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My Perfect Crib Sleeper Won't Sleep In a Bed

Photograph by Twenty20

Dear Heather,

My son is almost 3 and a half. He was the most perfect sleeper until we put him into a bed just shortly after he turned 2 and a half. He is now a terrible sleeper. He wakes up almost every two hours, crying because he wants Mommy or Daddy to sleep with him or wants to come into our bed. We have to constantly go into his room and lay him back down and reassure him that everything is OK, and we are just down the hallway. But he continues to wake.

We have also tried a sticker chart with him where, if he sleeps the entire night without Mommy and Daddy coming in, at the end of the week he can get a toy. It didn't work.

We have a new baby coming in five weeks, and I don't know how to fix this situation. I'm not going to be able to go in and out of his room all night when I'm with the baby in the middle of the night. And let me also mention: I can't leave him too long to cry, because he'll throw up.

Any advice or words of wisdom? Please help!

Deanna

Dear Deanna,

Even the best of sleepers can get off track with the transition to the big bed. All that new, wide-open freedom is liberating, but for some kids, it’s almost too much freedom to know what to do with. At first.

RELATED: My Toddler Is the Perfect Sleeper, Except for This

If the sticker chart worked, I’d say that’s great. But overall, we encourage parents not to use rewards when it comes to sleep. Sleep is natural and inherently rewarding, so we want him to feel confident and good about his own abilities when he sleeps well, rather than feeling like he’s doing it for an external reason.

Make sure his bed is cozy and maybe put up a guardrail that mimics the crib side. He was used to containment and probably felt safer and more tucked-in with it, so initially it might help to re-create that in his bed.

If he’s waking in the night and crying (but not getting out of bed), you’ll want to respond to him in a very reliable and trusted way, while keeping it clear that he sleeps in his bed until morning and everyone sees each other when the sun comes up. That requires some planning and, if you use the Sleep Wave method in "The Happy Sleeper" book, you’ll be able to accomplish this.

If he’s popping out of bed and coming into your room (and you don’t want him to sleep with you), then you’ll want to walk him back to his own room without much fanfare. That can take many repetitive visits trailing back down the hallway, but after a few nights, he will get the hang of it. We always want to respond to him and let him know you’re there, and you are your warm and attentive self, but that you aren’t going to break the pattern of walking him back to his cozy bed.

RELATED: My Toddler Stays Up Until 3 In the Morning

The key is to establish this pattern at bedtime, so that he has all his self-soothing resources with him during the night whenever he wakes.

Happy sleeping!

Heather

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Do you have a sleep question you want Heather to answer for Sleep Fix? Email her at heatherturgeonmft@gmail.com. Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep—Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her Los Angeles-based sleep consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and—best of all—based on science.

No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in the comments. Let's all get a good night's sleep, finally.

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