Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night

According to the Sleep Foundation, one-third of all children graduate to a big boy or big girl bed between the ages of 18 months and two years, and another third take that bedtime leap between the ages of two and 2.5. 

But getting them to use that bed consistently – that’s a struggle most parents don’t prepare for.

And by the time a child turns five years old, parents have heard every excuse in the book. 

RELATED: Advice: When Did Your Child Stop Sleeping In Your Bed?

I can’t sleep. I’m hungry. I’m scared. I heard a strange noise. My tummy hurts. I wet my bed. I can’t find my favorite stuffed animal. I had a bad dream. I’m too hot or too cold. Can you read me another story? 

The excuse changes, but the end result remains the same. 

One way or another, they end up sleeping in your bed – not theirs. 

Some parents don’t mind this. They enjoy the bonding experience with their child and understand that this phase of their child’s life won’t last forever – so they choose to tolerate and appreciate it while it’s here. 

Other parents can’t stand it. They care too much about sleep to be waking up 3 to 4 times every night, and would rather their child stay in their beds at night – instead of disrupting everyone’s sleep schedule.

If you fall into that second category, don’t worry – you’re not alone, and we’re here to help! 

How to Get Kids to Stay In Their Room at Night

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Dragana Gordic)

Here’s a question we received from an anonymous reader last week: “What do you do when your child constantly gets out of bed to come into your room at night? She will not stay in her room and I am over it.”

This has been a hot topic in our Answers by Mamas Uncut community forum. 

The majority of mamas who answered gave one of two suggestions: 

  1. Let them sleep in bed with you, even if you don’t like it.
  2. Be consistent and keep removing her from your room.

Considering how popular this question is among parents today, we decided to dive in a little deeper and provide 15 different things you can do to encourage your child to stay in their big boy/girl bed at night. 

Here’s what we came up with, but feel free to join in on the conversation by clicking here!

15. Understanding the ‘Why’ to Your Child’s Behavior

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Yuganov Konstantin)

There are dozens of reasons why your child might be struggling to stay in bed at night, but some of the most common include nighttime fears, separation anxiety, sleep regressions, bedtime stalling, poor sleep environment, screen use, stress, nightmares, sleep apnea, overstimulation, and bedtime resistance.

Taking the time to identify and understand these reasons can help you solve the root of the problem. 

For example, a nightlight can help your child feel more safe and secure if they’re afraid of the dark. A stuffed animal or ‘blankie’ can replace the comfort they used to receive when sleeping with their mama, and avoiding screen use can help your child wind down and ‘power off’ before snuggling up in their bed. 

14. Keep Bringing Them Back to Their Room

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Gorodenkoff)

Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, discussed this method during an interview with USA Today. You’ll have to stay consistent with it, but our child will eventually get the point. 

“We call it the ‘100 walks,'” Moorjani said – adding that it’ll likely take some time. “You tuck your child in and walk out, and your child walks out too. You walk them back and tuck them in, and it can happen many times, but if you maintain no reaction, the child will realize, ‘well, mom isn’t here to play with me.'”

The key to having success with this method is to remain neutral and show no emotion when walking your child back to their bed. Just walk them back, tell them it’s time for bed, give them a kiss, and walk away.

13. The ‘Chair Method’

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (FamVeld)

The “Chair Method” of sleep training, also known as ‘camping out,’ is a gentler approach to help teach babies and young children to fall asleep independently. All you need is a little bit of time and a chair. 

For the first week or so, place the chair next to your child’s bed and sit there while they fall asleep. You’re not there to interact with your child, but rather to provide a calming presence – a sense of security. 

Each night, move the chair further away from your child’s bed – towards the door of the room. The idea is to gradually reduce your presence in the room, allowing your child to slowly become more independent. 

Your child might throw a fit as you move closer to the door, and you might have to slow your progression, but stay strong. If needed, you can provide verbal reassurance from afar, but minimize direct interactions.

12. Maintain a Regular Bedtime Routine

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (fizkes)

A regular bedtime routine serves as a clear signal to your child that it’s time to wind down and prepare for bed. This not only helps them fall asleep quicker, but it helps them stay asleep throughout the night.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recommends starting the routine an hour before bedtime. A typical routine consists of a snack, a bath, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, and reading a story. 

Bedtime should be a relaxing time for you and your child – free from stress and rush. Tailoring the routine to include activities your child genuinely enjoys can also make bedtime something they look forward to.

At the end of the day, consistency is key – and that means doing the same things, in the same order, every single night. They’ll fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up with a body full of energy.

11. Utilize Bedtime Passes

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (LeManna)

Bedtime passes work like hallway passes. They give your child one free trip out of their room or one visit from the parent – and it can only be used for a short period of time, such as a potty break or short story.

Allow your child to design the pass themselves – that way, they form a connection to it. 

One study, by Dr. Alan Greene, MD, found that most children will use the pass every night for the first few nights, and might try to use it more than once – just to see how serious you are about enforcing the rules.

“Then, the magic happens: most kids start holding onto their cards throughout the night, in case they might need it later, and fall asleep on their own, remaining in their own rooms all night,” Greene writes. 

10. Install a Baby Gate In Front of Their Door

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (illustrissima)

A lot of parents resort to installing a childproof door knob cover on the inside of their child’s door – that way, they couldn’t get out of the room, even if they tried. It’s up to you, but some parents are against this.

If you really want to go this route, it’s best to install a baby monitor in the room, if you haven’t already. It allows you to keep an eye on the situation, without having to open the door and interact with the child.

A good alternative to the door knob cover is a baby gate, but this is best reserved for young children. It’ll keep them from walking out of their room, but they won’t feel as isolated as they do with the door closed.

Many parents have discovered that, once the baby gate was installed, the child stopped trying to get out of their room. Instead, they chose to play in their room, eventually tiring themselves out and falling asleep.

9. Read Them a Bedtime Story

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Evgeny Atamanenko)

Reading a bedtime story is a great way to get your child ready for bed, and can also be a great way to get them back into bed after they got out. But be careful – your child might try to take advantage of this. 

“My son is 23 months old and has started a new fun thing where he is really stalling bedtime by asking us to read more books,” one mother said on Reddit. “If we stop reading and say it’s bedtime he cries.”

One way to avoid this is to use bedtime stories like bedtime passes – only give them one per night, and let them decide if they use it now or later. Once they use it, they don’t get another one until the next day.

You can also read bedtime-themed books to help them understand the importance of sleep. Good Dream Dragon by Jacky Davis and A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin are two of our personal favorites. 

8. Lay Down With Them Until They Nod Off

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (fizkes)

Laying down with your child until they nod off can help them feel more comfortable in their big boy/girl bed – easing the transition for the child, while also giving the parent quality cuddle time with their little one.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne PhD, ABPP, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, describes it as ‘attachment parenting (AP)’ – and she recommends it. 

“When you separate the popular exaggerations of AP from the more objectively oriented scientific studies, it’s a sensible approach that fosters physical and psychological health in children,” Whitbourne wrote.

“We do know from extensive research that securely attached adults have happier and less conflict-ridden lives. There’s even research to suggest they may be better parents themselves,” she added. 

7. Encourage an Active Lifestyle

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Evgeny Atamanenko)

If your child is complaining that they aren’t tired or if they’re constantly waking up every night, it might be time to assess their activity levels – if they’re not getting enough, that could be the source of the problem.

According to the CDC, children need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. 

A more active lifestyle is linked to an increase in sleep duration, improvement in sleep quality, ability to fall asleep quicker, and a more regular sleep-wake schedule. With better sleep, comes a healthier child. 

One study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that every hour of the day spent in sedentary activity increased sleep latency by three minutes – but physical activity helped lower sleep latency. 

6. Give Them a Healthy Bedtime Snack

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Yuriy Golub)

A child who goes to bed with an empty stomach is a child who will likely have a hard time falling asleep. And even when they do fall asleep, they’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night seeking food. 

Here’s what Stephanie Jackson, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Riley Hospital for Children, has to say:

“A kid who goes to bed hungry is going to have a tough time getting to sleep. If you’re serving adequate portions at meals and your child consistently says she’s hungry at bedtime, a small snack is reasonable.”

Dr. Jackson recommends introducing snacks that are high in protein and/or fiber – such as nuts, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, hummus, eggs, beans, tofu, berries, and whole grains. Avoid carbs at all costs.

“Milk contains melatonin, a chemical the body’s pineal gland squirts out when the sun goes down to help regulate the sleep/wake cycle,” she says – adding that caffeine is the worst thing you can give them.

5. Decorate Your Child’s Room to Their Liking

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Da Antipina)

If your child is having difficulty falling or staying asleep, it could be time for a new sleep environment. This can involve moving furniture around, introducing new decorations, or buying new sheets and/or covers. 

What’s important is that you include your child in the process – let them decide what their room looks like. 

The goal is to encourage them to feel more safe and secure in their bedroom, which can make it easier for them to fall asleep at night. It’ll also give them a sense of ownership and authority in their room.

To improve your child’s sleep environment: keep the room between 65 and 70 degrees, keep it as dark as possible, utilize shades to block out natural light, and reduce the amount of noise in and around the room.

4. Only Use the Bedroom for Sleep

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (TommyStockProject)

Limiting your child’s bedroom use to sleep-related activities during sleep training is a great way to teach your child the importance of sleep – while also helping them associate bedtime with their bedroom. 

Once tucked in, their mind will immediately signal to the rest of the body that it’s time for sleep. 

Bedrooms filled with toys, games, or electronic devices can be overly stimulating and distracting, making it extremely difficult for children to relax and prepare for sleep. Some toys are fine, but don’t overdo it.

Some parents go as far as reading bedtime stories in the living room or in a reading chair outside of the child’s bedroom. Instead, limit the bedroom to getting PJs on, falling asleep, and waking up – that’s it!

3. Institute Rewards & Consequences

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Monkey Business Images)

Rewards and consequences can be used to incentivize good behavior – and sleep patterns are no different. The key is using rewards and consequences wisely and sparingly – that is to not abuse them.

This approach can motivate children by offering positive reinforcement for desired behavior and setting clear boundaries and consequences for not adhering to bedtime rules – but make sure you enforce it!

For example, you can create a sticker chart and give your child one sticker for every night they sleep in their bed without incident. When they don’t sleep in their bed, they don’t get a star – that’s the rule!

If they walk out of their room at night, make sure you lay down the consequences right away and choose something related to bedtime – for example, they’re not allowed to choose a bedtime story the next night. 

2. Keep a Nap Pad or Mattress In Your Room

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (Ground Picture)

Sometimes, it’s hard to say no to your child, and that’s totally understandable. If your child insists they sleep with you or in your room, then let them – but not in your bed. Instead, give them their own. 

Nap pads and small mattresses are the two best options here. You can store them under your bed and bring them out when needed. They won’t be the most comfortable, but that’s kind of the point. 

At the end of the day, you want them to feel more comfortable in their room – not yours. 

You can also implement a ‘bedtime pass’ rule, where they only get a certain amount of passes every week or month. If they want to sleep in your room, then they have to use one of their bedtime passes.

1. Let Them Sleep With You – It’ll Eventually Pass!

Bedtime Tips for Keeping Your Little One in Their Beds at Night
via Shutterstock (fizkes)

Of course, you can always just let them sleep with you – it’s not going to last forever and it makes for quality time spent between parent and child. One of our mama experts said it best in our online forum: 

“There was times I was frustrated with this too. One day it stops and you’ll be sad, I swear,” they wrote.

Another user said one day, the tables will turn. Your child will only want to spend time in their room, and you’ll be doing whatever possible to spend a little bit of time with them. Enjoy the attention while it lasts!

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 35 Children’s Lullabies That Will Put Your Kiddo Right to Sleep

“I used to put mine in bed with me and we would both go back to sleep, I’m an empty nester now, I’m lucky if I get phones calls once a week, your going to miss the little inconveniences more then you can imagine,” another user wrote. At the end of the day, do what’s best for both you and your child!

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