Bedtime comes, the TV is off and the toys are away.
You grab your little one’s hand and head to their bedroom to put their jammies on. A little deliberation over whether it should be dinosaur or space ship pajamas tonight.
Now onto the rest of the bedtime routine. Teeth brushed, stories read.
So far, so great.
Now they have to get into bed. Maybe they resist or maybe they’re fine about it – but they get in and snuggled up.
So now it’s time for you to go, right?
Not if you’re one of the thousands and thousands of parents who lays down next to their child every night to help them sleep. If that’s you, then it’s time to settle down, cuddle in and enjoy the pure love and dependence of your tiny person.
Shouldn’t my child be falling asleep alone?
Yes, and also all their clothes should be purple and they should eat a carrot every day.
And any suggestion that your kid’s bedtimes should be a certain way and no other way are just as stupid.
Seriously – I know we all want easy bedtimes for our kids and our own sanity and that means developing good sleep habits.
But telling people they’re doing it wrong because their model doesn’t match ours? No.
Sure, there’ll come a time when you and your child are ready for independent bedtimes but you don’t have to shoot for that when they’re tiny.
So let’s crush this unwritten idea that the only good kiddie bedtimes are independent kiddie bedtimes. Or that you should let them cry so they can ‘learn’.
Our small children and babies want to be close to us – very, very close – especially when it’s dark. It’s an instinct left over from when they needed us for protection from predators.
So if you lie down next to your child to fall asleep at night and you feel bad about doing that, you can stop worrying right now.
By being super efficient with bedtime you miss stuff
Sure, maybe sometimes you’d like to be drinking a cup of tea and scrolling your social media feeds instead of lying in the dark wondering how long it’s going to take tonight.
But in those moments beside a small human, feeling their warmth, good stuff happens. Like your stubborn little one who butt heads with you daily snuggling in and saying, “I love you,” or tiny squishy arms squeezing your neck.
Chat about dinosaurs and weird stuff that’s going on in their heads and comes spilling out now that it’s dark and they’re not distracted by the 1000 things going on every day.
There’s a lot of beauty in those moments – and a lot of frustration at times – but the beauty is there. And it’s precious.
You’re not spoiling your child by staying with them at bedtime
Nope. Not spoiling. There’s no such thing as too much love – so how could you possibly spoil your child by giving them your presence and love when they want it?
Spoiling, ungratefulness and being entitled – all those traits we really DON’T want to see in our kids – are much more likely to come from being given too much stuff that too much love.
They enjoy falling asleep beside you and you like them to doze off happy – it’s a simple thing.
So let’s talk about how you get your kid to sleep by lying with them – and bust the myth that you’ll be doing this forever.
Wanna give this thing a try? Here’s how:
How can I move from rocking to sleep to lying next to my child?
If you’ve got a little one whom you’ve been nursing or rocking to sleep thus far but it’s just not working any longer, this is for you.
And if nursing to sleep turned into wriggling and sitting up like it’s morning or rocking them off has you rocking some serious biceps now they’re 18 months old, then yeah, it’s time for a change.
And changing to lying next to your child can be as easy as, well, lying down next to them. Or it can take a little getting used to.
Getting your child used to a new way of going to sleep
If you’re thinking of starting to lie with your child to help them fall asleep, then it’s pretty likely you’ve been either rocking or nursing to sleep thus far or something similar.
So you’re already used to spending a little time over bedtime and that’s good because while lying with your kid’s lovely, it can take a little while.
And to begin with your kid may not like it. If they’re in their own bed or crib and you’re on the floor beside them, they may miss being held tightly and the motion of you rocking them and struggle to settle.
Or if you were nursing then you might find a little mouth searching for your nipple. But it’s okay – old habits can be broken and new ones formed without it being horrible. Go slow and hug lots.
On the first night of lying with your child, make sure they’re warm and comfortable in their bed or crib. Now lie down very close to them so they can see and hear you.
Some parents have a double bed in the kids’ room for this, which works well. You can still make it work if your little one’s going to sleep in their own bed – you might not be so comfy yourself, though. And there might be more adjustment.
Hand holding and tummy patting help
Lie down next to them in your chosen spot and hold their hand or rub their tummy or cuddle them into you if you’re both in a big bed.
Tummy patting or stroking (in circles) is great for calming bedtime grumpiness and a hand to hold will remind them that you’re there even if they can’t see you in the dark.
Put on some soft music or bearable white noise and shush them if they’re unhappy.
If you find that your tiny person’s very unhappy in their own bed even with you very close, you could try taking them into your bed until they’re asleep and then performing some mom-ninja moves to transfer them into their own bed.
It’s up to you whether getting them to sleep happy’s more important than getting them to fall asleep in their own bed.
What if you used to nurse to sleep?
If you were nursing to sleep before and now your toddler wants the nipple even though you’ve weaned, you have a few choices.
Either try encouraging her to suck her thumb or your finger or give her a pacifier. And if you feel like it’s time to get rid of the sucking-to-sleep association, try to distract her by cuddling her in or shushing and belly patting some more.
For moms who were nursing to sleep lying down in mom’s bed, the easiest transition will probably be getting baby to suck something else while lying the same way you always did.
The familiar surroundings should make the loss of the nipple less painful.
Overcoming bedtime resistance without going crazy
Okay, so in theory you should now be lying next to a beautiful, sleepy child who wants to snuggle into you and drift off to sleep. But what if you’re not?
What if you’re actually lying near a kid who keeps sitting up or chatting or demanding a drink – or won’t actually get into bed at all?
The best way’s to have a routine. We sing songs, we turn the light out and we lie down. Chatting’s okay for a few minutes but then it’s sleep time. You can signal that by modelling sleep behavior.
Model sleep behavior for your child
Head on the pillow and eyes closed – actually tell them what you’re doing and that they should too. Making fake sleep breathing noises can also work well.
Stay with them so they can see and feel you but don’t talk once you want them to go to sleep – shushing’s fine though. Your little one’ll be comforted by your presence enough to relax and drop off to sleep – hopefully quickly.
Once you’ve done the same thing for a few nights, your child should start to recognise the new routine as a sleep cue in itself and then it’ll start to get easier.
Less resistance, more readiness to get into bed and lie down – especially if you’re right there next to them.
If they’re still trying to stay up, stay super calm and give them even more hugs while repeating exactly what you need from them.
“Lie down like mommy. Head on the pillow. Feet down. Look at you! You’re lying like a big kid now.”
And with a lot of patience and repetition and calm, quiet words, you’ll get past their resistance.
Then you just need to worry about how you’re getting back out of there once they are asleep.
How to escape from your sleeping child
Their eyes are closed and they haven’t moved for a while so you go for the ninja-mom roll off the bed. And they sit up again as soon as your feet hit the carpet.
After a long time spent soothing a child to sleep – however much you love them and want to do this for them – it’s pretty frustrating if they wake right up again when you try to leave.
So plan ahead:
If you’re lying on their bed with them and it’s against the wall, lie on the outside. And don’t be under the covers.
Got creaky floors (Yes! I have this problem)? Turn on white noise to cover the sound of your steps as you leave.
Is your kid very sensitive to light? Have a dim light in the hall way – or even turn it off. That way when you open the door to leave it won’t illuminate the whole room.
Push a lovey up against their body (not face) if they like having something to lean into and it can’t be you any longer.
Tip for transferring a sleeping baby or toddler to a crib or bed
And if your little one’s tiny and you need to ninja them into a crib now they asleep, have them lying on your bed on a small fleece blanket.
When they’re asleep – and you’re really, REALLY sure – slide your hand under the blanket and lift it with the child.
It makes lifting them easier and also means when they land up in the crib they’re already lying on something warm. Tuck the blanket down the sides of the crib and you’re done.
Does this all sound a little…crazy? Like a military operation to get the kids to bed? Well, yeah. But if it’s a choice between crazy tactics and a crying child then the crazy wins.
But don’t worry – none of this is forever. One day you’ll be ready to move on to independent bedtimes and your kid will be too.
And then what? Glad you asked…
Breaking the habit – or ‘No, you won’t have to do this forever’
One of the common objections moms and dads have to not sleep training or not teaching your kid to fall asleep alone early on – is that then you’ll have to stay with them at bedtime basically forever.
But you don’t need to worry about that.
Why not? Easy – because your child’s going to grow and develop. Amazing, right?
You can’t have a conversation with your new baby about how it’s bedtime and you’ll be right along the hall.
But you can have that talk with a two or three year old. Instead of modifying their behavior by wearing down their resistance like many sleep training methods do, you’ll be able to talk to your child and encourage them as they learn to fall asleep without you.
The truth about lying with your child at night
Lying with your child at bedtime is fine. It’s waaaay more common than you’d think.
It’s easy on both of you, and it’s warm and loving.
It can be a total pain if they’re not playing ball.
It uses up precious evening time but it’s worth it if you hate the idea of tears at bedtime.
And no it won’t still be happening when they’re 12.