You've just put your toddler down for the night but does your child have other up-at-all-hours ideas?


If your child won't stay in their bed at bedtime, keeps getting up in the middle of the night or gets out of bed ridiculously early in the morning, we share your sleep-deprived toddler-parent pain – and here, with the expert help of children's sleep consultants Mandy Gurney and Maryanne Taylor, we've got some great practical tips for teaching your child to stay sleeping in their own bed.

Here's how to get your toddler to stay in their own bed

When your toddler won't stay in bed at bedtime | When your toddler keeps getting out of bed in the night | When your toddler keeps getting out of bed really early in the morning

When your toddler won't stay in their bed at bedtime

  • Stick to a consistent bedtime routine

"It's really important to have a unvarying, calming bedtime routine," says sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works. "Sticking to a predictable wind-down before bedtime is so important for toddlers."

Think of a toddler bedtime routine like you're both at a spa, says Mandy Gurney, founder of the Millpond Sleep Clinic. "First, set aside 10 minutes for any kind of chatting about the day you want to do before you start getting your child ready for bed.

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"Then put toys away, turn screens off, sit quietly and do some fine-motor play, such as puzzles, drawing or colouring in. After that, take them for a 5-minute bath in dim light. Five minutes is all it needs to be: don't let it become playtime. And think like you're at a spa all the way through, with quiet voices and gentle movements.

"Once the bath is done, go straight into your child's bedroom and get them ready for bed, with the lights dimmed. Have a cuddle and a story, and then say good night."

  • Make their room nice and cosy

A safe and familiar sleep environment, with comfort objects and favourite blankets and posters, will only aid your toddler's journey to the land of nod.

Sarah, a member of our MadeForMums Community, made of point of doing this by getting her little boy a new blanket and some posters with his favourite characters on, as well as a nightlight as he was scared of the dark. "This got him all excited about his new big boy bedroom," she says, "and he wanted to be in it and stay in it."

And Siobhan, another member of our MadeForMums Community even went with her son to buy a special new bed. "We chose a new bed and I bought a new mattress and he rarely comes to me in the night now," she says. "I don’t know if his new bed is more comfortable or more fun or what, but so far so good!"

  • Make sure you cuddle your child and leave the room the right way

If your toddler is used to falling asleep in your arms or being cuddled under or on top of the covers, now's the time to break the habit – slowly but surely.

"If you cuddle your child to sleep," explains Mandy, "then, when your child wakes in the night and you're not there, they will often come and find you – you are the only way they can get back to sleep. So, if you change how you put them to sleep at bedtime, this will improve.

"First, sit on the bed with just a hand on them until they nod off. Then, after a few days of this, sit by the side of the bed with your hand on them. Then, sit halfway down the side of the bed but still have your hand on them, and then you can sit on the bottom of the bed, with your hand on their feet.

"Each one of these steps will take between 4 and 7 nights, always staying until they are fully asleep and then leaving, gradually, creeping your way towards the door using slow, tiny, little steps."

Is it the right time to tackle your toddler's sleep?

Timing is key when it comes to switching up sleeping arrangements, says Mandy Gurney.

"This is going to be an emotional upheaval for your toddler," she says. "So, don't make theses changes if you have any big events coming up, such as starting nursery, moving house or another baby due."

And make sure you're managing your expectations about how long this process will probably last: it can take up to 6 weeks for most children to learn to stay in their bed independently. 

  • Be consistent – but gentle and patient

However frustrating it might be, it is important to remain calm and consistent when you're helping your toddler learn to fall asleep in bed. And, if you have a partner, both of you need to be united on this.

"If you rush it or skip the steps," says Mandy, "your child can start to get a little wobbly and then they will take longer to go to sleep, get upset and cry. Expect slow, steady progress, rather than overnight success."

  • Reinforce the new sleep routine with positive daytime praise

Children love to be told how well they're doing. "Use positive reinforcement, such as rewards and praise, for going to sleep in their own bed," says Maryanne.

You could mark their progress with a little treat or just say how proud you are of them and what a big boy or girl they are going to sleep in their own bed.

Mandy use the 'sleep fair' concept with her sleep-clinic clients. "This is where parents tell their children that the sleep fairy visits in the night to see if they’'re staying in bed. If they are, a treat is added to their treat jar. It's a great motivator."

When your toddler keeps getting out of bed during the night

  • Take them back each time

"If they get out of bed, just take them back," says Mandy. "Do it every time. Don't say anything; just gently get them back into bed. Sit in their room until they go back to sleep and then go back to your own bed."

Gemma from our MadeForMums community says that her daughter really didn’t like this at first. "Think screaming, wailing and clinging to my legs," she says. "But she did get the idea after a few goes. You need to stay strong."

  • Be consistent and very boring

Minimal interaction is key here (which is obviously a blessing if you've just been woken up from a deep sleep by a little escape artist). "Just be like a zombie and take them back into bed," says Mandy. "Use a simple sentence like, 'Come on, back to bed.' Stay calm, and walk them back. "

"You just have to persevere and keep the routine the same," says Bryony from our MadeForMums community. "Keep putting them back to bed with as little interaction as possible."

What if my child has a nightmare?

A nightmare can be scary and upsetting for your toddler, so it's quite normal for them to end up in your bed. However, if you find this is happening more often than not, it can become a habit.

As with anything that causes your child distress, you’ll naturally want to reassure your toddler but it’s always best to try do the soothing in your toddler’s room.

"Offer reassurance and comfort by going to their room,", says Maryanne Taylor. "Let them know they are safe and you are there for them. Remind them any security object, such as a favourite teddy or blanket, that can help ease their fears."

You could also try turning over their pillow to "turn the nightmare away".

  • Consider a stairgate

This works best when done at the same time as the transition from a cot to a toddler bed.

"When you put the bed in the room, put a stairgate across the door at the same time, so it’s almost as if you've created their room as a big cot," says Mandy.

But it can also work well if put in later on, as Bethan from our MadeForMums community found. "My little boy was getting out of bed and running from his room to mine and then his sister's room," she says, "so I put a stairgate on his door and left his door open.

"Once he realised that, when the gate was closed, it was bedtime and he couldn't leave his room, it worked. Some nights, he still gets out of bed but, as he can't leave his room, he just gets back in bed and goes to sleep. It took a while, but he did finally get it."

When your toddler is getting out of bed too early in the morning

  • Put up blackout blinds

Blackout blinds help create a dark and cosy surrounding for your child, encouraging a darker sleep environment. This can be especially useful during the spring and summer months, nights are lighter and mornings are brighter.

  • Have lights on a timer switch

You can use fairy lights, or a 'magic' lamp with a low-watt bulb, in conjunction with a timer, to encourage your toddler to stay in bed for longer.

For this to work, you need to set the timer first for when they normally wake, then gradually move it later – say by 5 minutes at a time – and explain it's only morning and time for getting up when the light comes on.

Several parents in our MadeForMums community have had a lot of success with sleep trainer clocks, too. "We got a Groclock, which was absolutely amazing," says Seema. "We moved our daughter over to a big bed and she wouldn't come out of her room until the clock went yellow. She’s almost 5 now and she still does it!"

  • Create a reward chart

A reward chart is a great way to encourage and praise your toddler for staying in bed till it's properly morning. If they manage it, they can earn a sticker and heaps of praise, which will hopefully spur them on to keep up the good work.

  • Have a toybox or books in the bedroom

Some parents prefer not to allow toys in a child’s bedroom but, if your toddler is an early riser, having a toybox or bookcase in their room can encourage them to play when they wake in the early morning, rather than waking up the entire household.

"If our daughter gets up early to play with toys or get a book, we don't mind," says Pranesha, a member of our MadeForMums community, "as staying in her room was the main goal. She then actually often settles down again."

  • Reduce/stop daytime napping

If your toddler is still having a lengthy daytime nap, this could be a reason for waking up too early. "They may be having too much sleep in the day," says Mandy. "So think about dropping the nap: if a child is having too much sleep in the day, that can cause early rising."

What if my child is sick?

Of course, if your toddler is feeling under the weather, you can obviously adjust things and make exceptions.

"If your child is ill, it’s much better to camp out in their bedroom, rather than bringing your child into your bed," says Mandy Gurney, "because then you’ve got to undo all that work again."

And once your child is feeling better, you should immediately go back to your usual routine. "It might take 3 or 4 days for your child to settle," says Mandy, "but just be consistent and it will go back to what was working before."

About our children's sleep expert Mandy Gurney

Sleep consultant Mandy Gurney is an experienced healthcare professional and founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic. With medical training in nursing, midwifery and health visiting, Mandy has been advising on baby, toddler, school-aged and young people's sleep issues for over 30 years. She has written a number of books including Teach Your Child to Sleep. She is a mum of 2.

About our children's sleep expert Maryanne Taylor

Sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor is founder of The Sleep Works. Maryanne believes in gentle approaches to teaching your child to sleep well and trained with Kim West (The Sleep Lady) in the US. Maryanne is a member of the British Sleep Society and the International Association for Sleep Consultants. She is a mum of 3.

Pic: Getty Images


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Joanne Marsh has been a journalist and content producer for over 15 years and has written for the likes of MTV, NME and The Mirror. After having children, she now writes and edits parenting content for MadeForMums and loves the idea of being able to help parents like herself. Joanne lives in Essex with her husband and 3 sons