the night without surprise kicks in the face, for example—there are even greater benefits for your preschooler. Circle of Moms member Pamela J. suggests that a child who can fall asleep alone, and stay in her own bed all night, is happier and more confident than a child who is in the habit of sleeping with parents. And sleeping alone can promote deeper, longer sleep, which, according to The Franklin Institute (a Philadelphia-based scientific research group) is good for nourishing brain connections and the rapid physical growth your child is experiencing.
Before changing your child's routine though, it's smart to include him in the planning. Circle of Moms member Amanda C. suggests making a plan and explaining it to him "so he knows what's coming." This "lets him prepare himself, as well as find comfort when you follow through."
New routines should be simple, and not introduced abruptly. When we went through this process, I took it step-by step, starting out by putting my son in his own bed and holding one hand while he nodded off. The next night, I remained near his bed, but didn't have physical contact. By going gradually, I was trying to provide reassurance while also nudging him towards independence.
If your child does cry though, a few words of reassurance to remind him that you're there can help, as can a reward the following morning. Circle of Moms member Amanda C. recommends offering a reward the next day to help your child get used to the new routine. And Meshele P. offers her son a beanie baby from a tote at Grandma's house. I like to give my son stickers or a new book.
You can even suggest that your child come into bed with you after the sun comes up, or the alarm goes off. This lets him or her know that your bed isn't off-limits, but that everyone sleeps in his or her own bed at night.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.