I have no idea. End of post.
Ok, kidding. While I am not confident that I can claim “this is 100% how you get your toddler to stay in bed,” I do have experience on the topic and some advice to lend; because my 3 year old has drug me through the trenches on this one.
Let me start off by saying, I have excellent sleepers. All 3 of them sleep through the night and have for a very long time. My daughter took 3 months before she slept 5 hours in a row, but my boys were pros much earlier than that. And once they learned how to sleep, they stuck with it (save for a short stage of night terrors for my oldest when she was about 18 months). It’s a good thing, because this lady (as in, me) needs her sleep!
Even now, I rarely get up at night with my 3, 5 or 7 year old unless they are sick or have had a bad dream. We put them to bed, say our prayers, kiss them goodnight and don’t see them until morning (yes, it’s glorious).
So when we transitioned our 3 year old from a crib to a toddler bed and he was able get out on his own, things got rocky. We went through about a week or two of him getting up out of bed after we put him down – but only at naptime. He wasn’t making excuses or getting angry, he just didn’t want to go to sleep and thought he was super funny for getting up… I would just take him back to bed and spew the typical mom threats. Sometimes he would fall asleep and take a nap and sometimes I gave up. But after a couple of weeks, it stopped and we were good to go. Or so, I thought.
Then all of a sudden, he decided he wasn’t going to stay in bed at night. Time after time he would get up and giggle, and as soon as we moved toward him, he would run back to bed. It happened night after night after night and I was losing my mind. It could take us an hour before he finally tuckered out and we had some peace.
I tried all the typical things. Threats. Taking things away. A sticker chart. Nothing worked. He simply didn’t care when he got punished and stickers with a prize at the end were no motivation. So I started doing some deeper research and we developed a plan.
Here’s what we did…
Get your Toddler to Stay in Bed: The Plan
1. Team Work: First and foremost, my husband and I developed our plan and we both stuck to it. We also took turns each night with the routine so that we could each get a break. It is VERY important to be on the same page when dealing with behavioral issues, if not for the child then for your combined sanity. I’ve read some blogs that suggested it be the same parent that does the routine each night for consistency, but there was no way I could tackle this alone. It was too exhausting.
2. No More Naps: We stopped giving naps in the afternoon. He was still a great napper, so losing that 1-2 hour nap was heartbreaking to me, but it made him more tired and willing to go to sleep at the end of the night.
3. Nightly Routine: We developed a nightly routine that was short (about 10-15 minutes) but consistent. Each night we brushed teeth, got our pajamas on, read a book, said our prayers and said goodnight. It was always the same.
4. Not Engaging: Once he was in bed, we left the door cracked open so we could see each other and we sat outside his door, but did not pay attention to him. If he got out of bed, we got up and put him back in without talking. This continued until he finally fell asleep and we would shut the door and be done for the night. Sometimes it took 10 minutes, sometimes it took over an hour…
Get your Toddler to Stay in Bed: The Struggles
- Here’s the thing. When little man got out of bed, he didn’t get upset when we put him back in. In fact, we rarely got to put him back in because he would run back to bed laughing and jump in. So there was NO satisfaction on our part of “that’s right! you get your butt in bed and I don’t care if you cry!” It was a game to him.
- Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out a way to make this any less of a game. We already weren’t engaging with him, but he didn’t mind. He was having fun all the same. Which made me FURIOUS. But what could I do? I mean, aside from holding him down in bed.
Get your Toddler to Stay in Bed: The First Two Weeks
Over the first week we kept adjusting our physical positioning. When we realized that sitting outside his door wasn’t working, we started sitting inside his room with our back to him. I figured at least that way he wouldn’t get far from bed and maybe he would fall asleep faster when he stopped trying to get up. This didn’t help. So we would move back outside. It ended up changing nightly based on how often he was getting up.
There was a time or two that I lost my temper (I REALLY, REALLY tried not to you guys), and I gave up. On these nights I ended up holding the doorknob closed so he couldn’t get out of his room. This actually FINALLY got a reaction out of him and he would cry and eventually fall asleep on the floor behind the door (which made it hard to move him into his bed later on, since I couldn’t get the door open).
At this point (and we’re several weeks in here), I contemplated switching the doorknob around so that the lock was on the outside at the advice of others. I felt really uneasy about this. Not sure why… I guess it just sounds slightly abusive to lock a child in their room, even though I knew he would be safe and I would unlock it before I went to bed so he could get out in case of emergency. But I also was certain that if he knew he was stuck in there, he would just play or find some way to get in trouble; which wouldn’t solve the problem of him actually going to sleep. In the end, this ended up not being an option anyway, because we actually tried and couldn’t get the doorknob off in order to turn it around. Ah well.
We followed our routine for well over a month; it may have even been two full months. I found myself constantly throwing my hands up and wondering why I couldn’t figure this out. I rarely feel insecure as a parent, but this was one time that I was completely unsure and confused.
Get your Toddler to Stay in Bed: The Ultimate Solution
Do you want to know what actually broke him? Traveling.
We took a trip to my parent’s house over the summer, and I would put him to bed in the guest room by himself and shut the door. He never once tried to get up (even though he cried a couple of times for a minute or so). And when we returned home, the struggle was over. He never tried getting up again. It’s been about two months and he still stays in bed every night.
You guys, I don’t get it. I have no idea what we did right or wrong. Therefore, I don’t have the answer for you! The thing is, I don’t want to claim to know because I feel like every child is different. I tried the same things other moms tried who were actually successful and it didn’t work one bit. So I really don’t think there’s a one-kid-fits-all answer.
However, I do think you can try some of the things we attempted and see how it goes for you. We were persistent and consistent because we didn’t have a choice. This was a battle I felt we needed to wage.
There were times that we had to do our routine with visitors in our home and I was mortified that I had THAT kid and that we had to do this. But it is what it is. And in some way or another, it worked. I do feel like the routine we established was engrained in him enough that when we were away from home and out of his comfort zone, it gave him that final push to give up.
Have you dealt with this? Any advice? Please share, because other moms need to know! And if you are in the midst of this, take heart, mamas. I know how awful it is. I cried many nights because I just wanted him to go to bed. And I wanted to sit down and watch TV with my husband and be done parenting for the day. It is tough, but you WILL make it through, I promise.