The move from a crib to a toddler or “big kid” bed is huge. It’s a day of independence for both parent and child. Because now, your little one is free to come and go from their bed as they choose. No more standing at the railing and hollering for mom or dad to come to get them. They can get out all by themselves. This, of course, presents a challenge too. Now that the little one can get out of bed on their own, they’re likely to test the boundaries. If your child is particularly stubborn (like mine), you’re in for a fun time! Here are five practical tips for helping your child stay in bed at night.
1. Make it a big deal
Sleeping in their own bed means they’re growing up. Tell them that. Help them feel the pride associated with this big step. After you have made a big deal out of it, outline clear expectations. This means you’ll need to think of all the ways this new adventure could play out.
Some questions to ask yourself, Can they get out of bed before seven in the morning? No? Okay. Be sure they clearly know when they can get out of bed. Perhaps you want them to wait until you come to get them or maybe you could use a clock so that they can visually see when they are allowed out of their bed. Are they allowed to get up to go to the bathroom? If so, what are the rules and expectations? Just be very clear with them.
2. Routines are life
Consistent routines are essential for adults and children. This is especially true at night. Bedtime routines tell our bodies that it is time to rest. When we follow the same routine each night, we signal our brains to shut down. Routines help us fall asleep and stay asleep. By creating a bedtime routine that is consistent and that includes a potty stop, you’re helping your child fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
3. Don’t get in the bed with them
I am a firm believer in starting in the way you mean to finish. This means that unless you are willing to sleep with them nightly, don’t start. Yes, it will absolutely break your heart when that sweet little voice says “Mama, please lay with me.” But this sets a precedent, and if you are not willing or able to keep it up, it’s best not to start.
4. Stick to your guns
This is incredibly important. In fact, I think that this is the MOST important of all the tips for helping your child stay in bed. If bedtime is eight o’clock and little Susie pokes her head out at nine o’clock, don’t let her come downstairs and watch television with you. Usher her back to her bed. When she pokes her head out at nine thirty, repeat the procedure.
For most children, this need to usher them back to bed several times a night only happens for a few nights – as long as you’re consistent each and every time. Don’t have any emotional reaction to their behavior, even though you may be exhausted, frustrated and angry. Simply escort them back to bed.
You may have a strong-willed, stubborn kiddo (like me) which in this case you might have to repeat the procedure for a tad bit longer. That is ok. I promise that if you don’t give in, even once, they will learn that mom or dad isn’t going to bend on this rule: Get in bed, stay in bed, I love you very much, I will see you in the morning, goodnight.
5. Give them an incentive
Sometimes kids need a little extra something. If all else fails, try a reward chart with them. Create a simple chart and give them a reward once they reach a predetermined number of days that they stay in bed. Tip: Make it just a day or two at first then gradually expand the time between rewards until they don’t need them anymore.
Manage your expectations when it comes to the new phase in life. It is perfectly natural for children to test the limits when they are given this new freedom. Establish rules, explain them and the expectation, and stand firm. This phase will pass quickly, and they will be sleeping soundly in their bed before you know it.