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Bedtime—three's a crowd: Advice from Moms
Q: From Sue in Buffalo
Since we switched my 2½-year-old son to a big boy bed, he wakes up at all hours of the night and crawls into our bed. He doesn't care if we're there or not. He just wants to sleep there. The other night my husband and I were going up to bed and we found him sound asleep in our bed. What can I do?
A:
Issie in Portland
Try putting his old bed back and let him decide every night if he wants to sleep in that or his big boy bed. When he keeps choosing his big boy bed, take away his baby bed.

Fayth in Round Rock
Keep putting him back into his bed. The first time say, "It is time for bed. Good night." The second time say, "Back to your bed." After that, don't talk or make eye contact. Just return him to his bed until he falls asleep. It isn't cruel, but it'll be a long process the first night! Just remember that what you all need is sleep. Stick to your guns. You son needs to know that, no matter what, he has to sleep in his own bed.

Kay in Trinidad
Daddy and I talked to our daughter before transferring her to her big girl bed. Then we lay down next to her, read her favorite story, waited until she fell asleep, and left one of our large pillows beside her so she felt a sense of warmth. We did it for a couple of nights and she has been on her own since then.

Jana in Manhattan, Kansas
I would try to make bedtime special. Let him listen to a special bedtime CD or give him a new blanket. Also, you have to consistently take him back to his bed whenever he goes to yours. If you're not ready to go to bed, make sure you lock your door so you don't find him in your bed. Just reassure him that you're close by.

Lisa in Prattville
We always used a baby gate to keep our son in his room. He wasn't always asleep in his bed, but he wasn't in our bed, either.

Jane in NYC
Make his bed and room a place he wants to be and never use his room or bed as a place of punishment. Spend time with him in his bed before he goes to sleep. Even when my 4-year-old son has nightmares, I always go into his room. I stay with him there for a little while so he can see that his room and bed are safe and nurturing. He has "friends" that he sleeps with so he's not lonely.

Julie in Malaysia
I notice kids have their own timing for things. Given guidance they're capable of deciding for themselves when they're ready for certain events. So if it does not bother both of you too much, let your darling have his ways sometimes. But discuss why he needs to be in his own bed at the right time, and give him time to adjust.

Karen Sokol-Gutierrez, M.D., M.P.H.
This is very common. Children can feel disoriented and insecure when they experience big changes in their environment, such as changing to a big boy bed or moving homes. This can temporarily disrupt normal routines like sleeping, eating and toileting.

You and your husband need to decide whether you're OK with your son sleeping in your bed or on your floor, at least for a transition period. If you want him to stay in his own bed right away, you can work together to make him feel more secure. Here are some suggestions:

1. Talk with your son about being a big boy. Tell him how special it is for him to have his own big boy bed to sleep in, just like the other big boys he knows. Let him know that big boys stay in their beds to sleep. Explain to him that he can still cuddle with Mom and Dad, and give him lots of cuddle time, reading together in his bed before he falls asleep. Tell him that if he does get up at night, you will bring him right back to his own bed.

2. Let him help make the big boy bed his own special place. Let him choose some stuffed animals, pillows and special sheets with a color, design or character he likes. If he's comforted by your scent, you might even put one of your and your husband's T-shirts on the stuffed animals. You could tell him that he needs to stay in bed to take care of his stuffed animals so they don't get lonely.

3. To prevent him from falling out of bed or falling down the stairs at night, consider putting up a side-rail on his bed, a gate across his doorway and a nightlight in his room.

4. If he wakes in the middle of the night trying to come into your room, check on him and reassure him that everything is OK. Then, firmly let him know that he needs to return to bed, and tuck him back in with his stuffed animals.

With encouragement and consistency, you all should get more sleep at night.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education