After a long hard day, all you want to do is crash onto your bed, close your eyes and drift soundly to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep can be likened to a fleeting vapour in your home, as, once again, you awake to the sound of your sweet toddler whispering your name… at 1 a.m. Sound familiar? Join the club. There are millions of parents around the globe seeking answers as to why their toddler keeps getting out of bed in middle of night hours.
Nevertheless, things can change, and, to be frank, they have to, because you need your sleep just as much as anyone else. So, why does getting toddler to stay in bed have to be so exceptionally hard?
Why Does My Toddler Get Out of Bed at Night?
First and foremost, breathe, parents! Things will be okay.
Though it seems like this ongoing battle will never end, we can assure you that it will. Having said that, there is, most assuredly, a reason behind your little one getting out of bed at night, and not all of it is their fault. Nor is it all yours.
Let us Explain
If your child keeps getting out of bed, the reasons why often vary.
- If your child is relatively young, he or she may not be used to the aspect of having the choice to roam around when you aren’t there. Now, in their own room and with their own bed, they’re likely going to take advantage of the fact that they can go where they want and when they want… even if it is back into your room.
- Another common reason that a toddler keeps getting out of bed is to check out the hustle and bustle of what is going on, without them. Bright lights, the telly blaring and sounds of chatter are enough to lure any child from their bed.
- And yet, there is another reason that your toddler climbs out of bed. And that’s you. Maybe you’ve given in a few times out of the 365 days of the year, and your child remembers it. Just like a slot machine, there is always that one chance that you’ll give in and they’ll actually win. And that’s enough to keep your child hanging on, especially if you’ve caved in, recently.
- Last, but not least, we don’t want to neglect that fact that, sometimes, there really are legitimate reasons for your kiddo hopping out of the sack. Maybe their throat was hurting or they really do have to go to the loo. Hey, those things do happen, right? Of course, they do. But bear in mind, these occurrences should not be happening every night, and if they are, it may just be that there is something else looming beneath the surface. It’s your job to uncover what.
What to Do When Your Child Keeps Getting Out of Bed?
If you are tired of the way things have been, it’s time for you to take action. You don’t want to be sleep deprived forever, do you?
We’re here to help. The following are a few of our general recommendations for how to handle when a toddler keeps getting out of bed in middle of night hours.
Prepare for Battle
First off, it is important to check your mentality before tackling how to keep a toddler in bed.
It is absolutely crucial that you, yes you, are mentally and emotionally ready for your child to transition.
This not only applies to your attitude concerning training your child to stay in bed, but also to your own attachment needs, yourself. This is especially true for parents whose children have slept with them since birth. If this is you, it may be time to do some soul searching and ensure that you are, indeed, ready for change.
Once you’ve decided that you’ve had enough and are ready to move forward with the independent sleep process, you must prepare yourself. Preparation is key to staying consistent, and you’ll need to stay consistent to see results. E
xpect a positive outcome, be confident with the measures you are using and don’t be afraid to change up what isn’t working.
Whatever you do, however, don’t cave in! When you do, your child will continue to try you.. again and again.
The Game Plan
There are several ways that you can go about keeping toddler in bed. This way you won’t have to be driven mad by toddler keeps getting out of bed in middle of night issues.
As previously mentioned, you’ll first want to make sure that you’re consistent. This means voicing your expectations ahead and time, and sticking to it. Saying things like, “You get to sleep in your own room tonight” instead of “Do you want to sleep in your own room tonight?” communicates your resolve to your child, and lets them know how you view the situation… as a privilege and not a choice.
Once you’ve communicated this to your child, it will help to set a few ground rules. Do this positively and with an upbeat attitude. Explain the expectations and consequences for getting out of bed with matter-of-fact assurance that lets them know that you’re serious, but still positive about the process.
Once bedtime approaches, it’s time to put a plan to action. Consider any of the following tactics:
- 100 Walks Method: You may remember this one from the beloved Jo Frost of Supernanny, but if you haven’t, be prepared to get stretched to your limit. Though this works, it often requires a great measure of patience as your little one is likely to challenge you about it. To try this method, put your child to bed as you normally would. When your child leaves their bed or room, stand up and walk him or her back to where they were with little to no interaction. For this approach to work, you must stay calm and persistent. Every time your little one comes out, it will be the same. You will stand up, take their hand and place them back in their bed. Fans of Supernanny will know that this does, indeed, work, however, the process can take hours the first night. So, buckle up!
- The Excuse Me Approach: A gentler and less stressful method is to use the “Excuse Me” approach. Using this approach, you will take your child to bed, and commence reading a story, conversing or cuddling with them. As you do this, stop at some point and say, “Excuse me, I have to go do something. Be right back!” Go and wait 1 minute, then come back. A little while later, do and say the same thing, but this time, wait 2 minutes before coming back. Keep doing this at longer and longer intervals until the child gets tired of waiting and falls asleep on his or her own.
- The Rouse and Wake Technique: This approach is popular in the baby arena, but often works with toddlers, as well. Remember the whole “drowsy but awake” pitch from when they were infants? Well, this isn’t quite the same, but it is similar. What you will do is wait until your child falls asleep, and then, around the time that they typically wake up to call for you, gently rouse them out of their sleep. Some even go so far as to take their child to the bathroom during this time. Not wanting to turn on the lights or run water for hand washing after using the potty? Utilise a bathroom night light and give your toddler a quick pump of hand sanitiser before sending them back to bed. By doing this, you will have restarted their sleep cycle so that, instead of waking up at 1:00 or 2:00 am, he or she is soundly asleep…and so are you!
Check Your Attitude
No matter which methods you choose to keep toddler in bed, it is important to check your attitude at the door.
Upon waking up for the day, try not to mention past mistakes to your child from the night before. Instead, continue honing in on your expectations in a positive way before bedtime arrives, and then, follow through, just as you said you would.
Another way to keep positive? Try stopping at your local dollar store and picking out some gifts for your little one to celebrate accomplishments achieved. Not only will it reinforce good behaviour on behalf of your toddler, but it may also lift your spirits as you reward your child for a job well done!
How to Keep Toddler in Bed
The First Night
If you are approaching the very first night in toddler bed, you may be feeling a bit nervous about the process.
Rather than allow yourself to be riddled with anxiety, consider these methods instead:
- First, check your toddler’s bedroom for any potential hazards that he or she may get into while you are sleeping. Though it is a scary thought, it is possible that your toddler could get up in the middle of the night and wander around his or her room at night. To ensure that this is safe, be sure to child-proof any rooms that he or she may have access to before bed, and especially his or her own room. Cover any outlets and make sure that all wires, choking hazards and the like, are out of reach.
- Second, you’ll want to try your hardest to get your toddler excited about sleeping on his or her own. As mentioned before, you can say things like, “You get to sleep in your own room!” rather than, “Do you want to sleep in your own room?” to get your child excited about the process.
- Third, as always, you’ll want to explain your expectations. For this, you may even consider an age appropriate book about transitioning beds or about independence and “growing up”, in general. Once you’ve discussed what your expectations are, choose a method from above or another effective method, and get ready to stick to your guns. Remember, consistency will be key to training your child to sleep, independently.
- Lastly, make the idea of sleeping alone alluring for your child, if you can. You may consider investing in a brand new bed set for your little one, or maybe even a nightlight. Just be sure that the nightlight has a warm glow, or even a red tone if you can find one, as green and blue tones tend to send messages to the brain that it is daytime. And that, dear friends, is a no-go!
Training Toddler to Stay in Bed
We know. You likely shudder at the thought of your toddler roaming about with no supervision, and so do we! To prevent this, consider creatively setting up your child’s bedspace to limit his or her ability to climb, or fall, out of their bed. This might include pushing one side of their bed against the wall, buying protective guardrails, you name it!
In addition to physically blocking your child from potentially escaping his or her bed comes another idea, and that is to use a baby gate to literally keep your child in their room. This, by no means, however, means that they won’t wake you. Yes, your toddler is quite capable of yelling down the hall for you, and you know what? They most likely will. When they do, though, you’ll have several options.
First, you can get up and see about them, but consider doing this after you’ve waited a bit. This lets them know that you aren’t getting up at their every beck and call, right away. When you do get up, remember to limit your interaction with them. You may say something like, “It’s bedtime!” and simply place them back into bed. Or you could say nothing. Either way, they are getting the message that you mean what you say…and it is time to go to sleep.
Another method, if you are up for it, is to use the open door policy. Once your child calls you from the gate, go to them and tell them that they can either stay in bed with the privilege of having the door open, or they can stay in their room with the door shut. It is up to them. Either is a win-win for you, as your toddler will either choose to be quiet or, have you physically shut the door so that they are unable to get out.
Bear in mind that if you do shut the door, it may be wise to invest in a baby monitor of some sort, so that you can at least hear, or see, what shenanigans your little one is up to once you’ve closed their door.
The Two and Three Year Old Toddler
If your 2 year old won’t stay in bed, be aware that his or her newfound independence is at play, along with everything else, making power struggles more intense, and more probable. By implementing the steps above, you can get a leg up on his or her demands, but you must stay persistent. With time, even a toddler of this age will get the hint, and will eventually learn to accept the routine of staying in his or her own bed.
A 3 year old that keeps getting out of bed may be a little more creative than your average 2 year old, and as a result, you may find that he or she is suddenly “not feeling well” or “needs to go potty” more often than usual. To curb this, ensure that all of your little ones needs are met before going to bed. You can even consider creating cue cards for your 3 year old, with words and images included, to help him or her handle their own needs before bedtime, including drinks, restroom, a snack to eat and whatever else they need before dozing off for the night.
Tips for Smooth Baby Sleep
If you suspect that your child is having a rough time winding down to begin with, try some of the following tips to ensure smoother sleep for your toddler or baby:
- Peaceful Routine: Who doesn’t love a predictable routine they can count on before peacefully drifting off to sleep for the evening? Even as adults, many of us tend to thrive off a well-thought out and peaceful nighttime routine, especially if it entails something we look forward to. The same is true of your toddler. When working out a bedtime routine, keep your toddlers interests in mind. While this shouldn’t include things like the iPad, the telly or bright lights, it can include a warm glass of milk with a small snack, cuddle time or a book.
- Warm Bath: You may have already incorporated a warm bath into your child’s nighttime routine, but if you haven’t, it’s worth a shot. The warm water works to relax your little one and will work as a signal that it is time for shut-eye. Add to that age-appropriate lavender scented bath products, and you may be that much closer to a peaceful night’s rest.
- Full Tummy: Before your child goes to bed, you may wish to offer a nutritious snack void of excess sugar to ensure that his or her tummy is full. That way, when he or she tells you they are hungry an hour later, you’ll be much less likely to give in.
- Address Fears: Is your child afraid of the dark? If your child is telling you that he or she is afraid of something at night, talk to him or her about it during the day. You can even go about the house and investigate any of their fears. You may even consider reading a book about facing your fears or the absurdity of nighttime monsters.
- Toilet Time: As always, before bed, make sure that your toddler has emptied his or her bladder or bowels. While you can’t force this to happen, at least you know that you offered this before bed, so your little one shouldn’t be up again 15 minutes later saying that he or she needs to go.
- Free Pass: But what if your toddler really does need to go to the bathroom or really is thirsty? If you are concerned about this, you may try giving your little one a nightly “free pass”. This pass will enable your child to get up once, and only once, to do something he or she wants to do, within reason. And no, watching the telly isn’t a reason.
- Ambiance: Want to set the mood for sleep? Do it with a sound machine, fluffy pillows, room darkening curtains, a nightlight and a comfy bed. Will this ensure that your toddler stays put at night? Probably not. But once he or she is asleep, it may keep them asleep for longer.
- Consider Putting Your Child to Sleep Later: By pushing bedtime 30 minutes to an hour later, you may be doing yourself a favour, as your toddler actually grows sleepier with each passing minute. Not sure how much sleep your toddler should get? There are plenty of online resources to help you get an idea of how much sleep your little one needs to cope the next day.
- Empathise: Last, but certainly not least, there are times when you should totally empathise with your child. Remember, though he or she isn’t necessarily a baby anymore, they are still young and need your comfort. There are times when your child really may be scared, or may be sick. If this is the case, it is perfectly fine to address these issues. Just be sure to use your best judgement to ensure that your child isn’t using it as leverage to get what they want.
Toddler Keeps Getting Out of Bed in Middle of Night: It Can Be Solved
Though it may feel like the chips are stacked against you at times, rest assured that with effort, persistence and positivity, you and your little one can sleep, separately, throughout the night. By keeping your foot planted firmly down, following through and holding your child to expectations, you may begin to see change in as little as a week.
Remember, that although you are in desperate need of sleep and your toddler does need to learn to sleep without you, his or her safety should always be first. Be sure to keep any wires or hazardous situations out of the path of your children, and remember to attend to any legitimate concerns they may have, especially those dealing with illness or injury, at night.
Is your toddler perhaps undergoing sleep adjustment due to travel? We’ve got a post for dealing with toddler jetlag on our blog!