It’s common for kids to get out of bed in the middle of the night. That can be frustrating for parents as it can lead to sleepless nights, anxiety and arguments. If your child doesn’t want to stay in bed, here are some strategies to address the issue.
Follow a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Often, kids who get out of bed at night need more structure. Make sure that your child has a consistent bedtime and wake up time (including on weekends, holidays and vacations) and that all adult caregivers stick to that schedule.
Give your child an hour or so to gradually wind down before going to bed. In that time, don’t let your child watch TV or use a device with a screen. Focus on making the time before bed as peaceful as possible with activities such as taking a bath and/or reading a book.
Whatever the last activity in the bedtime routine is, it should take place in your child’s bedroom. That can promote a sense of calm and make it easier for your child to transition to sleep.
Help Your Child Feel Safe and Fall Asleep Alone
It’s common for kids to wake up because of anxiety. If your child is afraid of the dark or monsters, a night light may help.
Many young children haven’t yet learned how to get themselves to fall asleep. A child who relies on your presence in the bedroom to fall asleep will have a hard time dozing off again if he or she wakes up at night and you aren’t there.
Help your child get used to falling asleep without you in the room. Go through your nightly routine, then leave the bedroom while your child is still awake. Make sure the room is the same way it will be if your child wakes up in the middle of the night. For example, turn on the nightlight before your child dozes off.
What to Do When Your Child Wakes Up
If your child comes into your bedroom at night, return the child to his or her room, let them know that everything is okay, then calmly leave and return to your room. Only stay in the child’s room for a minute or two and don’t get into an argument or discussion. When you leave, close your child’s bedroom door, but don’t lock it. A child can interpret that as punishment and feel anxious and frightened.
It’s important to be consistent. If you bend the rules, your child will keep trying. You can make exceptions for an illness or a nightmare. If you do, it’s better for you to stay in the child’s room than for the child to sleep in yours.
Change Takes Time
Change is hard for everyone, including kids. If you change your child’s bedtime routine, expect resistance, but know that it’s not likely to last long. Hang in there and avoid yelling and punishment. Praise your child and use other forms of positive reinforcement to reward desirable behavior.