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4 min read

Your toddler has graduated to a big kid bed - Yay! Or maybe nay if your child’s newfound freedom is keeping you busy putting them back to bed. Little ones are full of curiosity and often a little short on patience. It is not uncommon if your toddler has a hard time staying put when you first take them to bed.


Routines are Your Best Friend

Toddlers are just little people who are learning how to do everything for the first time. Parents can facilitate the learning process by establishing consistent routines. Bedtime is a big opportunity to establish a routine with your toddler.


The whole process from brushing their teeth, to reading a story and going to bed will send signals that it is time to calm down and go to sleep. After the first few times, your toddler will start to recognize the cues and naturally settle down for bedtime


Start with a Consistent Bedtime

Help your little one get in a routine by setting a consistent bedtime. Toddlers between 1-2 years of age need 11-14 hours of sleep, including naps. Decide how many hours your little one needs at night based on their napping habits and set the bedtime accordingly. A bedtime that is too early or too close to naptime can make it difficult for your toddler to feel ready for bed and fall asleep.


Make Your Expectations Clear

If you expect your little one to stay in bed, make sure you tell them just that. Each time that you put them to bed (or back to bed), remind them again that you expect them to stay in bed. As frustrating as it can be, try to avoid being angry with them. They are just learning and will respond better without having their feelings hurt from being yelled at.


Build up a Routine

What types of activities fit with getting ready for bed? Brushing teeth, putting pajamas on, reading stories, and giving hugs might all be part of a good routine. There is no one-size-fits-all routine that will work for every child or every family. Pick what works for yours, make it a routine, and do it every night without fail.


Routines are important to define boundaries and let your toddler know what to expect. Once a routine becomes familiar, your toddler will happily participate in all of the steps to get ready and go to bed without any fuss.


How to Handle Bad Bedtime Behaviors

Toddlers are brilliant and finding ways to get out of doing things - like going to bed. One more drink of water, one more potty, one more story… there is no limit to the number of things these little guys will try to get out of going to sleep.


Delay Tactics

For little ones that are keen on trying every excuse under the sun to get out of bed, it can be difficult to tell what is a need and what is a want. Do they need to go potty? Or do they want to get out of bed? Do they need a drink of water? Or is it just an excuse to bring you back to their room?


Be assured that allowing one reasonable request to potty or get a drink will not undermine your whole routine. If you do allow them to get out of bed for an essential reason like using the potty, make sure it is strictly business. Go straight to the potty with minimal interaction and then straight back to bed. When you put them back to bed, remind them that you expect them to stay there. Tuck them in and then leave the room immediately.


For repeat offenders, or if you get the feeling that they are just faking it to delay bedtime, you can try a reward system. Since treats or stickers are a little disruptive to the actual goal of getting them to sleep, try a system that provides a reward the next morning.


Give your toddler a ‘get out of bed’ pass. It should be like a hall pass, a physical token that they can see and feel. If they need to get out of bed, they can use the ‘get out of bed’ pass. But, if they don’t use it - they can turn it in for a reward in the morning.


The ‘get out of bed pass’ acts as a tool to teach your toddler about delayed gratification. Each time they ask to get out of bed, remind them about the reward waiting for them if they don’t get out of bed. They will stop and think - and hopefully, only use the pass if it is really necessary.


Bedtime Fears

Toddlers have very active imaginations and nightmares are not uncommon. Many toddlers experience fears of the dark, of monsters, and of nightmares. Their fears are real and related to bedtime so it becomes a little more difficult to deal with. You cannot punish the fear out of them. But, you can help them deal with their fears so that they become less disruptive.


Separation Anxiety

Does your toddler miss you when you leave them in their bed for the night? Does it cause them real stress? Or are they just being very crafty at guilting you into letting them out of bed? If you are setting clear boundaries and your toddler is unable to follow them. Or, they show signs of real pain at your absence, the culprit may be a bad case of separation anxiety.


You will have to work a little harder to address the separation anxiety in addition to establishing a bedtime routine. Try reassuring them each time you put them to bed that you will see them in the morning. Leave them with a familiar item like a blanket or stuffed animal that they can hold onto until you return. Continue working towards a bedtime routine that encourages your toddler to sleep in their bed independently.


Helping your toddler learn to stay in their own bed each night can be a bit of a task. Routines can help prepare your toddler for bedtime and ease them into the transition so they can sleep well through the night in their own bed. As with any routine or new behavior, consistency is the most important part. Parents need to be very consistent about bedtimes, routines, and expectations.

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