“Not in my bed!” How to implement new bedtime routines.
Some children refuse to sleep in their own beds when it’s bedtime in the evening, while others want to join their parents in bed at night. With patience, these habits can be changed when no longer suitable for the parents.
Learning to sleep in their own bed
For children, bedtime is often perceived as a separation from their parents, which may cause them feelings of anxiety and not wanting to sleep alone in their bed. However, it is important to teach toddlers to manage this anxiety and that they are capable of sleeping alone. Learning how to do this will also boost their confidence when taking on other challenges.
The sooner autonomous sleep is learned, the less likely the child is to have interrupted sleep. In fact, routines that hinder sleep will not get the chance to develop. Moreover, when a toddler is able to fall asleep alone at night, they will be able to self-soothe when they wake up during the night.
The transition to sleeping in their own bed will likely be more difficult for children who have been sleeping in their parents’ bed for an extended period. Of course, you have to support the toddler with love and patience.
What should you do if your child refuses to sleep in their own bed?
If your child is refusing to sleep in their bed and you believe the time has come for change, here are some tips to help you adapt their routine:
- Adopt a reassuring nighttime routine that ends in your child’s bed.
Be patient and go step by step.
- Reassure your toddler. A child needs to know that you are close by and that nothing bad will happen while they are sleeping alone.
- Leave a night light on in their room.
- Early on, you can stay with them in their room until they fall asleep. When the child gets used to this routine, you can move on to the next step: Instead of staying by their bedside until they fall asleep, stay for about 5 minutes and then leave the room even if they are still awake.
- If your child comes to your bed during the night, get up, take them back to their room and tuck them back into bed. Wait for them to fall back asleep before leaving the room. If you let them finish the night in your room, they will quickly learn to wake up during the night to get into your bed.
- Avoid letting your child finish the night in your bed when they have a nightmare. They have to understand that they don’t need to be afraid in their bed and that their room is a safe place. For more information, see our Nightmares sheet.
While trying to implement these tips, remember that consistency is the key to success. If you follow this routine for a few weeks, your child will most likely get used to sleeping alone.
However, this routine may take some time as a result of your child being sick or going through significant changes (e.g. birth of a new sibling, new childcare educator, separation, death in the family). Don’t worry, once they recover or adapt to the change, you can resume the routine. However, don’t leave it too long.
To learn more about other sleep-related difficulties, take a look at our Sleep problems sheet.
Things to keep in mind
Bedtime may cause the child some anxiety.
To help a toddler get used to falling asleep alone in their bed, patience and consistency are a must.
To help a child develop sleep autonomy, it is important to support them so that they can eventually fall asleep alone.
Scientific review: Dominique Petit, PhD, Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine, Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2019
Useful links and resources
Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.
MARTELLO, Evelyne. Enfin je dors… et mes parents aussi. 2nd ed., Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 184 pp. www.enfinjedors.com
PETIT, Dominique et al. Le sommeil : un acteur méconnu dans le développement du jeune enfant. Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD 1998-2010) – Birth to age 8, Institut de la statistique du Québec, 2010; 5(2): 20. https://www.jesuisjeserai.stat.gouv.qc.ca/default_an.htm