Once the sides come off the crib and you move your toddler into a big-kid bed, a whole new set of sleep struggles can arise. Suddenly, your child realizes that they are not confined to one place anymore – they can get up and roam around!
If you haven’t made this transition yet, I want you to read this blog post first. In it, I answer the most commonly asked questions about preparing for and navigating this transition.
But if you’ve already made this transition and currently have a wandering toddler who comes out in the evenings, shows up at your bedside in the middle of the night, or who you find playing in the living room early in the morning, here’s what you need to do to keep your toddler in their bed all night long.
Make sure all caregivers are on the same page
This first step is super important: do you and your partner have similar boundaries when it comes to your child sleeping in their bed? I have worked with many families where one parent is way more tolerant (and possibly even enjoys) welcoming their child into their bed in the middle of the night whereas it’s incredibly disruptive to the other parent.
If you and your partner are not on the same page, there is going to be very little opportunity for progress and change because your child is going to be receiving mixed messages.
Make sure you have a conversation with your partner and get on the same page first before making any changes with your child.
Let your child know it’s time to make a change
Once you are ready to make a change, it’s important to let your child know ahead of time that things may look a little bit different if they get out of their bed at night. You do not want to spring new boundaries on them at midnight. They’re tired, you’re tired, they’re now confused and upset, and it makes it incredibly hard to be consistent and avoid a meltdown.
I want you to set things up ahead of time: create a plan!
Help your child understand in advance what they should do if they wake in the middle of the night instead of getting out of bed. You can use a social story to create a narrative around this for your child or use stuffed animals to role play staying in bed all night long.
You can also use a chart that incentivizes them to stay in their bed all night long or have a box of treasures they can choose from each morning after they’ve been successful.
I’m also a fan of a toddler clock as a visual boundary setting tool. Here’s where you can learn more about how to use one!
Return them to bed consistently
I joke with my clients that making sleep changes with toddlers is like a battle of wills: who is going to break first? Your toddler has a lot of stamina, and at the end of a long day of parenting, you probably don’t have much. This is unfortunately a perfect recipe for your child to push just enough until you give in and they get what they want.
If your child gets up after bedtime, in the middle of the night, or before wake-up time in the morning, it is your job to return them to bed. Try to do this without much fanfare or discussion aside from one key phrase that you use to let them know it’s nighttime and still time to sleep.
It is normal to have to do multiple “walk-backs” in the beginning, but remember that the more consistent you are, the less confusion there will be and the more quickly your child will adjust to the new expectations.
I know it can feel really difficult to find solutions, and maybe it even seems impossible to imagine things being any different.
But they can be different!
If you’d like to work together to make a plan for change and get support through the process, I have coaching packages that can help take the overwhelm off your plate and improve sleep for the whole family.