As a parent of a toddler, I understand the struggle all too well. Bedtime rolls around, you tuck your little one in nice and snug, say goodnight with cuddles and kisses, and quietly sneak out of the room. But not 5 minutes later, you hear the pitter patter of little feet running down the hallway to find you. Why won’t they just stay in bed?! When your toddler won’t stay in bed it can be frustrating and lead to sleep disruptions for the whole family.
Believe me, I’ve been there. After months of frustration and many sleepless nights for the whole family, I finally discovered some tricks that really worked wonders for getting my toddler to happily stay tucked in bed after bedtime. And I’m excited to share them with you!
Why Do Toddlers Resist Staying in Bed? Understanding Toddler Sleep Struggles
Before we dive into the strategies, it’s helpful to understand what’s going on in our little ones’ heads around bedtime. Toddlerhood is a period of huge growth, learning, and discovery. They are realizing their independence and want to assert control. Staying up past bedtime against mom and dad’s wishes can feel like a small way they can exert their newfound autonomy.
Toddlers also struggle with separating from their caregivers at bedtime. Being alone in their room away from the comfort and safety of mom or dad can provoke anxiety. Fear of missing out on any potential fun and playtime happening outside their rooms can further fuel resistance. Overtiredness and needing extra comfort and reassurance can also motivate them to venture out of bed in search of you.
Knowing the “why” will help the following tricks make more sense!
How Much Sleep Does My Toddler Need?
As a quick reference, here are the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for total sleep needed per 24 hours by age:
- 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
- 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
Getting adequate, quality sleep is crucial for your toddler’s growth and development. Without enough of it, you may observe:
- Increased crankiness, temper tantrums, and defiance
- Hyperactivity and trouble concentrating
- Delays reaching cognitive and speech milestones
- Weakened immune system and tendency to fall ill
If you notice any of these, take a closer look at your child’s daily sleep total and see if an earlier bedtime or nap adjustments might help. Every tot is unique so observe their fatigue and hunger cues closely.
When Should You Start Toddler Sleep Training?
Many pediatricians recommend introducing sleep training techniques starting around 6 months old once night feeds are no longer needed. But adjusting expectations is key – true self-soothing and the ability to put oneself back to sleep doesn’t usually kick in until toddlerhood, around 18-24 months old.
You can start laying the foundation early through consistent sleep schedules and bedtime routines. But don’t expect overnight miracles! Be consistent yet flexible, allowing maturity to run its course as your little one develops the skills to sleep independently.
|2-3 naps totalling 3-4 hrs
|1-2 naps totalling 2-3 hrs
|1 nap of 1-2 hrs
|Possible 30 min rest time
Consistency is Key for Toddler Bedtime Success
Many of the following tips depend on you sticking to certain approaches over time consistently. I know – easier said than done for busy parents! But truly, maintaining consistency both in your nightly routine and in how you respond to middle-of-the-night antics pays off exponentially.
Kids crave routines and predictability. Knowing what to expect and that mom or dad will reliably be there to comfort them if needed brings security that makes staying in bed much less intimidating!
Alright, let’s get to the good stuff – 9 tricks I’ve used successfully to get my toddler snoozing the whole night through in his bed!
1. Make the Toddler Bedroom Sleep Environment Toddler Friendly
Transform your tot’s room into a space they enjoy spending time in. Use their favorite colors when decorating, let them pick out fun bedsheets covered in animals or their beloved cartoon characters, hang art at their eye level, and fill shelves with books and toys they can entertain themselves with before falling asleep. This gives them positive associations with the room.
Toddler Sleep Pro Tip: Include some special toys or books they only have access to when in their bedroom so bedtime feels exciting!
2. Institute a Consistent, Calming Toddler Bedtime Routine
Establishing a regular bedtime routine is key for signaling to your toddler’s body that it’s time to wind down. Follow the same sequence of 3-5 calming activities each night – things like taking a warm bath, putting on pajamas, reading stories, listening to soft music, and cuddling. Keep lighting dim to spur melatonin release.
Be sure to stick to the same schedule, duration, and activities from night to night. Familiarity breeds comfort and makes drifting off easier. Over time, they’ll come to understand what’s expected at bedtime.
3. Introduce a “Toddler Comfort Buddy” for Bedtime
Having a special stuffed animal or blankie to cuddle can ease anxieties over separating from mom and dad at night. This serves as a transitional object – a soothing reminder of parents’ love and security. Let your child pick which toy will hold this very important role!
Then incorporate that comfort buddy into every step of the bedtime routine – have it “take” a bath too, read it a story, tuck it into bed first, etc. This imbues it with associations of coziness and relaxation to promote better sleep.
Toddler Comfort Objects
Using a comfort object is an excellent sleep association for little kids transitioning away from parental contact to self-soothe. The familiarity and tactile nature gives anxious minds something constructive to focus on. These special “lovies” provide continuity and a sense of security.
Choose blankets, stuffed toys, or dolls that excite your toddler and observe them gravitating towards naturally. Then intentionally reinforce attachment by having your child care for it – naming it, cuddling it, pretending to feed it. Ritualize including it in comforting bedtime routines.
Over time, simply touching this treasured item when away from parents relaxes the nervous system. Your tot learns they can replicate that cozy feeling independently. This builds confidence falling asleep alone as that comfort buddy “stands in” for you.
4. Tell Sleepytime Stories Before Toddler Lights Out
Reading a story as part of your bedtime routine offers several sleep-promoting benefits. Following along with a narrative requires focus and attention span, both mentally tiring faculties. Hearing the soothing cadence of your voice is inherently calming. Tales with sleepy characters or plotlines get them thinking about rest.
As you reach the end, let them know that you’ll finish tomorrow night to pique their interest in going to bed again. And make sure those last pages feature the characters drifting off to sleep just like it’s time for your little reader to!
5. Offer Loving Toddler Bedtime Reassurances
Verbally comforting your toddler’s worries over sleeping alone goes a long way. Empathize with how scary the dark room seems or how frustrating missing playtime with mommy feels. Share that everyone needs good sleep to play and grow the next day. Remind them that you’re just down the hall if they need you and will check on them later.
Repeat these loving mantras as you tuck them in each night until they become ingrained as self-talk they can replay independently. Write them down on a card they can “read” to a stuffed animal if separation anxiety flares after you leave.
6. Set Clear Toddler Bedtime Limits and Stick to Them
Once your bedtime routine concludes and the goodnights have been said, resist engaging if your toddler tries bargaining for one more glass of water or another kiss. Be warm yet direct that it’s time for sleeping now.
Follow through on whatever disciplinary approach you set – whether returning them to bed with no discussion upon finding them up or closing the door to contain them in their room. Consistency and firmness, though difficult emotionally, pays off. Children feel most secure when limits are predictable.
7. Use Rewards to Motivate Toddler Staying in Bed
Toddlers love praise, attention, and accolades! Take advantage of this by implementing a reward system. A sticker chart is most common – they earn a sticker to place each morning they stay tucked in bed all night. Or a small treat when a full week of stickers has been earned.
This positive reinforcement and ability to physically track progress excites young children. Display the chart prominently so they see evidence of accomplishment building. Verbal praise like high fives, dance parties and proud proclamations the next morning further motivates.
8. Toddler Proof the Bedroom For Bedtime Success
Scan your toddler’s bedroom with fresh eyes to identify anything potentially triggering middle-of-the-night mischief that’s avoidable. Are favorite toys or distracting books within reach? Can they access potentially messy art supplies? Is the space baby proofed against safety risks like unlocked drawers or cables?
Removing temptation and ability to get into things they shouldn’t prevents situations forcing them to venture out for help. You want bedtime to be drama-free. Taking away these opportunities for disruption goes far.
9. Remain Patient and Consistent Over Time With Toddler Sleep Training
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Getting a toddler happily sleeping through the night independently requires diligent commitment and oodles of patience as you incrementally shape behavior over weeks or months. You’ll still have bumps in the road as developmental milestones or disruptions to routine occur. Expect some backsliding!
But staying the course with consistency, firm yet caring limits, and TLC pays dividends for your whole family’s wellbeing. Have faith that your reassuring words praising their progress and empathizing with frustrations sync in over time.
Still struggling with a resistant toddler after trying these sleep tricks? The key is not losing hope! Evaluate whether you need to go back and shore up foundations again – focus on regular bedtime scheduling, solidifying comforting rituals, or addressing fears. For extra support, consider working with a pediatric sleep consultant tailored to your family’s needs, like Taking Cara Babies and founder Cara Dumaplin.
At the end of the day, remind yourself that this too shall pass! Their fierce independence will give fruits of happy bedtime compliance in time. Offer love and patience as they work through this developmental leap. Consistency and sticking to evidence-based techniques work wonders.
Sleep well and dream happy dreams! If you found this article on toddler sleep struggles and toddler bedtime tips helpful, check out my other posts on newborn sleep, baby sleep, sleep training, and more using the categories below!
FAQ – Toddler Won’t Stay in Bed?
What if my toddler fights or cries at bedtime?
It’s very normal for toddlers to resist bedtime, even with a consistent calming routine. Have patience, empathize with their feelings, but firmly stick to the established schedule. Avoid reacting strongly to crying which reinforces it. Offer reassurance like a comfort object or story. Stay calm yet consistent in gently returning them to bed.
How much earlier should bedtime be if my toddler isn’t getting enough sleep?
As a guideline, aim to move bedtime 15-30 minutes earlier per night until the right amount of total sleep is achieved. Gradually adjust so not to disrupt their biological clock. If bedtime is already early, consider shorter or fewer daytime naps to consolidate nighttime rest. Observe their unique sleep needs.
What if we travel and my toddler’s routine is disrupted?
Expect some bedtime struggles after travel or schedule disruptions until equilibrium is reestablished. Mimic components of the familiar routine like taking a relaxing bath. Have any comforting transitional objects on hand. Plan for later wake-ups until back on their schedule. Temporary flexibility helps minimize battles.
Could medical issues like reflux or allergies disturb my toddler’s sleep?
It’s possible. Reflux can create discomfort making lying down unpleasant. Allergy congestion can lead to mouth breathing that interrupts deep sleep. Ear infections also hurt more when reclining. Check with your pediatrician if sleep struggles persist despite schedule consistency. Treat any underlying conditions for relief.
What’s the best way to transition toddler out of the crib into a big kid bed?
Wait until at least 18 months and demonstrate emotional readiness like verbalizing wants, more independence, curiosity about “big kid” things. Involve them picking out new exciting bedding to get buy-in. Use a transitional guard rail initially. Place the mattress on the floor if fall risk worries you. Read stories portraying it as an exciting “big kid” milestone!