Struggling when your toddler will not stay in bed? Learn 7 effective tips on how to keep a toddler in bed (and stay there the whole night).
Getting your child to stay in bed all night has been a challenge. You’ve tried positive reinforcement. You’ve crafted a rewards chart with stickers. You’ve even threatened her with punishment. But you still wonder how to stop your toddler from sleeping in your bed.
Sure, you run through the bedtime routine. And she’ll even fall asleep after you’ve turned off the lights.
But at least once a night for the past several weeks, she wakes up for various reasons: She wants water. She needs a band-aid. And sometimes she’ll even tantrum.
How to keep a toddler in bed
You’re at your wits end. You can’t function, your work is suffering and your temper is short. All these shenanigans are making the whole household—including your other kids—miserable.
What else is there to do? Fortunately for you, plenty.
Don’t bend to your toddler’s requests
A middle-of-the-night waking isn’t the time to oblige your child’s every request. And ask they do, from wanting to sleep in your bed to finding their stuffed animal to reading more books.
These requests can be genuine, but they can also stem from their desire to test your boundaries. Just how far can I get away with this? they might wonder.
Unless the situation calls for it (potty accidents, feeling sick or scared), walk her back to bed. Keep things subdued. Even discipline is attention rewarded for her nighttime wakings.
Prevent the wakings in the first place
If you’re finding a common theme with what wakes your child up in the middle of the night, try beating her to the punch.
- Does she ask for water or say she’s thirsty? Leave a sippy cup by her bed.
- Is she awake from hunger? She should eat enough during dinner time (this also prevents crankiness!).
- Does she get up to pee and can’t fall back asleep? Limit how much liquids she can have in the evenings.
- Is her bed and room uncomfortable? Consider what it feels like to sleep and stay in bed all night. If her pillows bunch up and the mattress is lumpy, find ways to make her bed and room more conducive for sleep.
Sometimes what seems like incessant, useless gripes turns out to be genuine concerns. Don’t wait for your child to reach that point. Prepare her sleeping arrangements to avoid those issues to begin with.
Tire your toddler out
Help your child stay in bed all night by tiring her out during the day. My four-year-old and I will be reading bedtime books, and I’ll hear the most amazing sound:
Then I know he has expelled enough energy during the day to feel tired in the evenings. When kids have way too much zing and it’s 10 minutes until light’s out, they may not sleep through the night.
Use a good part of the day for activity. Children shouldn’t remain sedentary for more than hour at a time. Your child shouldn’t sit in front of the television or even in the same place reading a book for more than an hour.
Instead, she should take breaks and switch between rest and activity throughout the day.
Time your toddler’s naps and bedtimes well
Schedule nap times so they’re not too close to bedtime. Aim for a good two to three hours of awake time between their last nap and bedtime. Otherwise they won’t feel sleepy to actually fall asleep.
On the flip side, consider extending your child’s bedtime. If she’s in bed by 6:30, you might have better luck if she slept around 7:30 or 8pm. She may not be tired enough if her bedtime is too early.
Want to determine whether your child is ready to drop a nap? Download my FREE printable, Transitioning to Fewer Naps! Use it to record when your child is likely ready to take one less nap (hint: 5 days in a row is a good indicator!). Download it below:
Have you ever had a meaningful conversation while you’re half-asleep? Me neither. Hold off on doling discipline during these middle-of-the-night wakings.
Your child isn’t coherent enough to understand the impact of her behaviors. Telling her she can’t go to a party if she doesn’t stay in bed all night doesn’t mean much. She’ll have a hard time tying in what going to bed has to do with going to a party the next day.
She’s also half-asleep (even if she may not sound like it). She’s not making profound decisions during these teachable moments. Any lessons you want to teach will likely get lost.
Or you’re half-asleep, which can lead you to say things you’ll later regret. You might not follow through with consequences. You might say harsh words. And you might lose your temper.
Instead, follow the above advice and ignore your child’s requests. Keep things subdued.
If she needs to tantrum, comfort her or give her space, but don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a battle. Now isn’t the time. The more attention you give this scenario, the more she’ll assume it’s fine to stay up.
Save it for tomorrow, when you’re both fully present.
Find underlying reasons
Kids’ gripes aren’t always as petty as they seem. Take, for instance, your child’s relentless requests to read a book. It’s just a book, you might think.
But she still wants you to read to her during the most inconvenient times. An argument ensues, a tantrum explodes, and this petty thing has become a battle.
But the reasons aren’t always so superficial. Wanting to read could spell your child’s need for genuine attention. One you may not have been giving because she’s noticed you’re stressed or sick. Or she could be afraid and can’t or won’t admit it.
Before you write off these frustrating episodes as yet another petty excuse, ask why. What changes are going on in your household? I notice that stressful events in my life coincide with how often my four-year-old acts up. Coincidence perhaps, but something tells me it’s not.
Understand your child’s needs. These middle of the night wakings may not just be about sleep. You’ll also grow more empathetic to her struggles. They seem insignificant if you only see it as a request for water or play time. But on a deeper level, they can signal a different need.
Talk to your doctor
I’m one of those people that relies on my kids’ pediatrician for any concerns I can’t seem to resolve on my own. If your child is chronically failing to sleep without problems, consider calling her doctor.
She might help you uncover health issues you may not be able to pinpoint on your own. And she could point you to best practices and offer further advice.
It doesn’t hurt to ask for help, and doctors are a great resource for any issues that baffle you.
Get more tips about helping your child stay in bed all night:
- 9 Children’s Books about Bedtime
- 6 Tips on Helping Your Child Sleep in Their Own Bed
- How to End Bedtime Battles and Get Your Child to Finally Sleep
- 3 Mom Tricks to Help Kids Stay in Bed
- Keep Your Child in Their Bed
What are your tips on how to keep a toddler in bed? Have you experienced something similar with your young kids? What worked, and what didn’t?
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