It’s a big milestone when your 2-4 year old transitions out of the crib and into their bed or toddler bed! But with that exciting change comes a newfound sense of freedom, making your toddler want to explore that ability to roam around more freely in their room.

So what do you do when you find yourself constantly waking up to finding your toddler in your room or roaming around the house? Or perhaps they’re constantly using “bedtime” to turn on their lights and wreck havoc in their room?

It’s time to lay down some new boundaries so they can more clearly understand what’s expected of them so you can keep your toddler in their bed at nighttime!

Have a Family Meeting

  • Make them feel big and important by calling a family meeting to go over what sleep should look like for your family going forward and what new rules need to be put in place to achieve that. This is mainly for 3-4 year olds.
  • They’ll see the plan and you each can “sign” it.  Position it as, “I know you love following the rules and being a good listener, so here’s what we’re going to create as a family for bedtime…”. Make sure they understand the why behind these new rules. Tell them it is so everyone can sleep better and have more energy to play as well as touch upon the safety aspect of it too.
  • This is when you will introduce the bedtime routine chart and even explain how they will go and stay asleep now and how you are going to help with that.

During this time you can ask questions to uncover some of the feelings they’re having around bedtime and nighttime. So instead of asking ‘why do you keep getting out of bed?’ try “you’re having trouble staying in bed. What’s going on?’ And repeat their concern. Reassure them with ‘when you need mommy you can call for me and I will come’ but set a limit and boundary – “I can come X times but then you will need to snuggle into your favorite toy and go to sleep. I know you can do this, I’m so proud of you.” 

Get Your Tools Ready

  • Bedtime routine chart – The visual aid shows them exactly what is expected of them and it helps to reinvigorate what could perhaps have become a mundane part of their day. Have them help decorate it with characters and themes they’re into and have them hang it up in their room at eye level. This is your time to clearly lay out how many books and to visually show what happens after lights off.
  • Sticker chart for mornings – This is a fun way for them to feel instantly rewarded and proud in the morning. You can make it look like a board game and even establish that after X nights they can pick out something new for their room. 
  • Toddler OK To Wake Clock – When a child wakes at 5am and tricks their body into thinking it’s awake, they won’t understand you simply telling them it’s not actually morning time! So this is where a toddler clock comes in extremely handy! Our favorite is MELLA (Code: Sleepyhead for 10% off) as she has a cute face and in addition to changing a color upon your desirable wakeup, she closes her eyes when she’s sleeping and opens them when it’s “morning time” or “get out of bed time”. There’s also the ability to have a yellow color 30-minutes prior to your desired wake up time to help them implement quiet play time and then this way they also know it’s almost time for their bodies to get out of bed. This is just another tool to help your toddler understand you’re trying to make this change easier on them! 

Prep & Practice

We want to help prepare them for what’s coming next – what can they do and what is not allowed. What are the consequences and rewards if any (praise). Ask them if they have any questions and set up a couple of “what if” scenarios so they have a clear idea of what is expected of them. This transparency helps mitigate any anxiety especially as you’re introducing these new rules. Make sure during the daytime, outside of the nap and bedtime routines you bring up the sleep changes and talk about it during a time when they are calm. Even role play with their toys to help them “act out” different scenarios so they better understand the new process and changes.

After they complete each task on the bedtime chart they can even add a sticker so they feel proud that they followed through. If your child had a successful night’s sleep or didn’t tantrum during your bedtime routine you can do something fun to celebrate this changed behavior as intrinsic motivation. For instance, you can make a “medal” picture, pick something special for breakfast or surprise them with something they can pick out for their room. They will be so happy if they see you showering them with praise and appreciation while feeling intrinsically motivated since they know how proud everyone is of them!

Determine How You Are Going to Respond 

Having a solid plan for how you are going to respond is crucial for the actual success and follow-through of these new boundaries your are setting. If you need accountability or help sifting through the various methods and options based on your child’s age and personality then consider enlisting the help of a sleep consultant. When you do respond to them needing help during the night and staying in their bed, aim to keep the nighttime interactions comforting yet transactional. You are confidently showing them I am here to help you remember what to do to go back to sleep but you are holding whatever boundary you have now set. This is going to be hard and frustrating for them but your confidence and consistent response is actually going to help them progress.

Make sure they feel like they actually can do this. If we set the bar of expectations too high or make this seem too complicated they won’t want to try. I always say there is no such thing as too much “cheesy” when talking through these new tools and boundaries. The more they know you believe in them and are so proud for trying the more they will feel like they are a part of this solution! 

Let Them Enjoy The Process

Surprise and delight them with putting a sticker on their “board game” each morning! Have them talk to you about what they remembered to do and what they had trouble with. And when they continue to rise to the occasion treat them to a fun breakfast or outing that day! You can formalize little prizes throughout the process during the initial family meeting or you can choose to follow more of a surprise and delight approach. Whichever you feel more naturally aligns with your parenting philosophy! Remember that each night isn’t going to seem like it’s moving upwards – toddlers like to zig and zag when making sleep changes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning and trying! This is going to take time and patience but if keeping your toddler in their bed is going to benefit the family, then the outcome is going to be so worth it for everyone!

If you need more support with your toddler, check out our 1:1 toddler coaching services as well as our Toddler Bootcamp Guide