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Bed training

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We’re teaching Gareth to sleep in a big boy bed. He had been sleeping in his crib in the basement while we worked on the (still not quite finished) bathroom, so when we moved him upstairs we had a natural transition. We left his crib in the basement and brought a twin mattress up to his room instead.

Here are ten things I’ve learned from bed training Emmeline and Gareth.

1. Mattress on the floor

Emmeline had a bed for a while, but we got rid of it because she’d roll out of bed, or she’d get out of bed and couldn’t get back in. We now prefer just to put the mattress right on the floor for a while. That way they don’t have far to fall, and it’s less scary than having to climb in and out of a bed. I don’t like the idea of toddler beds because I dislike the thought of spending money on something they’ll outgrow so quickly.

2. Take the toys away ahead of time.

I’m still working on being consistent with this, but if their room is littered with fun reminders of everything they’d rather be doing, they will have a very hard time staying in bed. Put the toys away, so it’s clear that playtime is over.

3. “Success” doesn’t always feel successful

With Emmeline, my biggest mistake was wanting a quick fix. I thought I could find some magic cure that would make her want to stay in her bed and fall asleep willingly. Bed training is one of the hardest things to deal with when you have toddlers. It takes a lot of time and a lot of consistency.

4. It will get worse before it gets better–probably a lot worse. 

The first night usually goes pretty smoothly because it’s a new experience. Then the second and third days are much worse because they realize their new beds give them more independence. Also, after the newness wears off, their newfound freedom sometimes scares them, so you have a double whammy that makes them really really not want to be in their new beds. Plus, if you have a social butterfly they will be convinced you’re out there having the world’s greatest party while she’s stuck in her scary new big kid bed.

5. Punish bad behavior

Again, with Emmeline, we just weren’t harsh enough, so she learned quickly how to bend the rules. Gareth has the blessing and curse of being the second child, so we’re stricter with him. With Gareth, we punish anything short of laying in bed with his head on his pillow. It may seem harsh, but if I let him play with toys on his bed or look out his window or run around his room, he won’t fall asleep. He would probably wear himself out eventually and crash (what we let Emmeline do), but I don’t want him to crash when he’s so overtired he can’t hold his head up. I want him to fall asleep when I say it’s time for bed.

6. Decide ahead of time what punishments work for your child.

Different punishments work for different kids. In our house, sitting up in bed or getting out of bed altogether gets Gareth and Emmeline a little pop on the hiney (just enough to remind them where their hineys are supposed to be). If they scream, we close their doors. Emmeline has a favorite blankie, so when she was little we’d take it away from her anytime she got out of bed. Whatever punishment you choose, it needs to happen quickly and be over quickly, or they’ll forget why they’re being punished.

7. Steel yourself for the tears.

Parenting philosophies vary greatly on the topic of how much to let your children cry. Some people think it’s cruel to get used to the sound of your child crying. I can only speak to the decisions Josh and I have made for our children. As someone who has struggled off and on with depression, one of the best choices I’ve made as a mom is the choice not to let my children’s tantrums break my heart. I’ve lost a lot of sleep and emotional energy by being upset every time they cry, and it’s not healthy for me. I still don’t like hearing my kids cry, but it doesn’t get to me like it used to, and I’m in a really good place emotionally because of that.

I also don’t want to set a precedent for my kids where they expect to be cuddled and rocked for hours every night. Josh and I have decided we want them to learn the responsibility of putting themselves to sleep, and we want to keep our evenings free to spend time as a husband and wife. Because I’ve chosen to serve my husband in this way and because we’ve chosen to train them to sleep by themselves, our kids are going to cry at bedtime. I’m OK with that.

8. Camp out in the hallway for a while.

Not forever. But when the bed is new, I’ve found that the best way to teach my kids to stay in their beds is to be right there to reinforce the rules immediately. The second they disobey, I can correct the behavior. Emmeline was so stubborn, she could last for 2-3 hours. It was very discouraging and hard to outlast her. Gareth usually lasts an hour before giving up and going to sleep. After a few (albeit miserable) days, they learn that they can’t beat you, and they start giving up sooner. But until that happens, just sit on the floor of the hallway. Whether you sit where they can see you or not is up to you–I like to be just out of their sight but close enough to hear the pitter patter of disobedient little feet. Bring some paperwork, grab a book to read, or play candy crush–just be prepared for it to take a while. You want them to learn that they can’t wear you down.

9. Reward good behavior

Temper tantrums get kids wound up, and tense kids can’t fall asleep. Once they’ve started obeying, reward and encourage their good behavior with something that will calm them back down. Most kids have certain activities that relax them, so pick something familiar. Gareth likes to cuddle, and he likes to have lotion rubbed on him. Emmeline likes to read stories. They both like me to sing to them. I try to reward my kids enough to motivate them to obey and to help them calm down, but I don’t reward them every single time. We learned this lesson the hard way. With Emmeline, she learned that she just had to disobey, so that she could obey again, so that she’d get rewarded. I was just a Mommy version of a trained dog. Oops.

10. Pray

We can make a plan of action, we can stick with it faithfully and consistently, but the scary part of parenting is not knowing if the choice we made is actually the “right” choice. Thankfully, God has grace in abundance, and ultimately He doesn’t need our help in raising our kids. Thank goodness for these little blessings He gives us, and thank goodness He’s there to help us not screw them up. I just pray that my children grow up into responsible, emotionally healthy, Christ-following adults in spite of their Mommy and Daddy. Remember, one of the godliest kings in Israel’s history (Josiah) had one of the wickedest fathers, and David was described as a man after God’s own heart, yet one of his sons tried to murder him. It’s not necessarily good parenting in=good kids out. Sometimes at the end of the day, all we can do is pray that God would use us for our children’s good in spite of our mistakes.

(shout out to all the friends, mentors, doctors, counselors, books, and videos whose advice I’ve probably stolen in writing this blog post.)


2 responses »

  1. This is SO difficult. We still struggle with our almost 4 year old every night at bedtime. Great advice and reminders, Katie!

    • Valerie — I’m convinced that we’ll spend the first half of our children’s lives trying to get them to stay in bed and the second half of their lives trying to get them out of bed. 🙂


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