My toddler refuses to stay in bed at night and will repeatedly get up once he’s been put to bed. We’ve tried talking to him, cuddling him, and silently putting him back to bed but nothing seems to work. What’s the best way to break this cycle?
Hi Lynne – here is your answer from Jill Wheatcroft:
This is always a challenging one, once a child is out of the cot and is in a bed. Let’s turn this around for a moment and see it from the toddler’s perspective. They often feel they are missing out on the action happening outside the room or they have worked out that this is a very affective way of getting attention. So in a way a useful starting point is to consider each time it happens on the basis of – is this to get attention – is there another reason they are feeling upset and distressed about something and tailor your approach accordingly. It is good to rule out anything which may be making them uncomfortable physically such as hunger or being too hot or cold. Every child is different, but here are some suggestions of things to try.
Consider – Do you think they are tired which can translate as so tired that they find it difficult to settle or not tired enough? Look at the amount of day time naps they may be having.
Nightly Routine – You probably already have a nightly routine of bath, pyjamas, a drink and a story in bed to calm them down . You may want to also check the room is dark enough, if your child is scared of the dark then use a night light. Is the story long enough or even too long – try different methods on this.
What to do if they get out of bed when the routine has ended and you have said goodnight – When they do get up, tell them in a firm voice it is bed time and guide them back to bed, do not play games or read another story just put them back into bed, firmly say good night, see you in the morning and close the door. Do not restart chats or cuddles. You may need to spend a few nights waiting outside the door and each time they get up putting them back in bed and repeat the process until they stop. It can be time-consuming, emotionally exhausting and feel like there is no end in sight. Imagine at the outset that you are going to need to do this with the same level of consistency for 7 nights, if you go out and have a babysitter make sure they do not errr from this routine or simply go out later to make sure you are keeping the routine consistent. If you keep it up for a week all but the most strong willed toddlers will get the point.
Another addition to above is to add in a reward system. Get some stickers they particularly like (even choose them together) and make up a little chart, let them know each morning when they have stayed in bed the night before they can put a sticker on the chart and when they have a whole row they can have a little present (of small monetary value). Once they are in a regular routine you can then explain as they are a big boy or girl that they no longer need the chart.
If your child is getting very distressed then it is important to try and find out why and what can be done to help them feel safe, (referring back to the beginning of this answer each night be sure what the reason for the disruption is). Simple stuff like checking for monsters under the bed, having a night light, making sure their routine pre bed works, having some music in the background also really helps some children. It’s a bit like a days work starting in the evening, but the reward for you and your child will be immeasurable
I hope some of these suggestions help!
Jill is co-founder of Riverside Cares and Director of Training, she accepts clients for one-to-one consultancy.
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