Oh, to get your toddler to sleep in their own bed at night…
Its the dream, isn’t it? You put your toddler to sleep, in their own bed, and they stay there all night. They don’t come and get you until the morning. You get a full 8 hours of sleep (okay, probably more like 6, but we can dream, right?). Are you wondering how you can make this dream a reality?
Well, read on to find out how to get your toddler to sleep in their own bed.
I wish I could tell you if you do these three easy steps, your child will sleep in their own bed all night. But it just isn’t so. Depending on the age of your child, they may have a long history of either co-sleeping, or getting out of their bed to come over to yours. So your first few nights may be rough, and may require LOTS of redirecting back to the bed. If this describes your child, make sure you read to the end. I have a special trick for these toddlers!
One big rule before get you started though…
Once you decide that your toddler has to stay in their own bed all night on their own, you need to stick to it. You can’t waiver in your resolve, and you can’t change your mind because you child had a rough day or is fussing significantly. If you do, this will teach your toddler to make a bigger fuss in the future! So, if you know that you have company coming within the next week, or that you’ll have some other life disruption coming up (or something else that will make it even harder than need be to work with your child), wait until you have a solid time of “normal” life to begin this process.
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A few days before…
Set the expectation. A few days or so before your toddler is to begin sleeping in their own bed, start talking to them about what is going to happen. Using simple language, tell them that they need to start staying in their own bed all night. Tell them you love them, but that you want everyone to get enough sleep so you all can have fun all day during the day without being tired.
Some parents have a lot of success by pairing big changes like this with birthdays. “When you turn 3, you’ll sleep in your own bed because 3 year olds are so big!” If a big milestone like this is far off though, just plan it for a time that works for your family.
To get them used to the idea, read some stories about sleeping in your own bed. Here are a few good choices:
Or make on of your own! In behavior analysis speak, we call these social stories. Basically, make a simple story line such as:
“My name is Carter, and I am a big boy (picture of Carter). I have a big boy bed (picture of the bed). Tonight, I am going to sleep in my big boy bed (picture of Carter sleeping/pretending to sleep in the bed). I am going to stay in the bed all night. If I do, I will get a surprise in the morning (picture of a surprise). If I wake up, I squeeze my teddy/snuggle with my blanket/think about my favorite story/etc. (picture of what he can do/think about). I can’t wait to see Mommy and Daddy in the morning, and get my surprise!”
The night of…
Go through your night time routine as usual. Then walk your toddler to their bed and tuck them in. Remind them that if they stay in their bed all night, they will get a prize in the morning. Make sure that the prize something that they REALLY love.
If they come to your room, walk them back to their room, tuck them in again, and go back to your room. Be consistent, and try your best to stay calm. If your child only wakes up once or twice a night, calm, consistent redirection can be very effective.
If your child has never slept in their own room, you may have to sleep on the floor beside them for the first few nights. Once they are comfortable and have stayed in their beds for a few nights, transition to sitting in a chair in their room until they fall asleep. Again, if they get out of bed, calmly walk them back to their room and put them back in bed.
For the child who gets out of bed SEVERAL TIMES A NIGHT.. you may need another trick up your sleeve.
For a toddler who is getting out of bed multiple times, you may need to start by just rewarding getting out of bed less. Yep – you’re going to reward your child for just not getting out of bed as many times as they usually do.
For example, lets say your toddler typically gets out of bed 7 times a night. You’re getting no sleep, and your kid is getting no sleep. So start by rewarding your child if they only get out of bed 6 times a night. To do this, you’ll need some sort of visual reminder for your child. For example, put 7 cars on their dresser. Each time they wake up and you bring them back to bed, take a car off the dresser. If they still have one car on the dresser in the morning, then they get a prize! This is a great visual reminder for the toddler for how many times they can get out of bed without losing their prize. Explain it to your toddler before bed by saying something like, “Carter, tonight, you are going to stay in your own bed. Every time you get out of bed, I am going to take a car off your dresser. If you still have one car left on your dresser in the morning, you get a prize!”
After a night or two in a row where your toddler earns a prize in the morning, reduce the number of cars on the dresser to 6. Again, after a night or two of success and getting a prize for only getting out of bed 5 times, reduce the number of cars again. Keep doing this until your child starts the night with one car, and only gets a prize if they stay in bed all night.
You can also do this with a jar of candy and take one away each time the toddler gets out of bed. If they have any left in the morning, they get to eat them. If you use candy, make sure you use their absolute favorite, and make sure they don’t get any of it unless they sleep in their own bed.
I know that this method sounds a little complicated, and you’re probably wondering if your toddler can understand it. I’ve seen this work with kids as young as a new 3 year old, so don’t underestimate your child!
A quick note about prizes…
Prizes don’t have to be anything big or expensive! They can be little matchbox cars, a piece of candy, a sticker for a sticker chart (get 5 stickers and earn and ice cream cone!), or a cheap bracelet. Make sure you choose a prize or that your child will really love. You want to make sure that sleeping in their own bed was worth it. If not, your toddler may be tempted to not sleep in their own bed the next night. And one more note for those parents who hate to see their kids sad… remember to only give your child the prize if they earn it! If you told them they had to stay in bed all night, then only give them the prize if they stay in bed all night!
The next morning…
If your child stayed in bed all night, or still had one car/piece of candy left in the morning, praise them generously!! Give your child their reward and tell them how proud you are!
If you’re wondering how your child will know when its morning, these visual aids are really helpful (and cute!). They flash a certain color of give an indicator that its time to wake up.
Remember, once you start this process, there is no looking back.
Every time that you start the process of requiring a child to stay in their own bed, and then allow them back into your bed, it makes it even harder for you the next time you try. So stay calm, be consistent, and you will get your toddler to sleep in their own bed.
Good luck! I’d love to hear if this method works for you!