If you’ve made it here, it’s likely you are ready to learn how to get your toddler to sleep in their own bed as smoothly and protest-free as possible. Up until now you may have been room sharing or co-sleeping, and that’s been working for your family! But you may be contemplating a change, or feeling very ready, and we’re here to walk you through the process to begin.
Most of us can agree that at some point all children are ready to sleep in their own beds. That “point” varies for different families. It’s possible to teach a toddler to sleep in their own bed at any time, and it’s important to take age appropriate steps to make this a smooth process.
For those of you ready to establish new sleep habits for your toddler right away, skip to our comprehensive Toddler and Preschool Age Sleep Guide. This thorough, 23 page actionable sleep guide is for parents of toddlers and preschool age kiddos (2.5-5 years) who want to put an end to bedtime delays and resistance, exhausting night wakes, pesky early mornings, and will equip you with the skills and knowledge to ensure your little one is getting the overall amount of sleep their body needs.
For those of you just starting to look into tips for getting your toddler to sleep in their own bed, keep reading.
To get your toddler to sleep in their own bed, choose a plan and stick with it
The first step in the process is to decide on a plan aligned with your family values and to stick with it. There are many sleep teaching methods out there. Choose one that feels comfortable to you, and stay consistent.
Toddlers are natural boundary pushers. By testing the waters they learn where the limits are. And limits around sleep are very important if you’re looking to establish new habits!
According to parenting expert Janet Lansbury, “by continuing to push limits toddlers are only doing their job, which is to learn about our leadership (and our love), clarify our expectations and house rules, understand where their power lies. Our job is to answer as calmly and directly as possible.”
The bedtime routine, falling asleep process, middle of the night wakes, and morning wake time rules are all important pieces to your sleep plan. Decide on the process for each of these, and stick to it no matter how your child reacts. The more you meet their protest and pushback with gentle, loving sturdiness, the faster they will adapt to the new habits you’re working to establish.
Communication and preparation are key
Once you’ve decided on what the bedtime routine will look like, where your child will sleep for the night, when morning time is, etc, it is time to communicate and prepare for the new rules.
Preparation is very important at this age. Before you start a new sleep plan, sit down with your child and explain what the rules are. It may sound something like “we are starting a new sleep plan as a family tonight to help us all get better sleep. Sleep is very important in this house. Tonight you will sleep in your own bed. I will be there while you fall asleep for the first few nights. I will also support you through the changes. Mom and Dad know you can do this!”
Don’t be afraid to practice the new processes in advance. If your child has never slept in their own bed before, role play the going to bed process with them during the daytime. Explain each step to them so they know what to expect. Make space for their feelings about your new family sleep plan. Allowing your child to express their sadness or fear in your loving presence will go a long way.
Bedtime routine charts can also be helpful for those of you looking to establish new sleep habits. They are helpful to refer back to during any stalling or bedtime pushback, and help keep your child on track as you get them into their sleep space.
Teach sleep independence
If your child has never fallen asleep alone before, getting them to sleep in their own bed will require teaching the skill of sleep independence.
As humans, we all learn to fall asleep on our own at some point in our lives. Some of us learn earlier than others! If your child relies on external help or a “prop” to aid them to sleep, such as laying with a parent, a bottle, rocking, extensive interaction with mom or dad, they will find it difficult to get to sleep and fall back to sleep without the same prop in the middle of the night. The skill of being able to fall asleep and stay asleep without any external “props” is referred to as the skill of sleep independence.
Teaching your child to sleep independently means allowing them to learn how to fall asleep on their own without your presence. Once they are able to do it, they will also have the capacity to sleep through the night without needing assistance getting back to sleep.
Keeping your child in their bed
If your child has not consistently slept in their own bed through the night or previously was a cosleeper, it is likely he or she may act out to push back against the new habits you are trying to establish. This is normal!
As part of the growing up process, your toddler’s job is to experiment with limits. Your job as a parent is to lovingly define and hold your family limits.
You may hear every excuse under the sun about why your little one doesn’t want to sleep. Or they may walk into your room 5 times before midnight attempting to get into your bed. Whatever it is, do your best to acknowledge their feelings, and then hold your limits as many times as necessary. The more consistent you are, the faster they will learn what is expected of them, and the more secure they will feel. We cannot overstate the importance of this enough!
Your response to excessive bids for attention after you’ve left the room or during night wakes should be as boring as possible. Think like your goal is to win the “Most Boring Parent of the Year Award”. By giving your child plenty of your undivided attention during the day, you will reduce their need for attention seeking at night. Walk your child back to bed as many times as necessary with as little engagement as possible. Your consistency will pay off.
Learning to sleep alone in a new space takes time, and success is not going to look perfect right away.
It’s important to celebrate the small wins: a protest-free bedtime routine, falling asleep alone for the first time, one night wake instead of multiple, staying in bed until 6:00am. These are all examples of growth and improvement.
By noticing and celebrating your child’s incremental progress, he or she will be more likely to internalize the belief that they CAN become a great independent sleeper, despite how challenging the learning process may be.
It’s never too late to teach your toddler to sleep in their own bed
We want you to know that there is nothing wrong with the fact that your child hasn’t learned to sleep in their own bed yet. Your parenting journey is the right one for you, and every child learns new skills in their own time. One thing we know for sure is that it’s never too late to learn independent sleep!
If you’re at the stage where a DIY sleep approach is more appealing, check out our comprehensive Toddler and Preschool Age Sleep Guide. The guide provides 23 pages of actionable strategies that will help you work toward putting an end to bedtime battles, middle of the night wakes, pesky early mornings, and general sleep issues.
If you are short on time and interested in quick results with more expert support, schedule a free sleep evaluation call with one of our consultants here.