Toddler won't stay in bed?

Try this 10-point plan to get bedtime on track.

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  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    1 Assess the problem

    At what time of night does the problem occur? Will your child go to sleep if someone stays in his room with him? Thinking the problem through clearly will help you tackle it.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    2 Establish a routine

    A bedtime routine signals it's ‘time to sleep'. Your toddler needs time to wind down and get his head around the fact he’ll soon be in bed. A routine takes about 30 minutes. Don't rush it.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    3 Stick to the routine

    Give your child notice that it will soon be time to go to bed, allowing a wind-down period. Avoid exercise, television or active play in the hour before bedtime. Let your child make some decisions about going to bed, while making it clear bedtime itself is non-negotiable. For example: does he want to use the red or blue toothbrush? Which pyjamas? Try to do things in the same order, at the same time, in the same place.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    4 Make sure he's not feeling too tired

    If your child is overtired at bedtime, he might get a second wind and be unable to settle down. Most toddlers, if they stay horizontal long enough, will fall asleep, so finish the routine in his bed with a bedtime story, singing songs or stroking his head.

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  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    5 Help him ‘unlearn' bad habits

    You need to wean your child off the habit of sleeping with Mum and Dad. Don’t expect miracles, this can take time. Remember, your child will be experiencing separation anxiety. The first step is to get him to sleep in his own bed with you nearby. Sit on a chair next to the bed making sure you're close enough to read but not close enough to snuggle.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    6 Be patient

    Persevere, as the new routine may take a while to work. This is easier said than done when you're sitting there fuming, wishing you were enjoying dinner with your partner! Bring a magazine with you to read so you're not resentful. Make it clear to your child that you're there but he must stay in bed and that you are not there to play. Make yourself as boring as possible. No songs, nursery rhymes and as little talking as possible.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    7 Don't rush in at every murmur

    Once he can get himself to sleep without you at bedtime, he can do it during the night, too. Don't expect him to sleep through the night - we all stir many times. But what he'll be able to do eventually is stir a little then get back to sleep without waking fully and calling out for you.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    8 Be realistic

    Even a toddler who can get himself back to sleep at night without fuss may sometimes wake up frightened and need reassurance from you. Nightmares and separation anxiety are very common at this age. Keep comfort brief and allow him to get himself back to sleep. Do not play with him or offer food (although a glass of water is okay), and don't let him come into bed with you.

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  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    9 Teach him to go it alone

    Gradually move yourself out of your child’s room, cutting down on any physical contact, like holding his hand. As you sense he's feeling more comfortable about the situation, go out for a few moments, saying you've got to pop to the loo. Return quickly the first few times he stays calm and in bed. Build up how long you stay out until telling him that you, too, must get ready for bed. Sound confident or he'll pick up on your doubt.

  • Toddler won't stay in bed?

    10 Watch out for relapses

    You may find your child tries to slip back into old habits when big changes occur, such as a new baby or different childcare arrangements. The trick is to catch the problem before it becomes a habit again. Once you've established good sleep habits (and you will!), you'll have more confidence in your child’s ability to settle, and your ability to set boundaries.

Last updated on 17 July 2007

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