You've put your toddler in bed and kissed them goodnight. All seems quiet... but before long, you hear a patter of little footsteps. They're out of bed, and they don't want to return. But is there anything you can do to curb this, while still supporting and responding to your child's needs?


When can this sleep problem begin?

For most of us, the crunch moment usually comes when we move a toddler out of their cot into a toddler bed – often around the age of 2-3, says baby sleep expert Rachel Waddilove.

It's no surprise that many parents feel worried about moving their toddler from a cot to a bed. Will they start climbing out of bed, disrupting your evenings and nights? Most of us have probably heard horror stories from other parents about little explorers who make the most of all that newfound freedom.

It’s only natural for a toddler who has just got their own bed to want to experiment with getting out, explains Rachel, who wrote the calming sounding Sleep Solutions – Quiet nights for you and your child from birth to five years,

The good news is that this is usually just a phase and it shouldn't last long. The harder bit is that you'll need to be firm if you want to nip this habit in the bud.

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If you give in to a toddler who constantly gets out of bed by letting them stay in the living room or your bedroom (because, let's face it, it's easier), it's going to be payback time the next night, and the one after that.

So what do you need to do?

7 ways to solve your toddler getting out of bed

1. Be consistent

“The key to solving this sleep problem is consistency. Every time they get up, take them back to their own bed with as little interaction as possible,” recommends sleep therapist Juliet Newson from Millpond children’s sleep clinic.

Initially, this may mean camping outside the door, and being prepared to take your child straight back to bed when they come out. A good book or browsing on your phone may help during your stakeout.

According to members of our community, it really can work. Charmaine advises: “Stick to your guns, stick to your routine. You need to just remain calm and keep returning your little one to bed as many times as it takes. Eventually he will get fed up and realise that he is not going to win this one. If you give in sometimes, then it will make his determination much stronger. It can wear you down, make you tired and frustrate you, but stick to it and I am sure things will pick up.”

2. Avoid making it feel like a fun new game

Your toddler might find a very emotional response from mum or dad interesting – and worth a repeat performance. Be firm and calm – and show your child that you mean business. One MFMer wisely advises: “Try not to get cross as being tense then rubs off onto toddlers. I notice that as soon as I raise my voice (not shouting) he starts playing up a bit.”

3. Explain what you are doing

It is possible to reason (to some extent) with a 3 year old, unlike with a younger child. Rachel encourages parents to talk to their child about why it's important and actually lovely to go to sleep. You should then explain what will happen if they refuse to stay in bed. “Have a two-way conversation with your child about it. Lovingly express that there can be rewards (these don't have to be sugary ones - just feeling happier for example) if they make good choices at bedtime,” she says.

HOwever, avoid getting drawn into a lengthy discussion at bedtime about why your child needs to go to sleep, as your toddler might see this as a brilliant opportunity for just a bit more procrastination. Phew, they're clever.

4. Try doing a ‘talk-through’

Talk to your child about their bedtime routine at another time of day. Pick a moment when they are calm and not distracted. With an older toddler, you can try the ‘talk-through’ technique as detailed by Noël Janis-Norton in her book Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting. This involves preparing for bedtime success by asking your toddler to tell you, in as much detail as they can, what good behaviour at bedtime looks like.

As they tell you about it, they will run through their bedtime routine in their mind, creating a little mental picture which they can follow when it is actually time for bed. You may even want to encourage them to draw the routine and put it by their bed. They could win a reward sticker every time they follow the picture.

5. Create ‘sleep rules’

Taking this a little further, paediatrician Dr Marc Weissbluth suggests in his book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child that you make a poster of simple 'sleep rules' with your toddler. This can help your child feel like they have their own rules, but they're also part of the family rules. Again, you can use sticker rewards to congratulate them each time they do well.

6. Use a treat rewards system

Both sleep experts, Rachel and Juliet, agree that with an older toddler, a rewards system for going to sleep without getting out of bed can work wonders. Juliet suggests the Millpond ‘sleep fairy’ concept. “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,” she says.

Remember treat jars don't mean sweet jars. A treat can be an extra 10 mins in the bath, an extra 20 pushes on the swing or a made-up story.

Try this: Use a sticker chart system to help your toddler visually track their progress. For example, if they can get 5 stickers on the chart, they will win a reward. “The important thing is for the reward at the end to be something that they really want - you don’t have to spend lots of money,” Rachel says. Remember, you can download reward charts from the internet.

Tell me more about rewarding toddlers for good behaviour

7. The denial technique

This is the technique you may find you turn to when nothing else seems to be working. It is more negative but it can work, as long as you do it firmly and fairly. Sleep expert Rachel suggests taking away a favourite toy for a day (though not at bedtime, if said toy is necessary for cuddling). Less stressful (possibly) could be refusing a favourite TV programme or game. You'll need to give your child clear warning and then follow through - but you can do it gently. “It’s about letting them know that there are boundaries in family life,” Rachel explains.

Through all of these techniques, it's important to reassure your child that there will always be legitimate reasons for getting out of bed – a potty/toilet visit, nightmares, not feeling well and so on. If you are using rewards or the denial technique, make sure they understand these exceptions and know they won't lose any rewards if they really do need to get up.

Keep your toddler safe if they're getting in and out of bed

Ensure that your toddler remains safe when they climb in and out of bed by pushing the bed against the wall on one side, and using a bed guard on the other. A bed guard will also prevent them from falling out.

Keep toys and other floor clutter to a minimum so that they don't trip in the dark. If your child has been in a sleeping bag, buy them a duvet or quilt instead, or invest in a sleeping bag with legs, as attempting to climb or walk in a traditional sleeping bag could lead to a fall.

Ensure you've fitted stair gates on any steep stairs if your child can open their bedroom door and get out onto a hallway or landing. A baby monitor can also be helpful – some of the modern smart monitors can be programmed to alert you if your child gets up and crosses into a specific "zone" you've specified.


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