How To Get Toddlers To Stay In Their Beds

If you're having trouble keeping your little ones in their bed at night, the following proven tips may be helpful.

Tucking little Jimmy into bed at eight o'clock, you slip out of his room and settle down to read the newspaper. A moment later he calls:

"Mom! I'm thirsty."

With a sigh you lay the newspaper aside and go to the kitchen to pour a glass of milk for your unsleepy two-year-old. Handing him the cup, you groan as he takes just a sip.

"Now I have to go to the bathroom."

Irritated you ask,

"Can't it wait?"

"I'll wet the bed," he offers knowingly.

You lead the way to the bathroom and wait outside until you hear the familiar flush. As the door opens you ask,

"Ready to sleep yet?"


"You're going to bed anyway," you snarl.

Thus goes a typical struggle with getting your child to bed on time and keeping him there. What's a parent to do?

This universal problem has been approached many different ways with varying results. Here are some of the more effective means of getting and keeping your child in bed.

1. Read a book. First, read one for yourself. There are several on the market about how to get your child to go to sleep without fussing at night. Check the library and book store to find one that seems like it might address your particular problem. Then, choose a children's book to read your little one each evening. Make it part of the bedtime ritual that implicitly lets children know that it's time to get ready to sleep. Read aloud a short tale, or a chapter of a longer work, that is quiet and meaningful. Adventure or scary books may stimulate your child.

2. Establish a bedtime routine. Announce that seven-thirty is the new time for starting to get ready for bed. That means the kids will be in bed and ready to sleep in thirty minutes. The first activity may be to pick up toys and put them away. Brushing teeth comes next, followed by washing the face and hands. Now it's time to put on the jammies. And finally Mom or Dad says a prayer and opens the music box or puts in a lullaby CD for five minutes. Once the routine is established, your child will expect it and adjust to it.

3. Adjust bedtimes. If your child seems too wide awake at eight o'clock, maybe his biorhythms keep him wound up until eight-thirty or nine o'clock. Try a later bedtime with a correspondingly later wake-up time. If he insists on getting a drink of water or going to the bathroom after bedtime starts, despite your earlier reminders to do these things, calmly allow him to get them but say that the extra minutes spent doing these things tonight will be deducted from tomorrow night's bedtime. For example, if your son does not actually end up in bed, lights out, with no further interruptions until 8:07 p.m., that means tomorrow night he goes to bed seven minutes earlier to make up for lost time. Chances are he'll adjust more quickly the following night.

4. Make bedtime fun. Use cartoon character toothbrushes, night lights, bed covers, and bedtime stories. Add a giggle and a hug before turning out the lights. Leave a nightlight on if your child seems nervous or scared of the dark. Bedtime should be comfortable and welcomed rather than feared or avoided.

5. Make a promise. If your child fights going to bed by complaining, not cooperating, or other passive aggressive behavior, promise a treat the next day for getting to sleep promptly tonight. For example, a special breakfast of pancakes and sausages (freezer brand is fine) may put some children to sleep with visions of something other than sugarplums.

6. Consider an evening snack. Young children sometimes sleep better if they have something slight in their stomachs. Especially if you eat dinner before six o'clock, you may want to offer a half-cup of cereal with milk about 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Ask your pediatrician if this might help your child sleep better.

A few small adjustments can help your child learn to sleep contentedly through the night. Try one or more of the above or another technique from a related book until your little one learns to appreciate the restorative value of a good night's rest.

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