For The Toddler Who Won’t Stay in Bed
If you don’t have a toddler yet, I will tell you now, and consider yourself warned: keep your baby in her crib as long as humanly possible. Don’t get excited that your baby gets to move to a big boy bed just because he’s reached a certain age, and NEVER move your baby to a bed because you need the crib for a new baby. Moving from a crib to a bed can be quite an adjustment for your child and it should only be done when your child is ready for it. Not because you like the idea of a bed or decided that she doesn’t like her crib. Uh-uh.
If your toddler is already in a bed, or more likely if you’re reading this, won’t stay in aforementioned bed, fear not. I’ve got some tricks for you to try.
And don’t tell me you’ve tried everything. Because if you truly had tried everything, your sleep troubles would be over. But they’re not, so keep an open mind and let’s try it out together.
Silent Return To Bed
This method has you turn into a post-bedtime robot. After your bedtime routine, leave your toddler’s room. When she comes out of bed, stay calm, quiet and devoid of any emotion. Take her by the hand and lead her (or pick her up and carry her) back to bed, saying one predetermined phrase, such as “we don’t come out of bed after bedtime.” Or you can say nothing at all. Your choice. But say NOTHING more than one monotonous phrase.
Repeat this as many times as it takes for your toddler to fall asleep in her own bed. And I mean that literally. There have been children known to come out hundreds of times in a row on that first night, so arm yourself with endless patience and fortitude! It’s a battle of wills and the strongest man wins.
Each night, the amount of back-to-bed trips should lessen, until your toddler is sleeping well in his own bed all night.
The idea is that our kids react to heat, whether that’s positive heat or negative heat. Coming out of bed can turn into a game. If you refuse to play, it’s much less appealing. Take heed of the name Silent Return to Bed: make sure to stay as silent as possible throughout.
Chair in The Room
This method is very gentle and perfect for parents who just can’t handle crying. However, like all gentle forms of sleep training, it will take at least a solid month of doing this every single night before you begin to see results. If this is the road you want to go down, prepare to travel it with long-term vision and low expectation for the first 3 or 4 weeks.
Here’s what you do:
After bedtime, tell your toddler that you’ll stay in his room with him until he falls asleep. Pull a chair up right next to his bed and just. sit. there. Don’t engage in conversation, don’t sing songs or tell stories or show any form of engagement. If your child talks to you, softly repeat “it’s time to sleep. I’m here.” Don’t engage or be interesting. It’s ok if your child cries, it’s only fair that he be given room to express his unhappiness that you’re not laying in bed with him, holding him or singing to him. Let him express his emotions while showing him that your silent, comforting presence isn’t going anywhere. Remain next to your child until he falls asleep. Repeat this for any subsequent wakeups throughout the night. Every 2 or 3 nights, move the chair a bit further away from his bed until your chair is sitting in the doorway. Once it’s on the threshold, sit there with temporary absences. “Sweetie, I’m going to sit here with you until you fall asleep. I’m just going to switch the laundry and I’ll be right back.” Go switch the laundry and COME RIGHT BACK. Don’t ever lie to your child! A few minutes later, go set the table for dinner and come right back. Your chair will remain in the doorway when you disappear, reminding your child that you will be right back. As the nights progress, the lengths of the disappearances increase until your child can fall asleep without your help.
Turn the Room into a Crib
While I do prefer to try gentler methods first, this one is no different than turning your toddler’s room into a giant crib if all else fails. A toddler lock, door monkey or tall baby gate can all serve the same purpose of creating a physical barrier that will stop your child from coming out of his room after bedtime.
He will protest, and you can check in and comfort him with your presence at intervals, but a key here is, once again, to minimize the engagement. When your toddler sees that he won’t be coming out of his room, the novelty of standing next to the door or gate will wear off after a few nights.
Some parents are afraid of this one because it feels cruel to them. Different methods work for different parents and children. If you don’t resonate with this idea, you won’t hold strong to it. Don’t undertake something that doesn’t feel right to you, because then you run the risk of caving halfway through which will leave everyone worse off. Check with your pediatrician if this method is right for you and your child.
Here’s the trick, though. You have to pick one method and stick to it for at least 2 weeks. Sleep training is not rocket science. It’s a combination of knowing what to do and applying it consistently.
One of my most vivid memories from my first days as a Sleep Consultant was a client who messaged me frantically, saying “I tried all the techniques you mentioned tonight and none of them worked!”
Yes. That’s right. None of them worked, because for sleep training to have an impact, you need to choose one method, and stick with that method with 100 percent consistency for at least 2 weeks.
No toddler sleep troubles are unbeatable! It’s just a question of finding the right recipe and applying it with dogged persistence until your baby sees that Mama Means Business.