Getting an Older Toddler to Stay in Bed

A big challenge in helping older toddlers get to sleep is managing their interest in leaving their room. If your toddler doesn't stay put when you tuck him in, you have several choices:

  • Put up a sturdy gate, which in essence turns his entire room into a big crib. Learn to ignore your child's pleas to get out, and don't be surprised if he falls asleep on the floor instead of in his bed for the first few days.
  • If a gate doesn't hold your little wanderer (for example, he's nimble enough to climb over it or can undo the latch), take him back to his room each time he leaves and tell him that you'll close the door if he doesn't stay there.
    Note: This only works if he likes to sleep with the door open. If he keeps opening the door, hold it shut, let him know that you're on the other side, and show him that you mean business. Leave it open only when he's able to stay in the room. This ploy often works, but it may backfire if he thinks he's winning because you're still close by. (When this happens, abandon this approach.)
  • Put some books and quiet toys in the room. Tell your toddler, "I know you don't feel like sleeping, but it's bedtime and you can play by yourself until you do feel sleepy." Again, this gives him a bit of control over when he falls asleep, which can make him more cooperative.

Some families choose an entirely different route, giving their toddlers access to their room and letting them sleep in the grownup bed or in a sleeping bag or blanket on the floor. This arrangement works if you don't mind having your bedroom resemble a youth hostel, but it can cause dissension in the ranks if you have a partner who likes privacy. Also, if you or your partner feels a little angry or resentful about sharing your space, your toddler is likely to pick up on those negative vibes.

If you choose this arrangement, be prepared for your child to remain your roommate until you take steps to change the situation. Under these circumstances, children rarely return to their own room without a little nudge from Mom and Pop.

If your child is rapidly nearing the 3-year-old mark and he's still in his crib, you need to help him move to a big kid bed. Of course, as soon as your child is capable of jumping out of a crib (even if he seems uninterested), safety demands a move to a bed.

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