8 Best Tips on How to Keep a Toddler in Bed – You’ll LOVE #1!
Keeping a toddler in bed
Are you wondering how to keep a toddler in bed?
I was too. For a very. long. time.
Trying to get a little one to stay in bed can be an incredibly taxing experience and a true test of patience.
I am a rule follower by nature and am big on routines. So when our awesome bed time routine became completely miserable during the crib to bed transition, I felt incredibly lost. And exhausted.
I began to dread every night because our little munchkin managed to take us into a time warp…over an hour would pass to simply accomplish reading, pottying, and brushing teeth.
Then once we accomplished getting into bed, a world of reasons for needing to get out of bed would come.
And then something would happen almost every single night, where our daughter would come into our room at midnight and again at 2 am for a moment brief enough to wake us and then go back to her bedroom.
As a mom, I had all this guilt for failing to give our daughter a solid night of sleep where she woke rested. It took me such a long time to figure out what I was doing wrong.
After finally seeing a sleep consultant, and through LOTS of trial and error, we FINALLY figured it out.
How to Keep a Toddler in Bed: No Easy Fix
What works for one does not work for all. There unfortunately is not one simple solution that will work across the board for every toddler.
There are, however, some pretty awesome tried and true methods out there. Whichever one you choose, just stick with it.
Try the method of choice for at least a week. Change is hard for all of us. People naturally push back and fight when there is change, not just toddlers.
New routines, new habits, new understandings take time to learn and absorb. Have patience (which is much easier said than done when you are a tired mama).
If you stick to a method for at least a week, you generally will have the toughest toddler outbursts the first three nights. It does get better.
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8 Methods on How to Keep a Toddler in Bed
There are many different ways to sleep train our little ones. One method is not better than the other, as you really just need to do what feels best for you and your child.
The below strategies are my personal favorites, and it is a culmination of all of them that helped our household get restful sleep. I hope these methods help you as much as they have helped my family!
1. Create a book
Our sleep coach gave me this idea, and we absolutely LOVE it. Here is the one we made for our daughter.
As you can see, it is not fancy! It is 5 pages total, including the cover.
I made the book in a Word document, took a photo of our daughter sleeping (it is tinted pink because of her pink night light), and then I copied and pasted images from Google. The book is stapled for the binding.
If you don’t have access to a printer, you could also just draw stick figure drawings and that would truly be just as great!
Toddlers are so appreciative of any portrait of themselves, be it a real photo or a stick figure. The concept of this book can easily be done with just a crayon and paper.
Why I love creating a book:
Children love to see themselves in stories. My daughter wanted to read this book over and over and over.
Having a child see themselves successfully go through the motions of bedtime–followed by seeing the positive ending to the story–gives them confidence, a sense of understanding, and security.
Putting your bedtime routine in writing where both you and your child can see it helps hold everyone accountable to follow through with the routine.
Creating the book all of a sudden puts responsibility on a third party (the book) instead of you. For example, if our daughter began stalling with putting on pajamas, I would say something like, “Remember what our Going to Bed Book says? The book says before we can read two books we need our pajamas on. It’s important we follow directions and do what the book says.”
I use the third party strategy on a lot of things. For example, if one of my children doesn’t feel like brushing teeth before we head to preschool, I sometimes say, “The dentist said we have to brush our teeth every morning. It’s important we listen to the dentist so our teeth stay clean.”
Kids (and adults) are often more inclined to listen to someone of “higher authority”, or someone other than their parents.
The last page in the book mentions getting a sticker in the morning…I personally am not big on reward systems, as I prefer to instill more intrinsic motivation. But, I included it in the book because it was recommended to do so…Ironically enough, my daughter never asked for a sticker and didn’t care about that part.
If you do choose to do a sticker or some other type of reward in the morning, I have heard from other parents that the excitement over the reward tends to fade after a week. Just something to note.
Creating a book for your little one during any tough transition, is wonderful. I recently made another book for learning how to swim because our kiddos were nervous for swim lessons. The book provided so much comfort!
There is a lot of power in these books!
2. Turn off ALL the lights in your home
It dawned on me that our daughter was repeatedly finding reasons to get out of bed because she was curious what my husband and I were doing.
Even though my husband and I were just doing our nightly chores (nothing exciting), my daughter wanted to be a part of it. She didn’t like knowing she was sleeping while everyone else was still up.
We then decided to turn all the lights off in our house, and my husband and I would be in our bed for maybe 10 minutes.
During those 10 minutes, our daughter would come out of her room, see the whole house was dark, see that we were in bed too, and then she’d go back to her room without a fight.
Once she was asleep, we would turn the lights back on and get back to the news or the dishes or whatever.
Why I love turning off ALL the lights:
It quickened our daughter’s ability to relax and fall asleep faster.
It was an easy solution.
After about a week or less of doing this, our daughter stopped coming out of her room at the onset of bedtime.
BUT, it unfortunately did not prevent her middle of the night wanderings, which I will get to here soon.
3. Have a sound machine with an “okay to wake” clock
As a baby, our daughter had the traditional sound machine that only played white noise. In the midst of our bedtime struggles, a friend introduced me to the Hatch Rest Sound Machine.
The Hatch Rest comes with many pleasant sounds for sleeping, but it also stands as an alarm clock and a night light.
It has over THIRTY THOUSAND five star reviews on Amazon.
We have our Hatch Rest turn on at 6:30 pm. This cues our children it is time to wind down and begin our bedtime routine so that we can have lights out by 7:30 pm.
The Hatch Rest changes to a new color (ours is set to green) at 7 am, letting our children know it is okay to come out of their rooms.
Why I love a sound machine with an “okay to wake” clock:
The light system (also referred to as an “okay to wake” clock) aids in teaching the concept of time. Little ones often think, “I am up so come get me,” not realizing it is only 4 am and that we normally keep sleeping then.
We played a fun game with our daughter to teach her how the “okay to wake” clock works that you can read more about in The Magic of the Hatch Rest Sound Machine.
Our daughter had a tough, tough time with always wanting to come let us know when she was waking from a sleep cycle. We all usually wake up a little bit in our sleep, be it to roll over, readjust our pillow, etc., and our daughter had the pattern of coming into our room at midnight and 2 am just to let us know she was awake.
It was helpful being able to rely on the sound machine’s color system to teach our daughter when it is appropriate to leave her bedroom.
However, this only helped sometimes. If her nap schedule was off, we new we were in for a rough night of multiple wake-ups (which I explain in suggestion number 6).
We also had to resort to sleep training method number 4.
4. Secure the door
There are a few different ways you can secure your child’s door to prevent them from leaving their bedroom during nap time or bedtime.
An extra tall baby gate is one option if you prefer to keep your child’s door open.
For parents who choose to close their child’s door, you can utilize a child proof door knob cover on your little one’s door knob.
Or, you could install a glide lock safety lock like we did.
Why I love securing the door:
Originally, I was very against this. It did not feel good to me to “lock my child in her room”. I was worried I would scare her or somehow be sending her negative messages.
Our sleep coach was so kind and patient and reassured me I need to do what feels best for me, and if I don’t want to secure the door, that is fine. But that I just need to have patience knowing that all the other sleep training strategies will take longer to learn.
Well, I got to the end of my rope. I was so. very. tired. from the midnight and 2 am wakings my daughter was doing. Those interruptions were happening while I was also waking up to breast pump or feed our second born in the middle of the night.
I needed sleep. And I wanted my daughter to stay in her bed all night long.
The day we installed the glide lock safety lock was life changing. I explained to our daughter that we were locking her door to ensure we all get good sleep and to keep everyone safe and healthy.
To our surprise, she happily accepted and I kid you not- we all slept with zero interruptions on night one!! It’s like the lock provided a security blanket to her or something. When we hugged and kissed goodnight, she literally said, “Don’t forget to lock my door, Mom!”
The lock and the “okay to wake” feature on her sound machine are what have really helped us solidify our bedtime routine.
5. Be consistent, patient, positive.
If none of the above appeal to you, there is the method of simply being consistent, patient, positive with how you remind your child each time they get out of their bed to return to their room.
For example, if your child is in their bed but they then come out, calmly say, “It’s bedtime.” And walk them back to their room. Show no emotion, don’t make conversation, and just repeat however many times it takes.
If they are coming to your room in the middle of the night, do not get out of bed and walk them back to their room. Stay in your bed so it is less encouraging for them to keep coming. Even if there are tantrums.
Don’t budge. If you do, you are encouraging the behavior.
6. Have a morning basket of toys
If your child is an early riser, let them know they can play in their room.
I remember pointing that out to my daughter and her eyes got so big. She didn’t realize that was a choice. She thought she had to stay stuck in her bed; hence the morning yells…
You can make a morning basket. The night before, let your child choose which toys they want to play with in the morning. They will feel more involved and excited about the idea.
If you have a little one in a crib, you can even lay a couple of softer toys at the foot of the crib and explain the same thing to them. When we did that with our son, he too, got big eyed and excited knowing he had options.
7. Double check nap schedule
Once your toddler puts their head on their pillow, they should fall asleep fairly quickly. If your child is laying in bed awake for an hour, something needs to be adjusted.
For us, we realized our daughter is super sensitive to her nap length. She needed a hard stop wake-up after an hour of rest (not sleep).
If she laid in bed awake for 30 minutes and then fell asleep for 30, her nap time had to end because she was resting for an hour (even though sleeping for 30).
That adjustment made a huge difference in her actually being tired and going to bed a lot faster.
We also learned that if our daughter wakes a lot throughout the night, it means she is over tired from going to bed too late or from skipping her afternoon nap.
Talk to your pediatrician or a sleep consultant for more guidance. Fine tuning nap schedules can be so tricky!
8. Make the bedtime routine fun
March to the toilet or hop like a bunny. Walk sideways or backwards to the bedroom.
Brush the teeth of your child’s favorite stuffed animal first before brushing your toddler’s teeth.
Let your toddler pick where they want to read their bed time books, be it on the couch or the floor or wherever!
From babies to adults, we all enjoy following directions from someone who is happy and in a good mood a whole lot more than from someone who is grouchy and barking orders.
This will help make going to bed a relaxing, enjoyable experience for everyone.
Teaching your toddler to stay in bed takes time and patience. But with a consistent routine and gentle guidance, you can help them develop healthy sleep habits.
Soon enough, bedtime battles will become a thing of the past!
Hang in there, mama! You got this!
Which strategy is your favorite? I’d love to hear! Share in the comments section below.