Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Toddler Won't Stay in Bed? How to Help Your Toddler to Stay in Bed

Is your toddler getting out of bed repeatedly? If you are struggling with a toddler who won't stay in bed, this post will help your by giving you some tips to help you get your toddler or preschooler to stay in bed all night.

My most recent client reached out to me because "I'm going to lose it."  Her 2 year 10 month old was holding her captive at naps and bedtime.  She had to be rocked to fall asleep for nap and for bedtime.  Sometimes this could take up to an hour... and then repeat in the middle of the night.

On top of this was the beginning of the pandemic and shelter in place.  Instead of having her 2 days a week she had her 24/7.  She was feeling depleted.

Scenarios like this... where toddlers or preschoolers demand a parents presence and cry or tantrum if they don't get it are incredibly common.  In addition, they don’t discriminate.  They pop up in children who have been “amazing sleepers” and in those who “have never been great sleepers.”

Often parents get thrown off when their ‘great sleeper’ suddenly protests falling asleep independently.  Why wouldn't your LO want your company?  You are their light, their everything.  Why not try to ask for it?  And then when they get it... why wouldn't they fight rather than give that up? 

Things You Want To Avoid Doing With a Toddler Who Won’t Stay in Bed?

What you want to try and avoid doing is shaming and threatening.

Shame is the feeling that  my whole person is bad. 

Guilt is that I made a bad decision or did a bad action. 

Threats often bring shame.

"Good girls stay in their bed" - 

What your child hears: If I get out of bed, my whole person is essentially bad. 

"If you don't stay in bed, there's no ipad tomorrow."  

First threat/reward is so far away from the time of the behavior it is hard for your LO to correlate the two.  Second problem is the basis that I have to perform to deserve good things

And here's the challenge with this entire approach.  You're trying to control a little person with words.   You offer these sticks and they can break the relationship.  You offer a carrot... such as praise for good deeds and catching them doing well... fosters the relationship.  

Here’s the secret.  You can’t control your child’s behavior.  All you can do is control how you respond to that behavior, to help shape it. 


Read: Should Toddlers Pick Their Bedtime?


The other thing that happens when you’re using words to try and control behavior is that it often doesn’t work.  Especially with strong willed or impulsive little ones.  When it’s not working….  you start to feel desperate and hopeless.  The voices in your head start to panic and can’t compute on when this will ever end and what can I do to gain control over this situation..... and then... you yell.

Yelling is not the answer, but you already know that.  You feel bad about it afterwards, and your child who wanted your attention before the yelling REALLY wants your attention even more afterwards, even if they often push you away.  They are hurting and confused.

What Can You Do to Help Your Toddler to Stay in Bed?

First you want to make sure that you're setting your 2 to 4 year old up with the proper timing of sleep.  You can check out my toddler eguide to get schedules for 2 to 4 year old.

Then you want to work on positive praise, catch your child "being good" and praise and foster the bond between you two.  That's  a start.

If you want in detail step by step approach to end your bedtime battles, foster the bond between you and feel like you’re rocking this parenting thing… take a look at my Helping Toddlers Sleep Class

I teach all the next steps in my 1.5 hour long Helping Toddler Sleep Class for kiddos 2 to 4 years of age where we go over how to help your LO transition to a bed and stay in bed all night long using positive praise and simple wording. 

If you're ready to stop yelling or being held captive this class is for you. 

You can be loving, attached and well-rested.  

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