Lisa Eaton, MSW, LCSW, CADC
Agor Behavioral Health Services, Inc.
How Can I Encourage a Toddler to Stay in Bed Until Morning?
The bedtime routine with toddlers is a common struggle for many parents. This situation can be extremely exhausting for parents, and for children too. Especially those of us who have to get up early and go to work all day the next day. In the end, we often feel like just giving in to whatever our toddler’s demand are, because it is often easier than fighting the nightly battle with them. But, then we know that just perpetuates the cycle, and we are then back to square one – often more tired, frazzled, and sometimes hopeless. There is hope – I promise, but it does take some work on the front-end. However, what I know to be the case is that if you put in some extra work on the front-end, it will pay dividends in the long-run, and everybody should sleep better! That means you have to be firm and consistent.
First, we have to look at potential underlying causes, as there are many reasons that a toddler will struggle to stay in their own bed all night long. Let’s review a few steps to get you going on finding some relief in this process:
Step 1: Explore potential reasons why your child continues to get out of bed.
– Talk with your child in an age-appropriate and exploring kind of way about potential fears and other feelings your child might be experiencing at bedtime.
– Remember, young children developmentally cannot talk to us about feelings like adults talk about feelings – they need us to be patient with them and help them to feel safe when talking about feelings. Sometimes, using toys or drawings can help children communicate how they are feeling.
– If your child shares with you they are scared about something and this is why they continue to get out of bed, spend some time talking to your child about these fears, again through the use of toys and art.
– Sometimes, just expressing their fears and getting reassurances from you can help your child feel better.
Step 2: Plan ahead.
– Allot some time in the bedtime routine for a last potty break or last water break, etc.
– This can help eliminate the validity of later requests, and well as let your child know that these type of breaks will not be allowed at a later time (e.g., after they are in bed).
Step 3: Establish expectations for your child.
– Using age-appropriate language, explain to your child what is expected of them at bedtime (i.e., that they stay in bed until it is time to get up in the morning).
– Children need tangible things to help them understand time and space, so the use of pictures and a child-friendly alarm clock can be helpful to let them know when it is time to get out of bed, and when it is still time to stay in bed.
– Continue to ignore their requests if they get out of bed (unless, of course, there is a true need or safety issue).
– Stay firm with this! Children will test you the first several times, even for the first many times. However, when they learn that their requests will not result in any attention from you, they will return to their beds.
Step 4: Reward compliance.
– Some children will need extra motivation to follow the rules related to bedtime.
– If this is the case for your child, create a sticker chart (again, we want to be visual with our toddlers), where the child earns a sticker for each night they stay in their bed all night long.
– Identify a reward your child can earn the next morning or during the day for following the rule to stay in bed.
– This reward should not be anything that you have to buy, but rather things that your toddler likes or likes to do at home that you know will motivate them.
– Keep in mind to keep the rewards fairly immediate for toddlers.
– If the child gets out of bed, they do not earn a sticker for the night, and, therefore, do not earn their reward.
Try to have fun with this! Make the bedtime routine fun, and their sleeping environment a safe, cozy place to be. Sell the idea to your child that staying in their bed all night is what “big kids” do. Make a big deal out of staying in bed all night, and you could very well change the tone of bedtime. And that way, the child may feel less like they are missing out on something that the grown-ups are doing, and more excited about falling asleep in their own room.