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Toddler Won't Stay in Bed

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Keeping 27-month-old in bed

June 2007

I have a potty-training 27-month old who is quite lousy at staying in bed after the evening bed-time ritual. How do I be respectful of her 'real needs -- using the potty/changing her diaper -- while ignoring the others? I put her to bed with a diaper, but she gets up to use the potty three or four times over a short period of time (sometimes will go, sometimes will sing and otherwise look for attention) and sometimes she will come to me telling me she has a wet diaper (sometimes it is wet and other nights I'll trade it with another dry diaper four or five times before she stops). This behavior isn't new. We went through it when she transitioned to a toddler bed from her crib at 21 months. Finally the nighttime request ritual was taking up to two hours. I began putting her back to bed without talking to her or giving into her requests. After a few days, this ended the problem. I was quite happy to finally get my evening back. Thoughts? -anon


I told my almost 3 year old daughter (who is recently potty trained and also liked to get up to request trips to the toilet) that it was ok to get up ONLY if she REALLY needs to go. I also told her that if she kept telling us she had to pee if she didn't really need to, then I wasn't going to let her get up because I might not believe her. Then maybe she'd have to pee in her diaper - which she didn't want to do. I had to be very clear (because she was concerned about us getting mad at her for getting up) that we wouIdn't be mad if she's really gotta go. For some reason, it's worked. She doesn't want to wet her diaper when she's awake, so that's a motivating factor. One key health element, however, is making sure that your daughter doesn't try to ''hold it'' all night if she really needs to go. No more crying wolf

Getting 3-year-old to stay in bed

May 2006

My daughter was late to transition to a bed (about 3 and 1/4) and probably would have been happy staying in her crib. The first few nights were OK and ever since it has been a nightmare. She is now sleeping on the floor on a mat, and gets up continuously after we tuck her in. I am so incredibly frustrated and resentful and I have no idea what to do. All of the advice that suggests you calmly walk your child back to bed seems ridiculous. My child is squirming away and saying ''no'' when we try that. If she is determined to stay up nothing seems to work. Despite her age (she'll be 4 in August) she still seems unable to talk about what is going on for her (scared, missing us during the day, etc). Also threats and offers of rewards really don't seem to work... and isn't it wrong to offer a treat to get your kid to do something? very very tired.


I also have a 3 year old (will be 4 in Sept.) who now stays in his bed, but we've had the same issue. I also felt like all the advice that says ''calmly put your child back in bed'' was ludicrous, since he would resist and resist. Finally I got really fed up, and told him that he would have to stay in bed because he needed his sleep, and so the next time he got out of bed, I'd put him back in but then close the door. [His usual routine is that I would put him in bed, then get into my own bed in the next room and read until he fell asleep - until he started getting out of bed, that is. He hated having the door closed in between the rooms.] So when I told him I would close the door, he acted all defiant and said he'd get up anyway - I guess he thought I wouldn't follow through. When he got out of bed again, I did exactly what I said I would, and he just howled and screamed. I actually held the door closed as well, so he couldn't open it. After a minute of him screaming, I went back in and put him back in bed, and said I would leave the door open this time, but I'd close it next time if he got out of bed again. He said ''maybe I will and maybe I won't.'' I think we went through me closing the door twice before he agreed to stay in bed. After that night it wasn't an issue at all fixed our problem

2.5-year-old won't stay in bed after move from crib

June 2005

I've checked the archives on this and got lots of good & interesting advice, although I'm wondering if anyone else has any different advice on our particulars. This is the story of TRANSITIONS. About 2 months ago we transitioned our then 2 1/2 year- old from his crib into his new ''big boy bed.'' (He was perfectly happy sleeping in his crib, but was definitely interested in a bed due to our conversations, his friends & Caillou having a bed, etc.) About a week or so after that, we moved our 7-month- old daughter out of the bassinet in our room and into the crib in his room. Then 6 weeks ago we moved into our new house, in which he and his baby sister share a room. He says that he likes his bed, likes his room, doesn't want to sleep in the crib, and hasn't expressed any dissatisfaction in sharing a room with his sister.

In his crib, he was an angel to put to bed...regular routine, then he went to sleep. At first it was a similar story with his big boy bed, with minor variances. But about 3-4 weeks ago he started to figure out that he is capable of getting out of bed lots of times. After a few nights, we started putting him back to bed (without conversation) until he finally went to sleep. The first night was abut 30+ times, and the second/third nights were fewer and fewer. But now he LOVES this ''game'' and will continue for 90 minutes sometimes. He's not asking for anything when he gets up; he just stands at his door looking tired, or sometimes goes for a little romp around the house until he finds me or until we catch him. We generally stand outside his bedroom door and turn him around immediately to go back to bed, unless we sit on the couch in the living room (which is 12 ft away from his bedroom door) because we think he's going to sleep. My husband and I are losing our minds because we both feel like spanking him even though we've agreed that that doesn't jive with our parenting philosophy.

So far, in addition to just putting him directly back to bed without conversation, we've tried taking away special things the following day (too far away for him to care about in the moment.) We've left the light dimly lit at times (he doesn't seem to care about the dark usually.) I've also stopped covering him up until he stays in bed or goes to sleep. This used to help because after about 8 times he would cry for me to cover him up and tell me he was ready to stay in bed. Now, he MIGHT stay in bed for 10-15 minutes after I cover him, then he pops back out again.

Oh, and he has just gone through daytime potty training throughout this whole period of time (started about a month before we moved - on his own timeframe.) We need something else to try before we start regressing to staying in the room with him, which is one of last things I want to try. Thanks for any constructive criticism or helpful input. Another Set of Frustrated Parents


We are going through a similar stage with our son. He just turned 2 and was climbing out of his crib, so we made the move to a big bed. The first week or so was perfect, as he would just follow his old routine of going to sleep. But now he has discovered that he is the king of his castle. One thing we do is put a gate up in his doorway at naptime and bedtime. This helps alot. When he gets up and stands at his door, we go to the door and tell him it's time to lie down again. We are having to do this several times a night, and sometimes we do go in and lie on his floor for several minutes. It certainly is not as easy as it used to be, but we're getting there...

Our big problem is the morning. He has always been an early riser (anywhere from 5:30-6:30... if we're lucky), but when he was in his crib he had nowhere to go, so he'd sometimes fall back asleep. Now he gets up, turns on his light and starts playing. We have put an CD alarm clock in his room, which has been GREAT! We still go in between 6:15 and 6:30 to be with him, but he knows that ''wake up time'' isn't until the music starts (at 7). For over a month, there have been no requests to leave his room until he hears the music! It's amazing... Us too!


Have you tried to put a child-proof handle on the door? parents need their time too :)
Have you tried rewarding his staying in bed rather than punishing his getting up? Perhaps you could start a chart and give him a star for every night he stays in bed. When he has, say, 5 stars, he gets a reward that has real meaning for him: a small toy, a trip to the ice cream store, a special video, whatever. You could put a picture of the reward on the door of his room or somewhere near it, so he sees it every time he gets up to leave the room and can think twice about whether he wants to break the rules.

If you think he can't think that far ahead then you could try having a tangible reward for every night he stays in bed. For instance, you might tell him he's earning tv or computer time, starting from zero (no tv or computer at all), and every night he stays in bed he gets 10 minutes on the computer or watching tv, or whatever, which can be added up or used daily, however he wants. If he goes five days without getting up he gets a whole extra hour or something. It's a cliche, but I've found with my very spirited boy that rewards, and earning their way to something, have way more impact and effect than punishments. Finally, you might also emphasize (if you don't already), that he doesn't have to fall asleep, but the rule is he has to stay in bed. That gives him a little wiggle room. I even let my son take books (and only books, no toys) to bed with him, and he thumbs through them for a few minutes and then usually puts them down and goes to sleep. On nights that he's restless, he may get up to get more books from the shelf, but he sticks to the rules, for the most part. Susan


This happened with our 1st child. I thought she was ready for a bed. We finally put her back in her crib where she stayed until our 2nd was ready to move to the crib (she was almost 3). At that time we played up BIG girl bed and she mostly stayed in it. Now we have a problem with her getting up in the middle of the night. We instituted a reward system instead of a consequence. Only on occassion now do we talk about having to institute a consequence and when we do, we frame it like ''you sure like getting those stickers, they sure are fun. You really like going to the store with mommy to pick them out. If you keep getting out of bed we can't do that anymore''...or something like that. We also established a routine, brush teeth, 2-3 books in bed, night light on, water at the bedside and a back scratch. I hope this helps! kelnstef

How to keep 2-year-old in bed and his room?

January 2005

We moved our 24 month old to a toddler bed after finding him (several times) perched on the rails of his crib and unable to get back in or down, YIKES! He likes the Big Boy Bed, and if he is really tired he will just go to sleep, but MOST of the time he finds it SUPER FUN, to get out of bed, over and over and over again. I have been picking him up and putting him back in bed or telling him to get back in bed (while he laughs hysterically all the way), using a firm voice to say “stay in bed” and then telling him “good night.” But this is not working. 99% of the time I can do this calmly and without a fight from him, but that 1% where I break down and laugh along with him is obviously making this REALLY DIFFICULT.

What should I do when he rolls over walks to his door and opens it waiting for me to put him back to bed? This is obviously a game for him and I am at a loss for what to do. If I close the door he gets really really upset and cries and cries, not putting himself to bed or sleep. If I sit in the room with him, I think I just keep him awake. When he was in his crib we always put him down to bed said goodnight, closed the door over and he would fall asleep after some singing and other quite time to himself. Any suggestions as to what to do when he gets out of bed? I read the postings about toddler beds and most seemed to be on when to make the switch, not how to deal once you have made the switch. brandi


I, too, didn' realize how much confinement in the crib had contributed to my son's being a good sleeper until he climbed out (and fell!) at 23 months during nap time and we immediately put him on a futon that night. You might try putting a baby gate on his bedroom door and child-proofing his room (to be like a big crib). That way, he won't feel like he is shut off from you by a closed door but also won't be stimulated by your presence in the room after it's time to go to sleep. k
Hello, This is what worked for us two years ago when confronted with a similar problem with our own daughter, who is now 4 1/2 years.
1. We didn't get concerned about it and recognized that our daughter was getting enough sleep.
2. My husband tied the co-sleeper back to our bed, because that is where our daughter wanted to sleep and the crib was no longer there to stop her from climbing in bed with us.
3. We banned the television all but entirely, due temper tantrums she was having after watching TV before bedtime.
4. We began reading complex chapter books to her as soon as she was ready to listen, at around 3 years of age. After reading to our daughter for at least an hour each night, she is ready to go lay down and ''try'' to go to sleep, which usually takes her anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.

My thoughts on why this works so well is that both my daughter and I believe that we have ''trained'' the other to do what each person wants. My daughter believes she has trained us to read books that she enjoys every night, and we believe we have trained her to go to bed when we think it is time (while at the same time exposing the entire family to an enormous breadth of relatively complex children's literature at a rate of at least one chapter book a week). This has been a real win-win situation for all of us! All the best. -115 pages to go on Harry Potter, Volume 3


We are going through a very similar situation. About 2 months ago, we converted our 2.5 year old's crib into a toddler bed. He goes to sleep well most nights, but we have been struggling with him getting out of bed as soon as he wakes up. This could be at 3, 4 or 5am. We know he is an early riser, but think his sleep needs dictate that he get up around 6am. So we've been experimenting with a nightlight on a timer. We bought a nice lamp in the shape of a horse, put a 4 watt blue bulb in it, and plugged it into a timer. The timer turns the light on at 7:30pm (bedtime) off an hour later, and turns the light back on at 6 am (wake up time). We almost put the crib rails back up after over a month of saying 'you can't get out of bed until the horsey light comes on', but it finally seems to be working. For the past 3 mornings, he's gotten up at 6. Another problem we had was our son getting out of bed early in the morning and opening and closing the door - mainly to get our attention and let us know he was up. He has since stopped doing this, but our next strategy (should the behavior return) is to put a gate up outside his door (or two gates across the hallway perpendicular to his door). That way, he can't just run to our room, or the fridge, or the playroom. Since the nightlight on a timer seems to be working, we're going to add another element to it. We're going to make a calendar and chart his good progress with stickers. Not sure what the reward will be yet, but we would like to familiarize him with this kind of positive reinforcement which we hope will come in handy come chore time:) Best of Luck! Dana

31-month-old will no longer stay in bed

January 2003

Our son is 31 months. We are getting ready to get him a bed. Currently, he sleeps in the same crib that he has used since he was 3 months old. He still fits in it, and has always really loved it, preferring it to sleeping with my husband and me. In fact, he used to climb into it and pretend to go to bed, build tents in it, and generally enjoyed playing there very much. His bedtime routine has always been stable: bath, brushing teeth, stories, cuddle time, bed. Generally, we place him in his bed while he is still awake, and he puts himself to sleep without trouble. We often hear him in his room happily talking to himself before he actually falls asleep. In the last week, however, he has suddenly begun insisting that he does not want to go into his bed, that he wants to sleep in our bed. If we stay with him until he falls asleep, he will remain in his bed and eventually go to sleep - although it seems to be taking longer now for that to happen. If we put him down and leave him in bed awake - as we have done since he was born - he repeatedly gets up and comes out to say he does not want to be in his bed. We're not aware of any sudden event that would have caused this change, and are wondering if anyone has had a similar experience or has advice for successfully coping with the change. We'd rather not bring him into our bed for various reasons: we have other children and bed is our only alone time; I have problems with insomnia; and we're not in bed when he goes to bed, etc. Thanks for your thoughts! Debora


I'm not sure he dislikes his bed; he's probably just trying to test the limits surrounding bedtime. If he feels he can get more attention by leaving his room, then that's what he'll do. You can consistently put him back in his room with no fuss and tell him to stay there. Or you can do what we did which was to put a baby gate across our daughter's doorway when we moved her into a bed (from a crib) at about 28 months. Our daughter also liked to talk and play in her bed at bedtime; giving her a gate helped her to understand that it was okay to do that, but that she needed to stay in her room. Since we are normally in a different part of the house after she goes to bed we were also concerned about her safety if she was wandering around outside her room (even with gates across the stairs). Now, at age 3 1/2, I'd like to take the gate away so she can go to the bathroom by herself at night (the last potty training hurdle), but she wants to keep it up to keep her baby brother out! (So I don't think having the gate has traumatized her in any way.) Whatever you decide, I'm sure this is just a stage that he'll grow out of. Stephanie
Our 20-month-old son, who has gone to sleep in his own bed, alone and without crying, for the whole of his life, has also suddenly started crying when we put him to bed. His language skills are obviously not as advanced as your son's, but he stands up and calls for Mommy and Daddy in a really pathetic tone, and says ''no, no'' when we put him in the crib. When we walk by our bedroom on the way to his, he points into our room and says ''night-night,'' then cries when we continue on past our room. Like you, we didn't really know why this might have started. I'm guessing that kids around 2 or 3 start realizing that there are other options for them than ''what they have always done'' and are trying to explore them. Maybe they really think they would like to sleep with us better than in their crib, maybe they just want to see if we will let them have what they ask, if they ask often and long enough. As far as what to do: For the first week after this started, our son would cry for awhile and we'd have to work with him to get him to go to sleep (staying in with him, going in every few minutes, etc.). Now, several weeks later, he still doesn't like being put in his crib, but he only cries until it's obvious we're leaving the room. I would guess that if you just do the classic ''training them to sleep alone'' for older kids method (either just keep taking him back to bed and leaving him there, or staying with him and moving farther and farther out in the hall, or using a reward system for staying in bed -- see a book like Jodi Mindell's to find a suggestion that makes sense to you), he'll eventually go back to sleeping alone. Karen

21-month old won't stay in bed

From: Jeffrey

I am the parent of a 21 month old who just figured out how to climb (hurl himself) out of his crib. The day after he did this, I converted his crib to a bed. Our problem is, he will not stay in his bed. As soon as he is put there, he is up like a shot out of a cannon. He can open his door and comes down the hall. At Midnight the last two nights, my wife and I have given up and put him to bed with us. We would rather not start this as a habit, but we do not have a clue as to how to get him to stay put in his room at such a young age. I welcome any suggestions.


From: Alexis

Here's my two cents about the screen tent gizmo referred to in the last digest:

We bought the tent (from One Step Ahead) before our second son was born, in order to keep cats *out* of his crib. For this purpose, it has been excellent. As a restraining device to keep a child *in* the crib, however, I'm pretty skeptical of its potential efficacy, because I'm sure that our son (now 11 months old) is going to be able to figure out how to unzip that sucker, at least part way, any day now (although his goal so far is fun with the zipper, rather than escape from the crib). Yes, even though there's a handy dandy pocket into which the zipper tab fits, snugly, I'm still convinced that it's not enough to foil a determined child. (And, yes, his mattress is at the lowest setting.) Does anyone else out there have longer or older-age experience with this contraption?


From: a mom

We had similar challenges with our 2 year old. We actually used suggestions from Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, MD. These are ideas you have probably heard. We asked our son to stay in his bed. In exchange we would leave his bedroom door open. The process was difficult for 2-3 nights. He really wanted to be with us or us to say in his room with him while he went to sleep. We ended up working out a compromise that I remember another parent mentioning in this newsletter. He now sleeps in his bed - but we moved his bed into the doorway of his room and leave the door open. Since we made this change he has been willing to stay in his bed (at least until the early am when he sometimes comes in with us and cuddles). Good luck!


From: Jeanna

Take this with a grain of a salt as our oldest is 20 months and not yet is a bed. Our son frequently takes a nap on a couch in his room and I will often put a child gate across the door and take a nap in my room at the same time. His room is child proofed so I know that if he wakes up he will be somewhere safe until I go and get him. I would think that the same thing might be useful for your situation. A gate across the door would serve much like the barriers of a crib as long as your child's room is child-proofed. Also, a dark room isn't going to prove very much fun to play in. You could go to the gate to reassure them (but not pick them up) and tell them to get back into their bed.


From: Elmar

My son has been known to sneak out of bed every once in a while and when it started to get more frequent, I struck a deal with him (this may not work with younger kids, he's 3 1/2): "you sleep in your bed when it's dark and when the sun comes up you can come to my bed!" This has worked amazingly well, although I'll have to think of a new strategy when summer comes around 8^).

Another thing to think about is why is he/she getting up at night or not staying in bed? Many times it is fear (ghosts, monsters, etc.) and some reassurance and/or a night light may go a long way toward alleviating the problem. Often there are other things going on in a child's life (starting daycare/preschool etc., a move, divorce, etc.) and the accustomed routine is out of whack. My son has been through all of the above and being understanding and supportive has really helped both of us. I usually tend to make exceptions to accomodate his needs, but at the same time let him know that it is an exception and not the norm ("I know you're having a hard time, so you can do xyz, but when things get better we'll go back to abc or we'll start efg"). This has worked out quite well in many situations.


2 1/2 year old refuses to sleep in new bed

Our daughter, 2 1/2, used to go to sleep wonderfully all by herself. After two books and a lullaby, she would lay down in her crib and fall asleep on her own, and in complete darkness.

The crib has been gone for two months now and she's in her own toddler bed. And now it's pretty difficult to get her to get in bed at her regular time, or to stay in bed once she's there. And in helping her do so, we're now leaving the light on dim, we're letting her sleep on the floor, and we're staying in the room far too long. And that wouldn't be so bad, if it worked. But it often doesn't, and she'll pop out 15 minutes after we leave.

She's dealing with a lot: a new sister, her own potty training, and the usual two year old search for independence. Still, What have you folks done to keep yours in bed?


Last weekend we moved my two year old daughter Emily from her crib to a "Big Girl" bed (a twin with bedrails) because we're expecting another baby in April and wanted to get her acclimatised in ample time for the baby to use the crib. She's very proud and seems to love the bed. The only problem is she won't sleep in it by herself. She's figured out that mommy and daddy can fit too. Neither of us can actually sleep when we're lying down with her. The night after we introduced the bed a friend was sitting for us while we went out for dinner. We were amazed to find that Emily had gone to sleep like a little angel for our friend. But since then it has been a battle to get her to sleep--I've basically had to lie down with her or sit next to the bed until she's FAST asleep. If she stirs and realizes I'm not there she's up. Once she finally goes down for the night, she inevitablywakes in the middle of the night andwon't go back to sleep until one of us lies down with her. When she had her crib she sometimes woke, but we just went in and told her it was okay and to go back to sleep and she did. This isn't working with the new bed. We're getting exhausted. So far we haven't let her "cry it out" because it seems like she's genuinely scared. Are we being too soft-hearted? What should we do? Please Help!!!! Jennifer
Both my kids were generally good sleepers but went through rough spots when stressed. After our second child was born, our first child (almost four) would leave his room and we would find him asleep in the hall outside his room. My second son also went through a period, at age 2 1/2, of popping out of bed repeatedly and looking for us. Sometimes we didn't even know he was up, but would find him asleep in the hall or even sitting on the steps (a small flight so not a major safety issue). We didn't make too big a deal of it, escorted the children back to bed, tucked them in with their loveys again, and the problem passed in a few weeks. We also let the kids bring books to bed with them, and to "read" as long as they want; bedroom lights are out but there is enough light from a nightlight plus the door ajar with the hall light on. Our little one, now four, surrounds himself with books and reads for up to an hour before falling asleep. We often have to peel books off him after he is asleep -- adorable. So make clear rules, be firm but loving in enforcing them, and the problem will pass.
We moved our now 17 month old son to a toddler bed about 2 or 3 months ago. At that point I noticed him scaling the safety gates at the bottom of the stairs, and figured that he would be trying that on the crib shortly. I felt it was better to be safe, and get him out of the crib, than risk him falling from such a height. He has been co-sleeping with us (for part of the night) for months, and had never fallen out of our bed. And based on that, I almost just put him in the twin bed (since we already have one) but I realized that while he had been able to climb down from our bed for months, he still wasn't able to climb up into it. I wasn't sure if he would ever "put himself back to bed" but I figured the chances were better in a toddler bed that was lower, than in our bed that he couldn't reach. Now that he is older he is able to climb in and out of our bed (even in the dark in the middle of the night) by climbing over the rungs of the foot board, but he still can't climb into the twin bed, so I think that the toddler bed was worth the investment, even though he doesn't put himself back to bed in that bed.

22 month old refuses new bed and I need the Crib for the new baby

I need some advice on moving my 22 month old daughter from her crib into a "big girl's bed". I have a 3 month old son who is outgrowing his bassinett & needs the crib soon!! I have been talking & reading to my daughter about the new bed (it's a toddler bed that uses the mattress from her crib) but the first day that I tried to get her to use the new bed she flat out refused and threw a giant fit. I now have the crib & the new bed set up in her room & I am hoping that she will get used to the new bed over the next week or so and start using it. Any suggestions?? I don't want to force my daughter out of her crib but I am hoping to avoid having to buy a different crib for my son. Thanks for the help.
do you have a friend or family member who would be willing to loan you a second crib? Or maybe you could pick up a second-hand one somewhere for a reasonable price. I think your daughter would be very aware of the reason she is moving to the big bed and could grow to resent her younger sibling. Toddlers are smart, they figure these things out. She isn't even two years old yet and it is very common for toddlers to stay in a crib past two years of age. Why not hold off if you can if she is happy and secure there? It may save you some additional stress besides already having a newborn and a toddler at the same time! I have a thirteen month old and an almost three (in December) year old. I was fortunate to have a sister who loaned me an extra crib so I did not have to move him out early or buy another one. In fact, they are both in cribs now in the same room and very happy. My toddler is very content in his crib. (We are planning to get bunk beds for Christmas.) I think the pediatricians advise to transition the toddler out of the crib before the baby is even born to avoid any feelings of resentment or other problems. My mom had a 22 month old son whom she moved out of his crib a couple of months (so, around 20 months of age) early with no apparent issues at the time. A few months later, after new baby was born, he spiked a high fever and talked about how he had to move out of his crib for his sister! Can you imagine? My mom felt awful. Of course, this is worst case scenario. But, if you can wait a couple of months longer it might work out better for everyone. GOOD LUCK!
When we found out that we were expecting our second child, we realized that it was time for our 2yr9month daughter to move out of the crib. First step was to take down the crib, but leave the mattress on the floor of the nursery, right where it had been. At the same time, we put the twin-size mattresses on the floor of her big-girl room, so she now had a choice of where to sleep. Then, we bought her special big-girl furniture, and talked it up, so when it was delivered, she was very excited. She was quite involved in setting up her new room (deciding where to hang things, etc); she would play in her room, read in her room, but NOT sleep there. Finally, one day, she informed me that she wanted to sleep in her big-girl bed -- and, that was that. We've been there ever since. It took a couple weeks, but it was worth the wait.

As an aside, we took her with us when we picked up the replacement crib for the new baby (found on the Marketplace! Thank you!), and she is very much the little helper in putting the nursery together for 'her' new baby. 3 is a great age!!


We moved, and now 3-y-o wants to sleep with us

We recently moved to the area with our nearly three-year-old son. He had been sleeping in his own little toddler bed at our old house, but with the radical changes of moving and the long transitional period waiting for our furniture to arrive, he fell out of that habit. He now wants to sleep with Mommy and Daddy in our bed. The problem is aggravated by the fact that we moved into a much smaller house and were forced to put his bed in our room. Now he goes to sleep in his own bed, but in the middle of the night wants to climb into ours. We wouldn't necessarily object to having him as a bed companion, since of course we love to have him near us and snuggle, but he is a terribly unruly sleeper, kicking and keeping us up much of the night. How can we convince him (gently) to return to his own bed? We're not getting enough sleep!
What you want to do is help your child form a new habit (or return to his old habit) of sleeping in his own bed all night. I had a similar problem with each of my daughters when they were each around 3. They had their own rooms, but they would come out or call me repeatedly after bedtime & frequently during the night. I cured them of this habit with bribery. Each night that they stayed in their room w/out calling me they got a star in the morning. After 10 stars they got a prize (some small toy or treat). You couldn't do this with a baby, but by age three it can work. I was afraid I'd be giving stars forever, but they eventually get less excited about the whole process, forget to ask for the morning star, & you can gently tell them they've now learned to stay in their rooms & don't "need" stars anymore to help them. It worked for me.
We started out bed-sharing with our eldest, but quickly stopped since no one was getting any sleep, so we went through the process of getting (and keeping) her in her own sleeping area. We have always allowed her, and now her baby brother, too, into our bed just before wake-up time, for about an hour of snuggling and sleeping together. We have gone through a number of periods, usually after she was sick, or we had been traveling, or she'd gone through a transition, when our daughter wanted to come into our bed early in the night and stay there. Each time, we chose a cut-off time for ourselves (she can't get into our bed until 5:00 a.m., e.g., for morning snuggles), and whenever she'd wake up ealier than that, we'd simply take her back to her bed, tell her it's still sleep time, and kiss her goodnight. Sometimes this would happen 3 or 4 times in a night for a few days. We'd do this for a week or two until her sleeping was back on track--in her bed, through the night, until morning snuggle time.

We've done this both when her bed was in our room, as in our old house, and in our current place, where she and her brother have their own room. The one difference was that when her bed was in our room, I could reach her bed from mine and would sometimes just lay a hand on her as she went back to sleep in her own bed.

We read Ferber, hated it, found our approach to be more work, at times, than his, but our daughter's now almost five, and has slept very reliably in her own bed through the night since she was four, and still joins us for a bit in the morning.


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this page was last updated: Sep 13, 2009


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