The patter of little feet coming down the hallway is a sound that brings dread to many parents.
It usually precedes a night of kicking, wriggling and chatting, which leads to chronic sleep deprivation for all.
Stopping the habit isn’t easy, and many parents despair over meltdowns in the middle of the night.
But it doesn’t have to be a painful process for everyone. Here’s how to move your child back into their own bed – and keep them there.
Start the conversation
Before you start anything, sit down with your child and explain to them what is going to happen.
Children need time to process change, and it’s best to break the news on the day you’ll start the new routine.
“Once you have decided to tackle this, explain to your child (in age appropriate language) what will happen when they wake and come into your bed during the night so these changes don’t come as a bolt out of the blue,” sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor told HuffPost.
Step-ladder the process
The idea of never returning to your parents’ bed may feel overwhelming for your child, so try to step-ladder the process.
Start by sleeping in your children’s room for the first few nights. Set up a spare mattress on the floor so you’ll be there if they wake during the night.
Vicki Dawson, CEO of The Children’s Sleep Charity, recommends staying in your child’s room with them until they are asleep: “We all sleep in cycles and it is highly likely they will wake a number of times in the night and need you to help to get them back to sleep in their own room”.
Over the next couple of nights, gradually spend less time in the room. Stay in their room until they fall asleep. But it's important you don't spend more than a few nights in their room, so they don’t become reliant on your presence.
Expect a few rough nights until they’re used to the new routine.
Make sure their bedroom is comfortable
Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Would you be happy sleeping in their room? Is it too light? Too dark? Too noisy? Too cold?
Make any adjustments necessary to make the room conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Ensure their room is a positive space
Once you know that your child is comfortable in their room, make sure they actually enjoy being in it.
If it’s where your child is sent for a time-out, your child will associate their room with punishment. Spend time playing with your child in their room and make it a positive and rewarding space.
Keep returning to their room
Once you’ve established yourself back in your own room, be consistent about the new routine. Make sure your child is comfortable before turning out the light. Ensure they've had a drink, gone to the toilet or had their nappy changed.
“Each time your child appears in your room, bring them back into their room, let them climb into bed themselves and sit either by doorway of their room or just outside the doorway, until they go back to sleep," explains Taylor.
Making changes may take time, so patience and consistency are the two most important factors.
“It can take at least two weeks to see improvements in sleep patterns, so be consistent and ensure that you plan to carry out the transition when you feel you can see it through,” explains Dawson.