It’s never easy when your 5 year old won’t stay in bed or go to sleep alone at night. Check out 8 tips to turn this sleep regression around!
For some parents, the early hours of bedtime are a welcome relief to finally end the day and catch some rest. But for many others, bedtime has morphed into an hours-long chore trying to keep their child in bed.
Perhaps you’ve been trying to establish boundaries and get your child to sleep in her own bed, but she absolutely refuses to. The minute you close the door, she opens it to walk to you. She’ll even make you feel guilty by asking—in a baby voice, no less—to cuddle and hug her to sleep.
Even if she does manage to stay in her room, she gets out of bed to turn on all the lights. She’ll grab books off the shelves, toss her blanket all over the floor, and make a mess of the room. All to let you know that she simply isn’t having any of this.
And it seems like every night ends with either you bringing her into your room to sleep, or in a complete meltdown where she passes out in exhaustion.
The worrisome part? She isn’t a mere toddler anymore—she’s 5 years old. At this point, it feels like she’s too old to be going through this phase.
When your 5 year old won’t stay in bed
What do you do when getting your child to stay in bed has been going on long enough? This age can make bedtime tantrums more challenging, from her ability to open doors (over and over) to her nonstop “negotiating.”
When nothing seems to stop these sleep issues, it’s tempting to cave into her demands, whether it’s to sleep in your room or stay up all night. And with these bad habits firmly ingrained, she may not outgrow them any time soon.
So, what do you do when your 5 year old won’t stay in bed? Let’s dive into a few practical ideas to turn things around:
1. Explain the plan
Long before you tuck your child into bed, start talking about what you’re going to be doing at night—as early as during the day. This is more practical than explaining that he needs to stay in bed in the thick of a power struggle when you’re both exhausted.
During the day, you might say, “I know you’ve been getting out of bed to stay up and play, but that’s actually not helping you get the rest you need. Tonight, we’ll make sure that you stay in bed so you can get enough sleep.”
And include details so that he knows what to expect. “After we read our bedtime stories, I’ll kiss you good night, turn off the lights, and close the door. You’ll stay in bed until I come to get you tomorrow morning.”
You can also teach him what to do if he wakes up in the middle of the night. Sometimes, we assume that kids should know what to do. You might say, “If you wake up in the middle of the night, you can hug your pillow, pull your blanket up to your neck, and keep your eyes closed. Soon, you’ll fall back asleep.”
He has fewer reasons to revert to his old habits when he has a clear plan of what to expect. After all, you can’t blame him for holding his ground when your old habits are all he has ever known. And at 5 years old, he’s more verbal and capable of communicating than when he was younger.
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2. Create a conducive sleep environment
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Sometimes the best way to implement new sleep habits is to start with the environment. Make sure that your child’s room is set up to help him stay in bed.
- Place a digital clock in his room so that he knows when he can get out of bed. If he needs to stay in bed until 7am the next morning, let him know that he can’t get out until he sees “7” on the clock. You can even tape over the minutes to make it even clearer.
- Use white noise to muffle sounds outside the room. Absolute silence means he can hear everything. Any little noise can also startle him awake. White noise, whether from a white noise machine, a fan, a heater, or even an app, can keep those sounds at bay.
- Hang darkening curtains to block light. During summer months, sunlight could still be peeking through the windows as late as 8pm. Curtains can keep the room dark, which can help him fall and stay asleep.
- Use a weighted blanket. These thick blankets are perfect not only for keeping him warm during colder months but can help him feel snug and tight.
- Give him a special stuffed animal. A soft toy can be the perfect sleep buddy to comfort and keep him company.
3. Have the whole family transition to bedtime
One reason your child might not want to stay in bed is FOMO, or the “fear of missing out.” This is especially true if you, and perhaps older siblings, are still awake long past her bedtime. Falling asleep feels unfair when everyone else is still awake and, in her mind, having fun.
To help her feel like she isn’t missing out, have the whole family transition to bedtime right alongside her.
Now, this doesn’t mean that everyone is asleep by 8pm, but everyone can start to wind down for the night and do the same activities.
For instance, you could also brush your teeth, take a shower, and change into your pajamas. You can load the dishwasher, pack the next day’s lunch, or clean the kitchen counters. Maybe it’s as simple as reading a book to yourself while she reads one, too.
And try not to use devices before bedtime. Screens, from video games to television, can stimulate her too much that she has a harder time falling asleep.
With everyone getting ready for bed one way or another, she doesn’t feel singled out for going to sleep.
4. Have a regular bedtime routine
Diffuse power struggles by implementing routines, especially for bedtime. By doing the same things at the same time every night, your child has fewer reasons to put up a fight. She begins to see these steps and rituals as normal, so much so that she might do them on her own (or at least expect them to happen).
So, what makes a good bedtime routine?
- Start at the same time every night. If the bedtime routine starts with brushing her teeth, set a specific time to brush her teeth (for instance, at 6:45pm every night). Don’t start at 6:45pm one night, then 7:30pm the next.
- Do the same activities in the same order. Now that you have a start time for the bedtime routine, the next thing is to do your bedtime activities in the same order. Let’s say you brush her teeth, bathe and dress her, read bedtime books, turn off the lights and say good night as part of your routine. Make sure you do those activities in the same order. For instance, don’t swap reading books as the first thing you do when you should start by brushing her teeth.
5. Read bedtime stories about staying in bed
One of my favorite ways to tackle issues in parenting is to find children’s books related to those topics. Books about bedtime are fine, but read those specifically with characters who struggle with staying in bed.
By reading books about staying in bed, your child can identify and relate to those characters and perhaps find solutions on his own. He can see an “outside perspective” of his situation without feeling scolded or disciplined.
Here are a few of our favorites to check out:
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems
- I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed by Lauren Child
- Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy by Drew Daywalt and Scott Campbell
6. Catch your child right when he gets out of bed
Don’t wait for your 5-year-old to open the door to your room before you tell him to stay in bed. Instead, tell him to stay put the second he makes a move to get out.
How? Use a baby monitor.
Set up the baby monitor in his room so that you can see what he’s up to in bed. The minute he starts to get up, talk into the baby monitor so that he can hear you from his room. A simple “Stay in bed” can be enough to stop him from fully getting out.
This can nip it in the bud much sooner than if he were to expend the energy to get out of bed, open the door, and come to you. Do it frequently enough and hopefully, he’ll get the point that you’ll remind him to stay in bed the moment he starts to get out.
7. Praise your child the next morning
We sometimes focus so much on correcting our kids’ challenging behaviors that we forget the best way to change them is to focus on the positive ones. We’re more motivated to keep going when we hear all the ways we’re doing well than the ways we’re not.
Yep, even if that meant your child cried for hours and practically tore the door down (only to collapse in a heap on the floor). There’s always something positive to celebrate the next morning.
You might say, “You fell asleep in your own room!” Or “It’s hard trying something new, but you got through a whole night on your own.” Or “You played quietly in the morning and waited for us to get you!”
Celebrate the small moments. She might even be taken aback by the positive reinforcement when all she had been hearing are admonitions about her behavior.
8. Final note: consistency is key
I’m a firm believer that you should do what works for you. After all, what works for one family may not for another. There truly is no one-size-fits-all solution, especially with parenting.
But I also believe that, whatever you decide to do, you should also be consistent with it for a while. Changing methods (“Okay, you can sleep in our bed—just for tonight!”) only sends mixed messages and set you back farther than you hoped for.
In other words, it may not be that all the things you’ve tried in the past haven’t worked. It’s that you may not have been consistent long enough to see them work in the first place.
This doesn’t mean you’re bound to a method and can’t change. But if you do decide to change a strategy, make sure it’s with intention and purpose (and not because you’re sleep-deprived and frustrated at 2am).
It’s never easy when your 5 year old won’t stay in bed, especially when you worry she won’t ever outgrow this phase and she isn’t getting much sleep. But thankfully, you now have some tips to help you turn things around.
Start by going over the “plan” with her early in the day, giving specific details of what she can expect and what she can do if she wakes up. Create a conducive sleeping environment so that her surroundings help her fall asleep.
Have the whole family transition to bedtime in one way or another so she doesn’t feel singled out or that she’s missing anything. Keep a consistent bedtime routine that not only starts at the same time every night, but goes in the same order, too.
Read children’s books specifically about staying in bed so she can relate to the characters. Once you’ve tucked her in, use a baby monitor to remind her to stay in bed the second she starts to get out. The next morning, praise her for a job well done, no matter how challenging the previous night had gone.
And lastly, remember that consistency is key. Give whatever new strategies you try enough time to take hold instead of switching back and forth, even when it gets rough.
Now you can finally get a good night’s sleep—and your evenings don’t have to be an hours-long chore any longer.
Get more tips:
- Consequences for Bedtime Battles that Work
- When to Transition from a Toddler Bed to a Twin Bed
- Your Cheat Sheet Guide to Handling Tantrums
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