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How to Get a Toddler to Stay in Bed

Updated on July 22, 2012

The Dreaded Time of Day for Toddlers: Bedtime

Bedtime can be one of the most difficult times of parenting for families with toddlers. I know with my own daughter, she gets wound up just about bedtime. It can be difficult to get them to stay in bed when they try to come up with every reason possible to get back up. It can be frustrating for parents who know the importance of sleep and what will happen if their children don't get enough. Here are a few tips to make bedtime struggles easier to handle.

Reading can help your toddler settle down from activity.

Time to read a bedtime story.
Time to read a bedtime story. | Source

Create a Bedtime Routine

It's much easier on your toddler if they know what to expect. Not only in regards to the time they go to bed, but the entire process. Think about creating indicators to let your toddler know it's almost time for them to go to sleep.

Some indicators include:

  • reading a book
  • playing soft music
  • taking a bath
  • brushing their teeth
  • snuggling in a parent's lap
  • putting pajamas on

You don't need to do all of these indicators as part of your routine, and not all of them will work to quiet your toddler down. Bathtime is good for my little girl, but I have to do it earlier in the evening because it revs her up before it tired her out.

You only need to spend about fifteen or twenty minutes on your routine before you put your toddler in bed, but they will quickly learn where things are leading.

A routine only works if you keep it the same every night and at the same time. While things can come up during your evening, try not to vary the time by more than fifteen minutes. Any longer than that and you may have more trouble the next night.

Another key is keeping the routine in the same order every night. If you put your toddler in pajamas first, then brush their teeth, and finally read a book in that order, do it that way every night. Don't switch it up or you will confuse your child. While it might not seem like a big deal to brush their teeth one night before getting them in their pjs, it can mess up their emotions.

Toddlers like predictability; it makes them feel safe. They learn quickly after just two or three days what should happen and when. By following a routine for bedtime, it allows them to predict what will happen next and be more cooperative. It also lets them relax and not be afraid of what you are doing.

"I'm thirsty" is a common bedtime ploy.

Don't forget a drink of water.
Don't forget a drink of water. | Source

Plan Ahead for Bedtime Excuses

The best way to prevent a toddler's excuse to get back out of bed is to deal with those issues just before they crawl in the first time. Do they want a drink of water? Give them one before you tuck them in. Take them to the bathroom last thing before bedtime. Let them kiss the family members and say goodnight to the dog and any other little habits they have established. At the same time, limit this to just a few minutes or you will spend an hour trying to get them to bed.

Set a timer so they know that when it goes off, they have to get into bed. You can also set the timer as a five-minute warning to help them prepare mentally that it is almost time to settle down.

What if Nothing Works?

You will have nights when your toddler just doesn't want to stay in bed. This is especially likely on weekends when their daytime routine is different from the weekdays. You will find that there are some times when you will have a fight on your hands to get your toddler to stay in bed. When this happens, you have two choices: give in or keep sending them back to bed.

When you give in, you set a precedent that says your toddler is boss instead of you. However, if you feel that it is okay to extend your toddler's bedtime, make that decision before getting them ready for bed. Because my daughter sleeps in on the weekends and takes a long nap during the day, I extend her bedtime by a half-hour. That is a decision that has to be made by each parent based on their own child's personality.

The other option of sending them back to bed every time they get up will only work if you maintain your calm and don't turn it into a battle of wills. Calmly send them right back to bed and don't give them any time up or it will encourage them to keep trying. The best way is to walk them back in their room, tuck them in, and say goodnight.

This takes patience and perserverance, but you can help your toddler learn to stay in bed.


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