How do I get my toddler to stay in bed?
August 20, 2014 9:13 AM   Subscribe

How do I get my almost two-year old to stay in his new toddler bed?

We recently moved my 22.5 month old from a crib to a toddler bed because he was climbing out of the crib. He used to go to sleep pretty easily at bedtime after some milk and maybe a story, but now he jumps right out of bed after I tuck him in and start to leave the room. He also gets up and comes to my room multiple times a night now. Leading him back to bed over and over again (a/k/a the Super Nanny trick) doesn't work. The only thing that works is not leaving the room until he's asleep or letting him get in bed with us, and neither option is acceptable to me in the long term. I don't want him to lose the ability to fall asleep on his own or to sleep alone. Other parents keep telling me to baby proof the crap out of his room, install a video monitor, and shut his door. But this feels cruel. I've tried shutting his door for 30 seconds and he gets hysterical. Is there a more nuanced way to go that route, like going back in his room after a few minutes and trying to get him in bed again, then leaving and shutting the door again? Or would that just make it worse? Putting up a baby gate in his doorway seems like the best idea, but I have a 3-month old sleeping in the next room and I don't want him to wake her. What worked for you?
posted by amro to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I really don't know what the books say, but I can say my parents tried the shut the door trick when I was about this age and it was by all accounts an unmitigated nightmare for everyone. But I was an exceeding difficult sleeper until they moved my baby sister into my room with me.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2014

Other parents keep telling me to baby proof the crap out of his room, install a video monitor, and shut his door. But this feels cruel.

Nope, it's not. Presumably he has toys and books and a night light in his room? It's a magical wonderland of delight. Put on some soft music if he likes that. He will learn to self-soothe.

This is basically what my parents did to me, and it's exactly what the parents of the brightest child I ever babysat for did for him. It resulted in kids who could play and learn independently.

Caveat: not a parent, don't want kids, feel free to ignore me. Just simply saying that this system can absolutely work.
posted by phunniemee at 9:18 AM on August 20, 2014 [16 favorites]

Other parents keep telling me to baby proof the crap out of his room, install a video monitor, and shut his door. But this feels cruel. I've tried shutting his door for 30 seconds and he gets hysterical.

We started doing this for naps and are now moving it to bedtime. She only really gets hysterical when she thinks one of us is listening. After it's clear that no one is coming she turns it off like a light switch. She has a doll, some books, and some blankets that she likes to arrange after we're gone. When she's upset about something else or when she's sick it doesn't work quite as well, but this is the route we're taking and it really doesn't feel cruel once we realized she was only throwing a fit as a performance.
posted by ODiV at 9:19 AM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I used a trick I called the Magical Sleepy Corner. It worked well, but patience and consistency is key.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:20 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Installed a baby gate in front of the room which helped keep the kiddo to the room. I took out anything potentially dangerous, and let the kiddo learn to sleep in her room. Didn't care if it was in the bed or on the floor!
posted by heathrowga at 9:24 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My traumatic experience was before monitors too. So yeah who knows.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:31 AM on August 20, 2014

Yup, we put a childproof doorknob cover on the inside of the door for use at bedtime. If he wanted out he'd bang on the door or yell and we'd go check on him. But in general he quickly learned that unless he was hungry or otherwise needed parental assistance he could have lots of fun playing with his stuff quietly. Eventually we took the lock back off and he still generally doesn't wander out of his room at night even though he can open the door himself.
posted by agress at 9:36 AM on August 20, 2014

So we have a video monitor, and we close the door to keep the sound down and motivate him to sleep (but we did that when they was sleeping in the crib too), what really made the difference for us with our two boys was the video monitor. We'd put them down and watch it for awhile. If they got out of bed, we'd tell them to get back in bed (without opening the door). Our current model allows you to talk through the monitor, which is awesome. We call it the Voice of God mode. Mine always had this shocked, "How did she know I was getting up?" look whenever they got up, and it stopped them cold. Once they thought I would always know when they were getting up, they stopped trying. Both of my boys can open doors themselves (and could when we started this), so the door being closed didn't really stop them if they needed or wanted to leave.
posted by katers890 at 9:42 AM on August 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Our friends went the route of baby proof room, video monitor, baby gate with open door. They have a two year old. They did a gentle transition with one of them sleeping on a mattress on the floor next to her toddler bed, and did a lot of explaining and repetition about how it was her room and she would sleep by herself to get her ready to be in there alone. I think it took about a month and she stays in bed now. We have a kid the same age and are going the same route once I get his room fully baby-proofed.

They have this gate and swear by it.
posted by JenMarie at 9:50 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I stood inside the bedroom door and sang soothing songs. When he got out of bed, I shut the door, staying inside with him. When he got back into bed, I opened the door again. I repeated again and again to him that he could have the door open as long as he stayed in his bed, but that the door would be closed if he got out of bed. For some reason he really wanted that door to be open, so this was strongly motivating.

Over the course of several nights, we spent a few trying hours on the door open/closed thing, with me in the bedroom with him. It was well worth it because he could not fall asleep unless he stayed in bed long enough.

This was straight out of Richard Ferber's book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. The book is about all sorts of solutions, not just crying-it-out as some people would have you believe.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I call this technique "the mean daddy." It involves hanging out outside the child's door and listening. As soon as little feet hit the ground, daddy walks in and puts the child back in bed. No discussion, no words, just back in bed. Daddy is all business.

Toddler will get closer to the door the more toddler shows ninja sneak skills.Toddler will be entertained by this for a while and continue playing. That's okay, daddy likes raising a ninja.

Don't get frustrated, don't get angry. Don't feel sad for the manipulative hysterical crying. Toddler is trying to exploit biological inklings to be nurturing. That means the toddler wins. Daddy doesn't like to lose. Daddy is a stone cold ninja in the dark listening for the pitter-patter of padawan feet.

The toddler will play this game for around 2.5 hours the first night. Daddy will win. Toddler will play for maybe an hour for the second night. Daddy still wins. You'll have a whole bunch of 15-30 minute nights after that. Daddy has no problem with getting a 30 day win streak. Then, all of a sudden, toddler realizes that daddy always wins and toddler stays in bed and goes to sleep.

Daddy always wins. Daddy is more stubborn than a toddler, and daddy brings beer.
posted by bfranklin at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2014 [45 favorites]

My son got a bath every night, followed by cuddles, story time (1 or 2), then lights out and music. His favorites were The California Raisins Sing the Hits and Raffi.

Without the music, he could hear the TV and people talking, so this helped give him some relaxing white noise, I guess.

We also kept the bathroom light on, so he had a little bit of light spilling into his room, but not in his face. Woe betide the person who use the loo and shut the light off before he was asleep.

A few times, he would call out, "more music!" and we'd have to go flip the tape over, but I imagine nowadays you could set up an iPod for a bit longer.

I think the bath time was key, because it was his own special time and probably helped relax him. That might be hard to finagle with a baby as well, so it helps if you have a partner to do the bath time if the baby needs attention.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

We went the closing the door route. I felt awful the first night, she cried like she was dying for about 10 minutes and then laid by her door calling for me before falling asleep after about 25 minutes. Night two, 5 minutes of crying and then some playing and falling asleep on the floor. When she was good and asleep we opened the door and put her in bed. Night three she played with her toys and fell asleep on the floor again. Now a few weeks later she will play with her toys quietly for 30 min - hour and then fall asleep in her bed. We put her down at 7pm so the playing quietly for an hour isn't a big deal to us but YMMV. Our daughter just turned two, so she's right at the same age yours is. Good luck!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 10:26 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like I should add that we don't just shut the door and leave. There's a routine of brush teeth, sing a song in the rocking chair, tuck in and get a kiss and then we leave. It's the same routine we've had since she started sleeping in a crib so it works well.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 10:30 AM on August 20, 2014

For my kid it was just a matter of making sure there was SOMETHING he could focus on while in bed. Something he could listen to or look at. It is part bordom (lying in bed when you don't want to sleep can be super boring) but also just occupying his mind so that he doesn't think about getting out of bed. For him it was his little song playing fishtank thing that used to be on his crib. He'd turn it on himself and watch it (it had lights). As he got older having a flashlight to play with helped, but really for my kid it is the SOUND. We put on music (pretty loudly) and he falls asleep WAY faster. And once he is asleep I turn on his white noise generator. Both are key. So music or maybe recordings of stories or just nature sounds. Something so that they don't feel drowned in silence and ALONE.*


*As an adult I still get massively MASSIVELY uncomfortable in silence. Power outages are an effing nightmare for me because things are too quiet. For me to sleep I need white noise (usually in the form of a fan that I have on the floor by my bed). There is a reason why white noise generators exist.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

We waited until he was 3. My husband is very toddler hysterics adverse. I would have been fine with a monitor and closing the door.

It happens either way, eventually.
posted by jbenben at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2014

My parents removed the doorknob from the inside of the door. We eventually figured out how to get to sleep on our own. In the same situation my son will scream until he pukes. YMMV.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2014

We just responded to get-ups as dispassionately as possible and walked the kid back to bed with no emotion or conversation other than a quiet "it's bedtime, good night". Over and over as necessary. Eventually the kid would get bored and stop (within a week or two for both of ours).
posted by padraigin at 12:07 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The 10 minutes of hysterical crying is the worst 10 minutes of your life, but the kid does give up and go to sleep. If you open the door, you lose. You just restarted the 10 min cry-fest timer. You have to be willing to grit your teeth, feel like the worst parent in the world, and wait it out. After a few days of this hell, it starts to click - rock, read, tuck in, go out the door and it is bed time*.

We only found him sleeping on the floor once. We generally had to fix the blankets and make sure he was covered, but heck he starts kindergarten on Wednesday and we STILL check to see that he is covered after he falls asleep.

(This worked beautifully for us until the kid learned how to open his own door. Then we had to start locking it until we were sure he was out for the night.)
posted by caution live frogs at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our technique was just to roll with it and stay in the room until the kid was asleep. Kid went into bed, and the deal was I'd stay in the rocking chair across the room provided she stayed in her bed after tucks and kisses and jugs and rubbing her tush.

In that rocking chair, while I waited for her to fall asleep, I listened to podcasts, read several Jane Austen books on my phone, played ridiculous amounts of Princess Debut, Harvest Moon, and Phoenix Wright on my Nintendo DS, and in general had a fabulous time. To be honest, I kind of miss that quiet hour now that she's too big for that.
posted by Andrhia at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I should note that in addition to having a toddler and a 3-month old, I have a husband who works nights so more often than not I'm home alone. So staying in the room with my son for hours isn't necessarily feasible.

I'm happy to hear that letting him cry a bit probably won't scar him for life.
posted by amro at 3:43 PM on August 20, 2014

Maybe wear him out more in the evening?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:03 PM on August 20, 2014

My parents tell the story of 2 year old me who refused to go to bed. I kept getting up to hang, because there was TV and people and noms.

So my Dad, who was studying for his MSW decided to put some of that Piaget stuff to work. They sat up reading. I got up out of bed and went into the living room, and saw them reading. If I talked, they ignored me. According to the fable, I got bored and went back to my own room.

When I reached the age of reason (3) my mother simply stated: "You don't have to sleep in there, you just can't come out."

After that, I decided that sleep was pretty nifty and gave no more trouble.

If it helps, my dad says it's all front-loaded. If you do the work when they're young, kids are MUCH easier to deal with as they get older.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:43 PM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had the same situation, toddler moved into big-boy bed before he was "ready" because he was climbing out repeatedly and hurting himself. We childproofed the room (including at one point removing some furniture he could climb on), put a knob cover on the inside knob, got him a child-safe flashlight, and straight-up told him he could play with his toys and read his books as long as he wanted to but he was in his room for the night. Then we shut the door. There was some mild hysteria right at first, but he rapidly realized running back and forth with his flashlight, playing cars, and looking at books was more fun. We did not use a monitor; our house is small and I can hear shenanigans.

The positive part of this is that when our other friends started going through "But I don't WANT to go to bed!" with preschoolers and kindergarteners who now have more agency in controlling their own sleep, ours is like, "Yeah, okay, I'll take my book and my legos up, see ya," and when he gets tired he goes to sleep.

(My other son never climbed out of his crib, never wanted to, and was totes fine with the toddler bed and never gets out. I still have to stick my head in in the morning and tell him it's time to be awake because even if he's been awake for an hour, he's just playing quietly in bed.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:12 PM on August 20, 2014

This is the tactic that worked with my four - I never would have been comfortable closing the door and walking away... and between 1-3 weeks was approximately the length of time it took to "train" them to stay put.

After hugs and loves and etc, whatever your typical nighttime routine, quietly "leave" by turning the lights off and sitting down near the doorway with something quiet to do in the dark - once upon a time, that was an ebook on my Treo, today, it would be my Kindle paperwhite. If he talks or sits up, remind him it's time to go to sleep and give no other response. If he fusses, remind then ignore it. If he gets out of bed, replace him and repeat that it's time to go to sleep.

If he's really having difficulty at the beginning with staying in bed and settling down, start with sitting near enough to place a hand lightly on his back/tummy/hand/arm/whatever will help him remember and stay put. As he gets better with it, you can move to farther from the bed - your presence helps remind - then to the doorway, then just out of sight outside the door, then you're done.
posted by stormyteal at 7:44 PM on August 20, 2014

Not much help at the moment, but I think the main thing that kept my sister and I from wanting to get out of bed is that we had each other to talk to and keep each other company. So, maybe it will be easier for the next kid.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:44 PM on August 21, 2014

What worked for us was telling our toddler that she could only have the door open if she didn't come out of her room. And then following through. She really did NOT want that door closed. Since that seems to be true with your little one, maybe that will work? Yours is a little younger than ours was, though.
posted by freezer cake at 3:23 PM on August 21, 2014

Response by poster: So here's the update: Last night I gently told him that he had to stay in bed, and that if he didn't stay in bed I would shut the door. He didn't stay in bed. I shut the door. Hysterics for more than 10 minutes then I went in his room and rocked him until he fell asleep.

Tonight I took a different tack and started out by telling him in the afternoon that because he is a big boy now in a big boy bed, he is allowed to read and play quietly in his room at night if he can't sleep. We even picked out some extra toys from his playroom to bring to his room.

I let him stay up later than usual because it occurred to me that he just doesn't seem as tired at bedtime as he used to be, and he's taking longer naps than he used to. We did our milk and story bedtime routine, then I reminded him that he had to stay in his room but not necessarily in bed. He whined as I left the room and closed the door.... And that was it! I watched on the video monitor as he ran back and forth between the bed and the door a few times. Then he eventually settled in bed and was asleep within 15 minutes with no crying! I even snuck into his room to turn on his sound machine (which I had forgotten to do) and he stayed sound asleep. Amazeballs!

I left his door shut, and since it's only 10:30, I'll have to see what the rest of the night brings as I expect he'll wake up at some point as he has every night since he got the new bed. But the fact that he went to sleep tonight pretty easily and with no hysterics is a win that I really needed! Thank you all!
posted by amro at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And.... He slept all night! He woke up at 5:30 but sat in bed reading for a while. Here's hoping it wasn't a one time thing.
posted by amro at 5:03 AM on August 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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