Kids may develop difficult sleep patterns that involve disrupted sleep and venturing into their parents’ beds. As children get older, the habits may continue, making nights challenging for everyone. You might need to break disruptive and difficult sleep patterns with older children to teach them how to sleep independently. Generally, this process takes time and effort. On the other side of the sleep training, though, both parents and kids should rest more soundly.
Have a family meeting to discuss the sleeping difficulties, suggests David D. O’Grady, Ph.D., with O’Grady Psychology Associates. Tell your child that you think it’s time for her to stay in her bed throughout the night without visiting your bed. Explain that you want your child to feel safe and sleep well in her bed without crying or calling for you during the night. Tell your child that you will tuck her into bed at night and then you will see her again when she wakes up in the morning.
Encourage your child to feel excited about the new plan by projecting a positive attitude. Use animated words and happy facial expressions as you discuss the plan. Tell your child that you know she’ll be able to handle this goal and succeed.
Show your child the sticker chart. Tell her that she will receive a sticker for every night she stays in her bed. Explain that after a certain number of stickers -- five or seven, perhaps -- she will receive a reward. Possible rewards include a trip to the zoo, a family game night or a picnic.
Institute a pleasant bedtime routine for your child to help her feel safe, secure and loved as she goes to sleep in her bed. Even older children enjoy bedtime snuggles, offers Attachment Parenting International. The routine might include a bath, a snack, story time, brushing teeth, prayers and then brief snuggles as you tuck your child in bed. After finishing the routine, turn out the light and leave the room.
Return after a brief time if your child experiences problems falling asleep. Generally, 10 to 15 minutes is an appropriate length of time for your child to try to go to sleep alone before you revisit to reassure her. Speak softly to calm your child down, telling her that she’s safe and that nothing will hurt her in her bedroom. Stay for a moment and then leave the room again. Return again every 10 to 15 minutes to repeat the process until your child falls asleep.
Escort your child back to her bed if she visits your room in the middle of the night. Tuck your child into bed, tell her to stay there, give her a hug and then leave. You may need to return in 10 to 15 minutes to comfort her if she stays awake.
Award your child with a sticker the next morning if she stayed in bed without getting up the entire night. Give your child effusive praise for a job well done.
Stay consistent with the routine and your child should sleep train within several nights. Use a nightlight if your child has night fears, suggests the Sleep Health Foundation.