Keeping your toddler in bed is no easy feat. I am no expert. In fact, as I sit here and type this out, I am literally sitting in my daughter’s room waiting for sleep to overcome her while she repeatedly asks me, “wha-doin’?” I have been doing bedtime battles since we moved the baby monitor out of her room. Unfortunately, baby brother needed more monitoring for safety reasons and now Siena thinks she rules the roost.
But, WE FIGURED IT OUT! I mean, I hesitate to even say such a thing, for fear of jinxing ourselves, but I really think we know how keeping your toddler in bed can be the easiest thing ever.
Our First Mistake
Our bedtime battles began when we thought, “we must be genius parents. We’re going to transition our daughter into a twin bed at the age of 18 months. That way we don’t have to pay for a toddler bed and our son can have the crib.”
Well, we ended up buying another crib anyways, because Siena’s was a piece of junk. Needless to say, she was a big girl now in a big bed.
And for the first 6 months, this was working out great. Not a problem at all. In fact, we still would pat ourselves on the back every now and again. “Geniuses I say!!”
Our Second Mistake
At some point, Grayson finally transitioned to his own room. Along with Grayson into his room went the video baby monitor. We loved the monitor for Siena and now that she was a big girl, we could use it for Grayson.
She had other plans. We underestimated her intelligence. She was very quickly aware that the monitor was gone and now we did not have eyes on her at all times. Within a matter of days, she was getting out of bed constantly, repeatedly, every night without fail.
Our First Attempt
Keeping your toddler in bed with threats perhaps? We decided to take away some of the toys that she insisted sleeping with every time she got out of bed. It worked for a couple of months. Again, we patted ourselves on the back. GENIUSES!
Of course there was always tears when we would take the toys away, but then that was the consequence, right?
Unfortunately, she must have started emotionally detaching herself from her stuffed animals. Inside of her little toddler brain, she must have been smart enough to realize, ‘if I don’t care about my baby, or the animals or my blankie, my parents have no power over me anymore’.
I would not have believed that such advanced rationale was possible for a toddler, until she really stopped caring about her toys. We’d take one away and she’d get right back up again. We could strip her whole room of happiness (we did on many occasions) and she would still get out of bed until we wanted to throw our own heads against the wall in frustration.
Something had stopped working.
Our Second Attempt
Maybe a combination of bribery and a threat to keeping your toddler in bed? Perhaps she needs some incentive?
Our next tactic was to tell her we would be doing something fun the next day and if she got out of bed we wouldn’t be able to do it. But if she stayed in bed, we would.
We thought we were geniuses with this one, until we tried it. She didn’t care at all. She acted like she cared when we told her but two minutes later she was up and at it again.
I didn’t know what to do at this point. Our toddler had broken us. We were pathetic shells of parents who had been defeated by a two and a half year old. We would just let her play in her room until she collapsed and then deal with the collateral the next day.
Obviously my husband liked this idea because he got to leave in the morning and I handled the aftermath.
It was at this rock bottom of keeping your toddler in bed battle that I had my breakthrough. And maybe not all toddlers are alike, and maybe this won’t work for all, but I thought, just maybe… this will work for Siena.
The Secret to Keeping Your Toddler in Bed
I tried putting myself in Siena’s shoes. If I kept getting out of bed again and again and again, there had to be a reason, right?
Then I realized how frustrating and depressing it would be to constantly be in trouble at bed time. At the beginning, toddler is not in trouble, but she is probably sad because she has to stop playing with mom and dad.
If your family is like ours, dad just got home from work not too long ago and now he gets to stay up with mommy.
So, what does she do? She gets out of bed. Playing sounds way more fun then sleeping at this point. Unfortunately, as she is getting out of bed, or playing in her room Mom and dad are upset and scolding her. She still wants to play, but now maybe she wants some validation too. The need to feel love is compounded with the want to play.
Suddenly it becomes this vicious cycle of mom and dad are getting more and more frustrated, toddler is feeling less and less love and no one is getting any sleep!
How to Fix it
I added a new phase to our bedtime routine. Prior to this discovery, the routine ended after prayers, lights out, kiss goodnight and toddler was safe in bed. But, the magical key to success for us was the first ten minutes after the toddler was in bed.
Wait outside the door for about 30 seconds to a minute. It can be a little longer, but ideally you want things to be just the same as when you put them to bed.
Open the door and peak in. Hopefully your toddler is still in bed. If they are, praise them for staying in bed. Ours usually sounds like this:
“Wow! Siena, you stayed in bed! Thank you so much for staying in your bed. You are so obedient and well behaved. I love you. Night-night, Sweetheart.”
If she did not stay in bed
“Uh-oh. You need to get back in bed. It’s time to go night-night.”
It is very important to catch your toddler IN bed. Even if keeping your toddler in bed was not successful for 30 seconds, wait another 30 seconds (or less, depending on your child), open the door again and try again. Do this until your child has done what you asked successfully for any length of time.
After the first successful praising. Wait a little longer. We usually give it a couple of minutes and open the door again. Since we started doing this we have not had her get out of bed after the first praising. Every time, she has been laying in bed, sometimes playing, reading or just laying there. And we lay on the praise again.
“Wow! You are still in your bed. Thank you so much for staying in bed. You are so great! Night-night, Siena.”
You are welcome to repeat step 3 if you are worried about the stickability of it. We’ve tried it up to 5 times and every time, she has been laying in bed.
Keeping Your Toddler in Bed
Maybe our child is an anomaly. Maybe this won’t work for you. But if keeping your toddler in bed is one of your battles, start where I started and try and put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, why does he keep getting out of bed?
If this does work for your child, you can literally do it at any time. Sometimes we forget to show love or it’s the middle of the night and you are just now finding this article while you are in the throes of a bedtime battle. But, just give it a try. Show your child some encouragement.
After all, they are just learning these things. Maybe she really just knew what was a wrong thing to do, but didn’t know what was a right thing to do. This method also gives some clarity to what bedtime is all about.
Good luck Mamas!