Getting Your Toddler to Stay in Bed: 7 Must-Know Tips
How do you get your toddler to stay in bed? It can be a challenge. For many children, learning to stay in bed all night can take time. There are many sleep philosophies and no one method works for every single child. If you’re a sleep-deprived parent looking for solutions, we’ve narrowed down a few must-know tips from physicians and sleep experts on how to get your toddler to stay in bed.
Why a Toddler Won’t Stay In Bed
Bedtime is really boring from a toddler’s perspective. And parents often unintentionally incentivize their toddler’s pop-up behavior with their responses. Giving in to one more bedtime story or getting a little extra attention every time your little one gets up encourages them to continue doing it.
That said, age factors into this also. Many toddlers experience multiple rounds of separation anxiety, particularly during the 18-month sleep regression and at the 2-year sleep regression. Night terrors and nightmares also worsen the struggle for some toddlers.
Our Must-Know Tips for Keeping Your Toddler in Bed
The good news is that with careful intervention and consistent re-direction, these short-term challenges can evolve into long-term healthy sleep habits. If you’re trying to break your toddler’s habit of sneaking out of their bed, there are a few things you can do.
Evaluate Your Schedule
Sometimes your toddler just isn’t tired. The dance between balancing naps and bedtime can be tricky. Toddlers who take afternoon naps may not be ready for bedtime until 7 or 8 pm. Schedule nap time so it’s not too close to bedtime— aim for at least three to five hours of wake time between the end of their afternoon nap and bedtime.
Strangely, overtiredness can also cause children to be restless at night. Has your toddler given up naps completely? An earlier bedtime may be in order.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
Toddlers thrive on routine. Their bedtime routine doesn’t need to be over-the-top, but it does need to be predictable. It should be something your child can happily anticipate every night and think of as a special time. Ultimately, bedtime routines help ready your toddler for sleep in a soothing, comfortable way.
The consistency of a routine also helps your child feel safer and learn to fall asleep on their own. That’s especially helpful when children wake in the middle of the night, as they’ll be more likely to turn over and fall back asleep by themselves.
Your nighttime rituals could include a warm bath, a little snack followed by brushing teeth, telling each other your favorite parts of the day, reading a special book, and of course, hugs and kisses. Whatever your routine, keeping it consistent plays an important role in your toddler’s physical, mental, and developmental health.
Walk Them Back to Bed…A Thousand Times
After the bedtime ritual is complete, try to hold your ground and continue to reinforce the rules. Maybe your little one wants to snuggle in your bed or wants more stories or wants a drink of water. While some of these requests may be genuine, your child is also likely testing your boundaries. This is normal toddler behavior.
With very few exceptions, such as a wet bed, vomiting, or genuine fear, don’t give in to their requests. Simply walk them back to bed, tuck them in, and leave. Try to keep the exchange as low-key as possible, since punishment or even well-intended chatter simply rewards the behavior. The dullness of your interactions should dissuade your child from their continuous tries to engage with you by hopping out of bed. If done consistently, this method tends to yield positive results rather quickly.
Some parents also add a baby gate in front of the door, which creates a more limiting physical boundary but still feels more accessible and less scary than a closed door.
It’s pretty unbelievable what a toddler will do for a sticker. A sticker chart may work wonders for a toddler struggling with bedtime drama. You could give them one sticker to add to their chart if they cooperate with the routine and another to add the next morning if they stayed in bed all night.
Consider Adding Consequences
If your toddler is getting out of bed due to a nightmare or genuine anxiety, you’ll certainly want to console and reassure your little one that they're safe. But repeated getting-out-of-bed behavior is often simply a discipline problem. This is why some parents choose to respond with consequences.
For a consequence to be most effective, it needs to be immediate. Warning your child that they won’t get any iPad time tomorrow afternoon won’t work. The consequence is delayed, and they can’t connect it with the behavior.
For this reason, some families use shutting the door as a consequence. For example, parents may agree to keep the door open as long as the toddler stays in bed. If they get up once, it may get closed halfway. Getting up a second time may result in the door being shut for a full minute or two, then starting the process over.
This method doesn’t work for every family. Not all parents like it, and some children don’t react well. Use your own best judgment about implementing this suggestion.
Make Their Space Relaxing
Your toddler’s room should be a relaxing space that invites sleep. Ideally, they should sleep in a room that is reserved for sleeping. In other words, no screens in the room, even when it's not bedtime. Use blackout curtains to keep the space dark and cool. Some parents use soft music and a soothing projector or nightlight to offer a little extra comfort. Others opt for a fan or white noise machine to muffle any noises that may distract a toddler from sleeping.
Some children benefit also from using a special toddler clock that changes color when it’s alright to get out of bed. If your little one knows their numbers, you can simply use a regular digital clock and just cover the last two digits so that only the hour is showing. Then they’ll know that when they see a six, for example, it’s time to get up.
Consult Your Pediatrician
If your toddler is regularly failing to sleep and you can’t figure out a reason, consider contacting your pediatrician. They may discover health issues you are not able to identify on your own. They can also guide you to best practices and offer further advice.
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