We transitioned our 2½-year-old to a toddler bed, but now she comes into our bed when she wakes up at night. How do we break this habit?
Breaking the highly common habit of bed hopping is possible, but it takes some commitment on the part of the parents. Toddlers are very smart little creatures, and they won’t continue a habit that is not being rewarded in some way.
Your daughter is persisting in this behavior because she is being rewarded by escaping from her room and interacting with you in the middle of the night! And maybe she’s even being allowed to climb into your bed with you. When we’re zonked parents, it’s all too easy to give in and let a tot crawl into bed with us, even if we would prefer her to return to her comfortable, new, big-girl bed in her own room. This sends a mixed message to the child—if it’s OK to sleep with you some nights, it must be OK every night, right?
The key to breaking this habit is to remove the rewarding aspect of this behavior—in this case, the chance to get out of her room at night, even briefly.
Avoid this by doing the following:
Install a baby gate at her bedroom door. When she wakes at night and calls for you, she won’t be able to leave her room. If she calls to you, go to her room swiftly and return her to bed. Say, “This is nighttime, and this is when we sleep.” If she cries or protests, stay with her in her room until she falls asleep. Many parents balk at this part, but this stage only lasts a night or two. By staying with her until she falls asleep, you ensure that she’s not popping up and down and calling out for you all night (hardly the recipe for a good night’s sleep!).
Don’t allow her to leave her room. After a few nights, she’ll stop expending her energy on a habit that’s not being rewarded, and the nightly visits will cease.