After a long day is finally bed time. Your toddler is in bed, you kiss him goodnight and you leave the room walking on tiptoe. All seems quiet… but before long, you hear a patter of little footsteps. She’s out of bed, and she doesn’t return. So begins the nightly boomerang game of in, out, in, out… Find out how to keep a toddler in a crib.
When can this sleep problem begin?
For many of us, this moment usually comes when we move a toddler out of his cot into a bed – around the age of 2-3. It’s no surprise that almost all mums feel worried about moving their toddler from a cot to a bed. Will he start climbing out of bed, disrupting your evenings and nights? Plus, we all have heard some real horror stories about toddlers getting out of bed during the night.
It’s only natural for a toddler who has just got his own bed to want to experiment with getting out – now that he can.
When we should transition a toddler from a cot to a bed.
The good news is that this is just a phase and it shouldn’t last long. The harder part is that you’ll need to be firm and not give in.
If you admit defeat into a toddler who repeatedly gets out of bed by letting him stay in the living room or your bedroom (because let’s face it, it’s easier), it’s going to be payback time the next night, and the one after that.
So what do you need to do?
7 ways to help your toddler stay in bed
1. Be consistent
The only way to help your toddler in solving this sleep problem is consistency. Every time he gets up, you have to take him back to his own bed with as little interaction as possible.
Initially, this may mean staying outside his door and being prepared to take him straight back to bed when he comes out. A good book or browsing on your phone may help during your stakeout. You need to just remain calm and keep returning your little one to bed as many times as it takes. Eventually, he will get fed up and realize that he is not going to win this one. If you give in sometimes, then it will make his determination much stronger. It can wear you down, make you tired and frustrate you, but stick to it and I am sure things will pick up.
2. Do not make it feel like a fun new game
Toddlers look for an emotional response from mum or dad interesting – and they will most likely repeat the performance if they have the impression that they are playing a game. Be firm and calm – and show your child that in this case there is no room for negotiation. You will win through patience, not by raising your voice.
3. Explain what you are doing
It is possible to reason (to some extent) with a 3-year-old, unlike with a younger child. Start by talking with your child about why it’s important and actually lovely to go to sleep. You should also explain what will happen if she refuses to stay in bed. Have a two-way conversation with your child about it. Assure the child that if he does what’s write and makes good choices at bedtime, there will be rewards. Avoid getting sucked into a long conversation at bedtime about why your child needs to go to sleep, as your toddler might see this as a brilliant opportunity for just a bit more time to stay up. They are extremely clever.
4. Talk to you toddler about the bedtime routine during the day
It can be especially helpful to talk to your child about his bedtime routine at another time of day. Pick a moment when he is calm and attentive. Go in as much detail as you can about what proper behavior should look like at bedtime. You can read him books with illustrations about this topic or you may even want to encourage him to draw the routine and put it by his bed. He could win a reward sticker every time he follows his picture.
5. Create rules
It is a great idea to make a poster of simple sleep rules with your toddler. This can help your child feel he has his own rules, but they’re also part of the family rules. Again, you can use sticker rewards to congratulate him each time he does well.
6. Use a treat rewards system
A rewards system for going to bed without crying and without getting out of bed can work like a charm. A treat can be an extra 10 mins in the bath, an extra 20 pushes on the swings or a made-up story.
You can also use a sticker chart system to help your toddler visually track his progress. For example, if he can get 5 stickers on his chart, he will win a reward. Find what they really like and you’ll be surprised to see how well they will cooperate.
7. The denial technique
This is the technique you may find you turn to when nothing else seems to be working. It is more negative but it can work, as long as you do it firmly and fairly. You can take away a favorite toy for a day (though not at bedtime, if that toy is necessary for cuddling). Less stressful (possibly) could be refusing a favorite TV programme. You’ll need to give your child a clear warning and then follow through – but you can do it gently.
Make sure your toddler is safe if he can get in and out of bed
Assure yourself that your toddler remains safe when he climbs in and out of his bed by pushing his bed against the wall on one side and using a bed guard on the other. A bed guard will also prevent him from falling out. Keep toys and other floor clutter to a minimum so that he doesn’t trip in the dark. If he has been in a sleeping bag, buy him a duvet or quilt instead, as attempting to climb or walk in a sleeping bag could lead to a fall.