When it comes to baby and toddler sleep, there’s ALWAYS a new fun problem waiting around the corner!
You finally get them going to bed without rocking and 1000 lullabies – but then they start getting out of bed. Whether it’s at bedtime or early morning, a kiddo who won’t stay in bed is SO frustrating.
I had this problem recently with my three year old – he just kept getting out of bed in the night and I couldn’t figure out why or how to fix it. There he was, night after night, sneaking in beside me and snuggling up – all feet and elbows.
Today, I’d like to share what helped and some tips from a whole bunch of moms for when your toddler or preschooler doesn’t want to stay in bed.
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You can see why it happens
They used to sleep in a crib and getting up again wasn’t an option. Maybe they stayed in bed really well when they moved to the big kid bed – because it was SPECIAL being a big kid. Or because they hadn’t figured out yet that now they COULD get up if they wanted to!
Anyway, you now have a kid who’s worked out that there are no bars on their big bed. They probably quite like you – and all the fun stuff they get to do when it’s not bedtime. So there they are again an hour after bedtime – peeking into the living room asking for snuggles.
Or kicking you in the back in the middle of the night when you can’t actually ever remember them getting into bed with you.
Or just showing up at five am all set for a day of fun when all you want is to shut your eyes again.
Three problems in one
So this is one topic – your kid not staying in bed like you want them to – but also three and we’re going to look at them all.
Tips for getting your toddler or preschooler to stay in bed
#1 at bedtime
#2 during the night
#3 early in the morning
Toddler bedtime frustrations
Maybe you’re having a hard time at bedtime.
It’s not an easy time anyway – you’re tired too after work or dealing with kids all day or maybe both. It might seem like you’re a lot more tired than the kid you’re trying to put to bed.
A solid bedtime routine helps
Yeah, I know. You’ve heard about bedtime routines and you probably have one already. Knowing what to expect helps kids go with the flow in a lot of cases. You can read this post if you need to work on your evening ritual.
So maybe dealing with your kid getting out of bed becomes an unwritten part of the bedtime routine? It might feel easier for you to go ahead and return that little one to bed AGAIN if you feel like it’s part of the routine and not an added irritation.
After putting our youngest into her big bed recently (she shares her room with her brother) they BOTH started getting out of bed. Sometimes he got out of bed to tell me that she was out of bed (rolls eyes.)
So for a while, I put a chair outside their door and sat listening (and scrolling on my phone) until I was sure they were both staying put. If I could hear someone getting up, I just said, “In bed!” in my mommy voice and that usually was enough. On a few occasions, I had to go in and put people back into bed and I did.
Just being present outside the door made a big difference for us. The kids know I will put them back if they don’t stay in bed and they respond to that.
Avoid bedtime distractions
In the summer months here, it’s light very late – after 10 pm – so the little ones go to bed while it still looks like the middle of the day. I remember finding this very unfair as a child and I’m pretty sure I was a pain for my mom on summer evenings too.
If it’s light in the room, it’s easy for kids to get distracted by what’s around them – toys, clothes, literally anything that they see becomes more interesting than bed. Sounds in the house or outside can also keep them awake, so get rid of them.
Black out the room and try white noise
Two things we do that really helps keep the kids in bed is blacking out the room and using white noise. We have used both since we sleep trained our daughter so they expect it and associate both the darkness and the noise with bedtime and sleep.
A white noise machine will have a whole bunch of different sounds to try with your kids – from birdsong to running water or plain static. Whichever one will drown out the noises of life going on outside their bedroom and help them sleep. (If you also have problems with your kid getting up too early, you might want to go for the Hatch, which plays white noise but also lights up when it’s ok to get up.)
And this is the black out blind we use – it suckers onto the window so it’s great for travelling. So easy.
I suppose one day we will have to wean them off both but no way is that happening until I’m sure they will stay in bed!
Less toys in the bedroom
This matters less if your kids’ room is dark but if they’ve moved on from always sleeping in the dark, you might need to think about what they have around them that might be a problem.
If your kids keep their toys in their room, move some of them out until they get into a good bedtime habit. Seeing all your favourite stuff around you when you’re not feeling tired isn’t going to help. Minimal items in the room will mean a better chance that your little one will accept that it’s bedtime and go to sleep.
Or try a more relaxed approach
…like Jessy Freimann from The Life Jolie who had these tips for us on getting little kids off to bed peacefully.
(At bedtime we have) a few strict boundaries with a ton of freedom within them. My girls know they have to stay in their room, the door has to stay closed and the lights stay out but other than that they have the freedom to play in their room until they’re ready to sleep.
We have a playroom so they don’t have many toys in there outside of their plushies and most nights they are sleeping within 30 minutes. Once in a while they test the boundaries but generally, this has worked well for us. It eliminates the power struggle.
Or use a baby monitor
Do you still have a baby monitor in your kids’ room? That might help you to keep them in bed now they’re older. Here’s what Josephine Anderson from Better As Us does.
We have the “talk” feature on our monitor and we would gently remind our daughter to “go night night” if she got out of bed. We found actually going up there made it worse but just saying it over the intercom worked perfect!
It’s a neat idea – I can definitely relate to the going-in-makes-it-worse issue. Remote control parenting for the win!
And be sure to wear them out during the day!
Active kids = tired kids = better bedtimes
Don’t we all go to sleep better on those days when we have been active? It really does help as a long-term strategy as Samantha Milner from Recipe This points out.
Our daughter Sofia is four and shares a room with her 2yr old brother. They could have their own bedrooms but like to be together. We have found that being active and having a good nighttime routine has helped. Her brother is just as good and they go to bed together at 8.30pm.
My little ones are similar ages and also go to bed way better in the same room. I thought they would distract each other and get up to mischief but they seem to settle much better at night together. I’m not saying this will be the same for all kids – but it’s worth trying different things if what you’re doing now’s not working.
OK, so now let’s think about how to deal with kids who get up in the middle of the night. This was a pain point in our house for months.
After a long time when either daddy or I lay in the dark till he dozed off at night, we finally got our son sleeping independently. It was an amazingly easy process that we achieved with some help from a friend – I talk about our Superhero Sleep Plan here – and the results were like magic!
But then he started getting out of bed in the middle of the night. He had been sleeping in his own room for a long time but suddenly we began to find him in our bed in the small hours.
Just DEAL with it
Confession time. Sometimes I just do not deal with problems as I see them developing. I worry about them and maybe even stress about them but for some reason I don’t tackle them.
Often, when I do, the problem gets a lot better even if it’s not totally fixed.
When my son began getting up in the middle of the night and coming through to our bed, I did the same. Instead of dealing with the problem and putting him back in his bed, many times one of us went and slept in the spare room, avoiding the problem.
So when we came to tackle it, the habit was already ingrained and harder to break.
I know it’s hard when they might cry and wake other kids up or if they are really sleepy and putting them back to bed might wake them right up – and then you’d have to settle them again. Dealing with it is a pain but it’s a quicker pain as I found out when I decided enough was enough.
What to do when your kids is climbing into your bed at night
Unless you like it that way, put them back in their own bed!
Tell them or carry them. Just make sure they go. Every Single Time.
Allowing them in one night but not the next will just make it harder in the end because they won’t know if you really, REALLY mean it.
I worried for so long that it would take forever to get them back to sleep and then my sleep would be ruined and tomorrow would be a write off. So much that I let a small problem get a lot bigger by not dealing with it.
Sure, there might be a bit of pain in fixing it. Sometimes I felt like I was doing bedtime all over again – tucking in and cuddling and waiting outside the room for a while to be sure he was settled. Other times he woke his baby sister up – and that made me question what I was doing because then I was REALLY UP. And had no idea how long it would be before I could get to sleep again.
But I still say it was worth it – because now everyone sleeps in their own bed.
Dealing with middle of the night sneaking
To tackle your sneaky, sleepy little bed-mate, follow these steps.
#1 As soon as you realise there is an extra human in your bed, remove them.
Yes, you will feel mean and yes, they might cry – but if you let them stay you are sending mixed messages of what is and isn’t ok. Be strong. Do it for the nights to come.
#2 Have a plan for what you’ll do if they cry / wake the baby
If there are tears, it often helps to just put your kid back in bed and shush from the door for a couple of minutes. I always tried that for a little while before staying in the room because often that’s all it takes. A reminder that someone is close and a little soothing.
The easiest way to deal with crying / woken babies is to follow your bedtime routine. Do you usually stay with your kids until they’re asleep or let them self settle? Unless all hell is breaking loose and the whole house is waking up, stick to what you normally do because that’s what they’re used to and is the most likely to work.
If your little one is crying a lot after being returned to bed and you feel like you have to soothe them, try sitting out of sight in the room and shushing instead of sitting right next to them.
#3 Repeat as needed
This no-nonsense approach needs commitment from you to work. Got your kid settled back in their own bed but then they return half an hour later? You HAVE to repeat your plan. If you let them sleep in your bed this time, you teach them that they just need to keep trying and you will give in and let them sleep with you.
Instead, teach your kids that YOU will keep trying until they give in.
#4 What if you find a little person asleep next to you?
Try as you might, some nights you’re gonna find a tiny person fast asleep next to you. You’ll have no idea how they got there and you’ll want to leave them where they are. Just pretend you didn’t know. We’ve all done it. The danger here is that you send mixed messages to your kid. If you really want them to sleep consistently in their own bed and not sneak in, you have to return them.
Yes, they might wake up and that might be a pain – but there’s a good chance they won’t. A good chance you can ninja them back where they should be and keep your consistent approach going without any pain. When there is pain it’s tough – but I promise it’s worth it when you break the habit.
Let’s talk about little kids that get up too early now.
What to do when your kids are waking up far too early
Maybe your little darlings go to bed perfectly and stay snuggled up all night long – until 4am.
I love my little ones and I’m nearly always happy to see them. Not. At. 4am.
So what’s the plan?
Well, you can give the middle of the night plan above a shot. The problem with that is that little people who come sneaking in in the middle of the night usually want to go back to sleep. Little people who get up too early are ready for their day! They are often times much harder to resettle to sleep.
So how do you keep toddlers in bed later?
If they are very little – too little to reason with – keeping that room dark and the white noise on keeps the illusion of night time going a little longer even on summer mornings. You might need to soothe a little and sit in the room shushing for a while. Maybe return them to bed a few times.
Once they are old enough to reason with – roughly 2 and a half or older you can try different tactics like the night lights we mentioned before. Some moms and dads find that kids who won’t stay in bed because they’re told to WILL when a prop like a sleep lamp is in charge!
There are a few you can try and basically you program the clock to light up at a time when you’re ok with your kid getting up. If they wake up and the lamp is on, they’re good to go. If it’s not, they stay in bed – which might sound too good to be true but several families got in touch to say it worked great for them.
Using a wake-up lamp to tell kids when they can get up
Like Jessica from Mom Comes Clean who said,
Using an OK to Wake clock was really useful for us keeping our toddler in bed at night. We told him if he woke up and the light wasn’t on that he wasn’t allowed to get up yet. (Of course, then there was the time he thought that meant he could turn the light on himself, haha.)
Beth from the DGAF Mom suggested using the Hatch. Basically, it’s a white noise machine sleep aid, a night light and has the OK to wake function too. Oh, AND you can control it from your phone! Here’s what Beth had to say about it:
The Hatch has been an essential tool for us to use for helping both my kids as babies and then again as toddlers. It’s awesome because it connects to your phone where you can program it, turn it on and off, and even set anti-toddler lock systems.
Once my boys transitioned to big-boy-beds they loved to program their hatch light (and we set a timer that ends their self-reading/playing time and means it’s time to go to bed!).
It’s also awesome because sometimes we’ll move their “okay to wake” time a bit later on the weekends (by like 10/15 minutes) so that my hubby and I can get a few minutes more shuteye. I don’t know how to parent toddlers without it at this point. LOL!
Let’s wrap this up – keeping toddlers in bed 101
So, in a nutshell you wanna:
# Have a routine & keep kids active to wear them out during the day.
# Deal with issues that come up FAST unless you’re happy to live with them.
# Try different approaches if something’s not working – maybe that ‘just stay in your room’ plan is just what your kids need?
# Boot kids out of your bed if they sneak in!
# Try a sleep prop like a Hatch
Ready to teach your kid to go to sleep without you?
If you’d like to get your evenings back, grab my FREE Bedtime Fixer plan, for a simple-to-follow program that will get your toddler or preschooler going to bed independently FAST! You’ll find it at the bottom of this post.
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Even more baby and toddler sleep tips!