With nearly all of the toddlers that I’ve worked with, they seem to have the same habit: they like to get out of their bed at night.
The reasoning has been different, but whether your child is getting up to crawl into bed with you or just to wake you up and have you take them back to bed, it can be exhausting.
I’ve compiled the tops tips that have helped families and I’m diving into them below.
Communicate with your child that they need to stay in their bed.
This is the first, and often most skipped, step. Sit your child down and tell them they will be staying in their bed all night. There’s no need to make a huge deal of it – don’t shame them for their past behaviors or portray any negative emotions while you’re talking to them.
Simply say, “You’re such a big girl now! Starting tonight, you’re going to sleep in your own bed and you’re going to stay there all night! If you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re not going to leave your room, you’re just going to stay in bed.”
Now, before you roll your eyes and think that your child won’t understand, try it. Seriously. Talk to your child. They need to know what your expectations are so that in the middle of the night, if they get up, they know what to expect.
Don’t let your child climb into your bed.
If you don’t have an issue with your child sleeping in your bed and you enjoy it, skip this step. I’m not here to tell you that your child can’t sleep in bed with you. As long as you follow the AAP guidelines for safe sleep, how you choose to sleep is up to you.
If, however, your child gets out of bed and climbs into bed with you AND you want to stop that habit, keep reading.
You’ve talked to your child and told them they’d be staying in bed all night. But they didn’t. And here they are at 2 a.m., trying to climb into bed with you.
If you’re serious about making a change with this habit, you’re going to have to get up, take your child by the hand, and take them back to their room.
If you let them climb into bed with you, it’s very easy to brush it off and just allow it “this one time.” But you know how that goes. The next night, they’ll be right back in your room.
If you’re a deep sleeper and don’t hear your child come into your room, put bells on your door to wake you up.
Take your child back to their room.
During this process, don’t engage with your child in conversation. You don’t need to tell them that they were supposed to stay in bed. You don’t need to answer any of their questions. Just tell them it’s still nighttime and they need to stay in bed. Tuck them in, kiss their head, and walk out of the room.
If your child has requests during this time (they need to use the bathroom, they’re thirsty), you can certainly meet those needs. Then, if it continues to be a habit, find a solution. Let them keep a water cup in their room. Teach them to use the bathroom on their own (if you’re comfortable with it).
Depending on your child and how determined they are, you may only have to repeat this process for a few nights.
If, however, they’re more persistent, you may find yourself doing this a few times each night.
Yes, you’ll be tired.
Yes, it’ll be frustrating.
Just get up, take them back to bed, and drink your coffee in the morning.
Many times, it’s not that your child wants to drive you insane by coming to your room, but rather, they aren’t sure if you’re serious about it. They come to your room because maybe you’ve told them something in the past but haven’t followed through. Maybe they think you’ve changed your mind. By staying consistent, they’ll understand that you mean what you say, and after a week or so, they won’t be making the trips.
Sometimes, your child may be waking up and coming to your room simply out of habit, as was the case with Mackenzie. She would wake up, walk to her mom’s room, wake her mom up, and then walk back to her room so her mom could tuck her in.
I realized it was a habit when Mackenzie woke her mom up and started walking back to her room without her mom even saying anything.
It’s sort of like Mackenzie woke up, realized she was awake, and thought, “Oh, I need to go get mom so I can go back to bed.”
Once we realized this, we got creative.
Mom told Mackenzie that instead of going to get her in the middle of the night when she woke up, she could walk over to her dresser and pick up her stuffed animal to take back to bed.
And you know what?
It worked wonders.
After a couple of nights of reminding her about the stuffed animal, I woke up to this e-mail from mom:
“I heard her straight up 3am say my name in the monitor and I looked at the screen. She was sitting up in bed, but calm. She climbed out of bed, out of the view of the camera and I prepared for her to be headed to my door. Next thing I know, she is climbing back in bed with her unicorn. Told it “Love you, good night!” kissed it and tucked it in and she was out!!! I nearly cried watching the monitor!”
If your child is more of a reward-loving individual, find ways to incentivize them to stay in bed.
Tell them if they stay in bed all night and don’t come to get you, you will give them a piece of candy or a sticker. Big note: If you go this route with your child, explain to them that there are exceptions – they can get out of bed in an emergency or if they need to use the restroom. Some children want to please their parents and earn rewards and will wait it out if they need to use the bathroom, resulting in discomfort or accidents. So let your child know what those exceptions are and how to handle them.
Most of the time, your child is getting out of bed in the middle of the night because it’s a habit. Find a way to replace that habit with something else (like Mackenzie’s unicorn) or incentivize them to stay in bed.
The hardest part of this process will be sticking to it and staying consistent. But the good news is that you have direct control of that. If you need accountability in carrying it out, let us support you! We can help ensure you’re sticking to the plan and doing what’s best for your family.