Midnight Visitors

by Alison Bell

Midnight Visitors

You’re fast asleep when a little voice whispers, "Hi, Mommy," and your 2 1/2-year-old climbs in (and knees you in the stomach in the process). You take him to his own room, but he’s back an hour later.

Once young children have made the transition from crib to bed, it’s all too easy for them to make a beeline for your room when they awaken at night. But they need to learn to get back to sleep on their own, so before you lose any more shut-eye, try these strategies to help your child stay put:

Set Limits

Establish a regular bedtime, and insist that he remain tucked in once you turn out the light. "If you’re firm about it then, he’ll be more likely to accept that rule in the middle of the night too," says Tracy Underwood, Ph.D., a psychologist at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. And since 2-year-olds have a tough time remembering what’s expected of them, remind him each night before you leave his room: "When you wake up tonight, you’ll need to stay in your own bed." (Don’t worry: If something’s wrong  — he’s had a nightmare or isn’t feeling well  — he’ll call out or come find you, despite the warning.)

Leave a Light On

A night-light can help alleviate your child’s fear of the dark  — and eliminate one reason you may be receiving that midnight call.

Provide Support

If he doesn’t have one already, ask your child to choose a favorite toy or blanket to sleep with; it can help him settle down on his own. Christian Best, 3, of Coto de Caza, CA, curls up at night with his beloved cat pillow. When he sneaks into his mom’s bed, pillow in tow, his mom simply says, "The kitty sleeps only in your bed, so you’d better go back to your room," and off he goes.

Cover Your Bases

Leave a cup of water on his bedside table so he won’t have to wake you if he’s thirsty.

Be Consistent

The more you let your child visit with you at night, the more you’ll give him an incentive to crawl into your bed in the future.

Keep It Brief

Once you get him back in his room, tuck him in, give him a quick kiss, then leave. If he protests, agree to check on him in a few minutes, so long as he doesn’t go anywhere.

Offer Incentives

If all else fails, set up a reward system. For each night he remains in bed, place a sticker on a chart. "After a week or two, staying in his room will be automatic," says Underwood, "and you can phase out the reward."