Having a kid is hard. Having three kids is hard. Having ANY kid who doesn’t sleep all night or ends up in your bed halfway through the night straight up sucks. Sure those cuddles are sweet and cute in the beginning, but ten years into parenting I’m starting to feel my built up sleep deficit and wonder whether I’m going crazy or just in an eternal state of sleep deprivation. This is how I fixed that and got my child to stay in bed all night.
No threats, no yelling, no punishment. Just straight up positive reinforcement working its magic (like always!).
The Beginning of a Bad Habit
I admittedly co-slept with all of my children. It was partially because my postpartum anxiety wouldn’t let them out of my sight, but also because I’m extraordinarily lazy with no desire to put my feet on the floor in the middle of the night and physically get out of bed.
Because they were used to being with us and comforted in the middle of the night, my children gave no shits or second thoughts about pestering us at 2 am with requests for water (you know where it is), bathroom accompaniment (why do you make me leave the light on in there all night if you won’t gooooooo??), or snuggles (ok they got me there, I usually don’t turn those down).
Co-sleeping is fantastic and so super helpful, but by the time mine are 2, I want them out of my bed, out of my room, and out of my life from 8 pm until 7 am.
Why Won’t My Child Stay in Bed All Night??
Like you, your child wants love and attention and to feel secure and safe. Waking in a dark room without anyone else can be frightening, especially when straight out of a bad dream. There are a number of reasons why kids are up and down at night:
- bad dreams
- they sense when you’re about to have sexy time/have just gotten into your first round of deep sleep
In our household, after years of going through various night time routines and phases, it simply boiled down to having become a habit for my 5 year old to get out of bed.
Many nights there was nothing wrong! She just woke and thought to herself, “Man, I bet mom is sleeping really well. Let me go wake her up to tell her that I saw a hair growing on her boob when she was in the shower the other day.”
How We Got Her to Stay in Bed All Night
Frustrated, exhausted and running out of patience, I knew there had to be a solution to get her to stay in bed all night. But how?
Money! Toys! Bribes! Positive Reinforcement!
We learned that asking nicely did nothing to combat her presence in the middle of the night. Nor did getting on to her in the morning. Nor did threats if she bothered us before 7 am. But a treat? Yep, that did the trick to get her to stay in bed all night.
On the day we decided to start, we took our excited 5 year old to Target to pick out an elusive $3 toy from the Dollar Spot. It took about 45 minutes, but once she settled on her super cute stationary set and held it throughout the store and the whole way home, only to have me take it for ransom when we got back, she was determined to do whatever to earn it.
Our agreement was simple:
Each night that the child stays in bed all night (until 7 am), without waking a sibling or coming into our room in the middle of the night, she gets a quarter. Once she reaches ten quarters, they can be traded in for the Dollar Spot prize.
10 nights, folks. That’s all it took to break this habit. And during those ten nights, she didn’t get out of bed once!
Each morning when she woke, she excitedly asked for her quarter so that she could put it with the rest and count them over and over to see how close she was to her goal. Each day she reminded me that she only had X more days until the prize was hers.
Why This Works to Keep Your Child in Bed All Night
- Allowing the child to choose a toy that they normally wouldn’t even have access to (we typically limit our Dollar Spot sections to $1 items, so getting a $3 item was HUGE to this 5 year old) makes it more enticing for them.
- The child gets to feel like they’re actually earning something and the quarters give them a way to measure their progress.
- Rather than feeling like they’re doing something “bad” when they wake early and bug you, the child gets to be praised for doing something “good” when they meet their goal of staying in bed.
- If they mess up one night and get out of bed? That’s ok! Skip the quarter for that day and explain why in the morning. Don’t take any way, just add another day of trying to successfully break the habit.
Have You Been Successful in Getting Your Child to Stay in Bed All Night?
Do you have a preschooler who likes to get up before the sun? Have you been able to successfully get your child to stay in bed all night and not wake everyone else up just because they want to talk about Octonauts?