Remember the day that your baby starting sleeping through the night? I personally found this day to be completely life changing. When I finally started sleep training and my little girl began sleeping 10-12 hours a night and taking long restful naps during the day, it felt like nothing short of a miracle. And conversely, when my baby wasn’t so much of a baby anymore and had learned to walk and talk, and more importantly, to test some boundaries, and started leaving the bedroom in the night, I was apprehensive to say the least. But fortunately, as a baby & toddler sleep consultant, knew just what to do. I am going to share my tips for exactly what to do when your child keeps getting out of bed at night. This is your step-by-step guide for how to keep toddlers in bed at night.
2 to 4 Year Old Bedtime Battles
A toddler of preschooler leaving their bedroom may sound harmless. But if it happens often enough, it can be every bit as hard on parents and children as constant night waking. And toddlers and preschoolers can be incredibly persistent when they’re trying to get their way.
It’s so hard on us as moms if our sleep is interrupted. And it’s even harder on your little one if they’re not getting enough sleep. Your 2 – 5 year old should be getting between 10 -12 hours of sleep at night. Check out our blog on the importance of sleep to learn why it’s essential that your child is getting the sleep they need.
The thing that makes this scenario trickier than sleep training a baby is that your little one, by this age, has probably learned a few negotiating tactics. I’m not saying this in a negative way. But toddlers and preschoolers quickly learn how to manipulate people. It’s not that they’re malicious or conniving. It’s just human nature. We test behaviors and actions to see if they get us what we’re after. And when we find something that works, we tend to use it repeatedly.
You know those 2 to 4 year old bedtime battles I’m talking about. Asking for a glass of water gets mom back into the room. Or asking to use the bathroom may help to satisfy their curiosity about what’s going on outside of your room after hours. Asking for a new pacifier because they can’t find the one you gave them at bedtime. If your toddler still relies on the pacifier for sleep, check out some tips for how to get rid of the pacifier at night. And if that strategy worked once, they’re likely to use the same approach every time.
Of course yelling is just going to upset everyone. And giving in will just encourage more of the same behavior. So, what to do when your child keeps getting out of bed? How to keep toddlers in bed without letting the situation escalate?
What To Do When Your Child Keeps Getting Out of Bed
Let’s great this into 7 steps for how to get kids to stay in bed. Here’s exactly what to do when your child keeps getting out of bed & how to keep toddlers in bed all night:
- Set sleep rules
- Give 1 warning if they’re not following the rules
- Communicate there will be a consequence if they leave their room again
- Choose the right consequence for your child
- Implement that consequence
- Reward good behavior
- Stay consistent
We need to start off by setting some ground rules and communicate these to your child. How will they know that is expected of them when they go into their bed if they aren’t aware of what the rules are? So tell them several times throughout the day, that when they go to bed at night, they’re expected to stay in their bed.
If they don’t, it’s fair to always give one warning before implementing a consequence for unwanted behavior. If your child leaves their room, ask them why they’re not in bed. Assuming the answer isn’t because they’re not feeling well, (which can often be a ruse, but should always be at least addressed and checked out before calling it such) then you can calmly but firmly tell them that they’re not allowed out of their room until morning. Hopefully, that does the trick.
More than likely, it won’t. And you’re going to wonder how to keep toddlers in bed.
Because more than likely they will show up in the living room again. They’ll say that they forgot to tell you something. Or their water is too warm. Or that they can’t find their stuffed animal (which is, of course, in their hand when they say this). Then it’s time to choose a consequence and implement it.
How to Get Kids to Stay In Bed
And now you’re probably asking, what is the right consequence for how to get kids to stay in bed? I’ve had a lot of parents tell me, “I know I need to discipline him somehow. I know that’s how to keep toddlers in bed. But I don’t want it to be anything that will upset him.”
I totally understand this line of thinking. But really, what is a consequence if it’s not something unpleasant? How is it ever going to dissuade unwanted behavior if it isn’t somehow disagreeable?
The simple answer is, it won’t. The trick for how to get kids to stay in bed is to find a balance between something that your child doesn’t mind and something that really throws them into a tailspin. Because we don’t want to traumatize anyone here. We’re just looking for something unpleasant enough to dissuade the behavior. Check out this article from Mom Loves Best for a breakdown of discipline vs. punishment and how discipline gives your child skills for life.
Of course, every child is different and no one consequence works for everyone. But one of the most effective consequences I’ve found for how to get kids to stay in bed is as simple as closing a door.
In fact, that’s the trick.
Yep, that’s it right there. Simply closing the bedroom door is what to do when your child keeps getting out of bed at night.
There’s something about having the bedroom door closed all the way until it latches that toddlers really seem to dislike. You don’t have to do it for long. Just a minute for the first offence, then bump it up by thirty seconds or so every time your toddler leaves their room that night.
Choose the Right Consequence for how to keep toddlers in bed
Like I said, this is a form of consequence. And if your child doesn’t like it, well, that’s kind of the point, right? So if they cry a little, you’ll have to ride it out. If they try to open the door, you’re going to have to hold it closed. Let them throw a fit, but don’t give in. If you do, all you’re teaching them is that they just need to hit the protest long and hard in order to get their way. And that’s going to make things significantly worse and is not how to keep toddlers in bed.
If your toddler already sleeps with the door closed, you can try taking away their lovey, stuffed animal or blanket following the same time pattern as you would with the door-closing technique. A minute on the first go-round, thirty seconds more if it happens again, and so on. Before too long, they should start to recognize the negative consequences of leaving their room. And they’ll stay in bed unless they have an actual issue.
How To Keep Toddlers In Bed All Night
That covers the night, but what about the morning? How to get toddlers to stay in bed all night long? We’ve all gotten that surprise visit from our little ones at 5:00 AM, asking us if it’s morning yet. And you really can’t hold that against them. Chances are that they legitimately woke up and didn’t know if it was time to get out of bed or not.
If you have a few bucks to spare, you can get yourself an OK-To-Wake clock, or something similar. There were a couple of dozen on there the last time I checked and they range from about $25 to $50. These little clocks are how to keep toddlers in bed until you’re ready to start morning. They shine a soft light that’s one color through the night, and another when it’s time to get Up. Just stay away from any that shine blue light, as it simulates sunlight. It can stimulate cortisol production and make it tougher to get back to sleep.
Or, if you want to save your money, and your toddler knows their numbers, you can do what I did and just get a digital clock and put some tape over the minutes, leaving just the hour showing. Tell them it’s not time to get up until they see the “magic seven” on the clock. Don’t set the alarm though. If they’re able to sleep past seven o’clock, you don’t want them waking up with a jolt when the alarm suddenly goes off.
Consistency is Key
These are just a couple of options for how to get kids to stay in bed. And they may not work with every toddler. You may have to try out a few different approaches before you find something that sticks, but what isn’t optional is consistency.
You absolutely have to stick to your guns once you’ve given the warning. Your toddler may not know how to tie their shoes yet, but they can spot an empty threat a mile away. They’re gifted like that, and they don’t mind systematically testing the boundaries to see if the rules are still in place night after night.
Be patient, be calm, but be firm and predictable. Once they realize that you’re not giving in, you’ll be free to break out the good snacks and turn on Netflix without fear of being discovered.
If your toddler has followed their sleep rules from the night before, you can celebrate their success by giving them a small reward. Rewards can help to provide extra incentives for your child to make the right choices.
Need Help With HOw to get toddlers to stay in bed?
Are they still sneaking into your bed in the middle of the night? As a toddler sleep consultant, I help families create a detailed, step-by-step customized sleep plan that will work for your family with my toddler sleep packages. Every child is different and what works for one family doesn’t always work for another. When you choose to work with me, you’ll have access to your toddler sleep expert on a daily basis for 3 whole weeks to answer all your questions and concerns that come up along the way. We’ll be adjusting you child’s sleep plan as needed to ensure that your child is sleeping through the night in their own bed within 3 weeks! If you feel like you’ve tried everything to keep your child in bed but nothing has stuck, then let’s hop on a call. Schedule your free 15-minute sleep evaluation today to get started.
To healthy sleep,
Founder of Live Love Sleep
Certified Baby Sleep Consultant