Want to help your toddler stay in bed? Check out these 6 tips to get your child to sleep—and stay—in her own bed the whole night.
After months of sleep deprivation, your toddler finally proved that she could sleep a solid 11 to 12 hours straight.
But just when you thought she’d sleep through the night from now until forever, you’re faced with a new problem: She refuses to stay in her bed.
Right on cue, she creeps into your bed, too afraid to sleep in her own. Other times, she doesn’t want to sleep in her room to begin with, and puts up a fight come bedtime. Even though you’re long past the infant stage, you’re left wondering whether you’ll ever get a solid night of sleep again.
How to help your toddler stay in bed
Rest assured, friend, you’re not alone.
My toddler also wanted nothing to do with sleeping in his room, much less his bed. He’d cry once I closed the door to leave, and I’d wonder if this would ever end. Would I always have to sleep on the floor next to his bed every night from now on?
It was in those moments when I knew something had to change. That he had to learn not only to sleep in his bed, but to feel calm and confident in doing so. If anything, I focused on changing how I responded to his behavior rather than trying to change it.
Thankfully, it worked. He went from frantically pounding on the door to happily sleeping in his own bed. And as you’ll see, it’s not just a matter of “forcing” this sleeping arrangement on him, but learning the cause of his behavior to begin with.
Take a look at several strategies you can try to help your toddler stay in bed:
1. Tame your toddler’s fears
Kids may not want to sleep in their rooms because of fear that keeps them from feeling safe and comfortable.
Your toddler could be afraid of the dark, especially if it’s pitch black from darkening curtains. She could be leery of “monsters” lurking in the room, or unsure of being alone.
Address these nighttime fears while being sensitive to her feelings. For instance, install a night light or move plants around that might be casting scary shadows. Offer a special lovey or stuffed animal that she can sleep with.
No matter how silly or inconvenient her fears may seem, they’re real to her. Don’t say “it’s okay” and dismiss them as petty. Instead, acknowledge them as real and help her find ways to cope with her emotions.
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2. Consider any transitions or changes in your toddler’s life
My son’s refusal to sleep in his room coincided with transitioning him into a toddler bed. No longer feeling safe within the confines of his crib, he instead faced the wider world of his room.
Changes both big and small could be affecting your toddler’s comfort and confidence in staying in bed.
Maybe a new baby in the family is competing for your attention and prompts him to be near you all the time. Perhaps he’s starting school, or has a new child care provider, or has moved to a new home.
Dig into potential insecurities that could be keeping him from staying in bed so you can address them.
3. Offer comfort items
Being apart from you the whole night—however simple a concept to us adults—can feel terrifying to your toddler.
This is when offering a comfort item like a special toy can help. A lovey or stuffed animal can be the “friend” he needs while you’re away. He feels less alone when he can assume companionship from another stuffed animal.
Another comfort item could be white noise. The constant hum of a fan, heater, or a white noise machine can make the room feel less empty. It’ll also muffled sudden noises that could wake or scare him at night.
4. Explain “the plan”
Before placing him in his room and closing the door, give your toddler a head’s up so he knows what to expect. The more familiar he is with the routine, the less surprising bedtime will be.
Starting that afternoon, explain that you’ll be doing things differently from now and explain exactly what will happen. “After bath time, we’ll go to your room, read four books and sing songs. Then we’ll turn off the lights, turn on your night light, kiss good night and close the door.”
He might still feel scared, but at least he’ll know what to expect rather than feel surprised.
5. Find something enjoyable about the bed and room
Encourage your toddler to sleep in her own bed by making her sleep environment fun. A fantastic way to do this is to find something she loves and tie it to her sleeping experience.
For instance, demystify her convertible toddler bed by wrapping a sheet over the rails, making a canopy. Suddenly her bed has morphed into a “house,” a fun place to be in.
Maybe you can outfit her bed with new bedding, especially of her favorite characters or interests. If she loves ladybugs, a new set of sheets with ladybugs will make her bed more comfortable and exciting.
And reinforce the idea that her bed and room are safe places to be. Spend time in her room during the day, and avoid using it as a “time out” area. The more she can see it as a positive place, the more confident she’ll feel even when she’s on her own.
6. Apologize for past habits
We focus so much on our kids when they don’t sleep in their own beds that we forget the role we’ve played in making this happen.
Your toddler has grown used to sleeping in your bed because you’ve allowed her to sleep there. Transitioning her into her own bed and room is a hard ask when this is all she’s experienced for a long time.
Instead, fess up to the role you played and the habits you’ve enabled. Explain how you’ve been allowing her to sleep in your bed, which hasn’t been helping anyone get the sleep they need. Let her know you’re going to make changes so that everyone can rest well at night.
This simple admission of your own “mistakes” makes you and your toddler a team—on the same side and gearing toward the same goal. You’re in this together.
7. Be consistent with a method
Sometimes the most difficult part about instilling change lies in our own inconsistencies. One night you encourage your toddler to sleep in her room only to concede to her endless cries the next. You’re sending mixed messages that will only prolong your end goal.
Instead, hold your ground. Don’t change the expectations and relent with, “Okay, just for tonight.” Decide on what you want to do and stick with it, giving it a week to settle in. Follow through consistently with your word so she takes you seriously. Don’t let her sleep in your bed or you in hers, even if she protests.
For instance, when my son was finally ready to sleep in his own room alone, we did check-ins every few minutes until he fell asleep. The first few nights, he fell asleep near the door, then on the rug, until finally he slept in his bed the whole night.
When your toddler is crying for nights on end or wailing to sleep in your bed instead, consider what you want. If your goal is to get her to sleep in her bed, keep that in mind when you’re about to get mad or bend the rules. Consistency, a positive experience, and showing empathy will get you the sleep you need.
8. Congratulate your toddler the next morning
This is all difficult for your toddler, no matter how easy sleeping in her bed may seem to an adult. The next morning, congratulate her for doing her best (yes, even if she woke up several times or whined and complained).
This is a big step for her, and the best approach is to show empathy and patience, no matter how tired you might feel. Point out a few ways you were proud of her, and continue to encourage and believe that she can sleep independently in her own bed.
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Getting your toddler to sleep in her own bed is possible. Start by finding and discussing any fears she might have about sleeping in a bed, as well as major changes she could be going through. Offer a comfort item like a lovey, and set your expectations, including what you should both do come bedtime.
Create a positive sleeping environment, from new sheets to white noise. Be consistent with the method you choose—being fickle will only send mixed messages.
Fess up to the habits you’ve allowed to happen up to this point, and let her know you’ll do a better job in helping her sleep independently. And finally, congratulate her the following morning, even if she cried the night before. This is a huge step for her, and one that needs to be acknowledged and thanked.
No more sleepless night, friend! Now you can get your toddler to sleep in her own bed—without spending the night camped on the floor next to her.
p.s. I also recommend reading the book A Bed of Your Own by Mij Kelly with your child, perfect for kids struggling to sleep alone in their beds:
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your Toddler Keeps Getting Out of Bed
- How to End Toddler Bedtime Battles
- Top Children’s Bedtime Story Books
- What to Do When Your Toddler Suddenly Won’t Sleep
- How to Get Through the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
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