Toddler Keeps Getting Out Of Bed? 17 Top Tricks You Must Try

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 10/12/21 •  16 min read

So you have decided to take the plunge and move your toddler to a bed but your worst fears have come true… 

Your toddler keeps getting out of bed and REFUSES to stay there. 

No bribe, trick or tactic has worked.

Well, here’s a jam-packed article full of 40 years of parenting wisdom and many experiences with helping toddlers’ transition to big beds to ensure you’re getting only the best, tried and tested hacks that ACTUALLY WORK.

For most parents moving your toddler from a bed to a crib can be very daunting.

Even for babies who have been sleeping beautifully in their crib there is the fear that once you move them to a bed your evenings and nights will turn into a ping pong game of taking your little one back to their bed over and over again.

However, between the ages of 2-3 years, your toddler will be transitioning from a crib to a bed and it is quite normal for them to try and test the boundaries and see if they can get up and come and spend more time with you.

You will need to have a plan and you will need to be prepared to take action to teach them that once they are put to bed that is where they have to stay.

5 Reasons Why Your Toddler Keeps Getting Out Of Bed

Toddlers get out of bed for several reasons and identifying the reason will determine how you deal with it.

If your toddler keeps getting out of bed, here’s why it may be happening:

1. Because They Can

This is the most common reason toddlers get out of bed and in a way you can’t blame them for it!

In a ‘big bed’, your toddler has the freedom to get out without barriers meaning they can come and find you, their favourite person!

2. They Lack A Consistent Bedtime Routine

Yes, that bedtime routine again! 

Having a calming, regular bedtime will go a long way to teaching your toddler to stay in bed. 

If they have always settled well in their crib and gone to sleep quickly until now, then there is a good chance they will do so now. 

If you have not had a bedtime routine or bedtime routine chart then now is the time to establish one as it will definitely help in getting your toddler primed for sleep.

To learn more about creating a calming evening routine, read my post Hacking The Bedtime Routine to discover how.

3. They’re Either Not Tired Enough Or Overtired.

This is a tricky one…

If your bedtime routine and day time naps are not consistent, you may struggle to keep a handle on your toddler’s behaviour at bedtime. 

Ensure they are primed for sleep by having the right amount of naps during the day to avoid overtiredness or being not tired enough

Check out my post When Do Toddlers Stop Napping to learn more about your toddler’s nap schedule.

4. They Have Had A Bad Dream Or Are Scared Of The Dark

It is common for children around the ages of 2-3 years to develop night terrors, have bad dreams or become scared of the dark.

This will often coincide with moving to a bed and your little one will need comfort and reassurance during this phase.

Offer lots of love and support, be patient and reassuring then settle them back into bed.

Installing a night light and lots of reassurance from you will help them deal with this perfectly natural fear. 

Make sure they have their favourite toy to keep them company too.

But try your best to not let your toddler join you in your bed as this will create an association that will be very hard to break!

5. They Are Feeling Unwell

Your child may get out of bed because they are feeling unwell and need your comfort. 

This is the one time when you can take them into your bed or allow them to sit with you for a while.

You can also sit with your little one in their bed and cuddle together to help them feel better.

Check out my Parenting Toolbox Care Page to find a comprehensive list of items every household should have to ensure your little one stays healthy and happy when they’re feeling a bit off.

What To Do When Your Child Keeps Getting Out Of Bed

If your toddler keeps getting out of bed to see what they can get away with then here are the 2 steps to take to calmly get them back in their own bed and sleeping again.

Step 1: Firm Repeating

  1. Be very patient, consistent firm and clear. When your toddler gets out of bed, calmly but firmly take them by the hand and lead them back to the bedroom.
  2. Use the same words every time such as ‘it is time for sleep now’ so that they know there is no negotiating.
  3. Settle your toddler back into bed and repeat the goodnight process: kissing them goodnight and using the same good night phrases and then leave the room.
  4. Repeat over and over. Do not give in.

It may take several returns to the bedroom and several nights before they get the message. 

I know it’s very tempting when you’re exhausted but the key is to not give in.

This is because if your toddler senses even the hint of weakness, they will exploit you and the situation to get what they want (in this case, it’s to sleep in your room!)

Step 2: No Negotiations

1. Try a baby gate. 

If after several attempts of putting them back to bed your toddler keeps getting out of bed then you can resort to putting up a baby gate at the bedroom door.

You can then tell them to get back into bed or even try ignoring them to see if they give up and return to bed when they realise you are not coming to them.

2. Don’t give in to the tantrum.

Some toddlers will get very upset and throw a tantrum when they do not succeed in being allowed to get out of bed and stay up late.

In this instance, you have to STAY FIRM. 

Offer comfort as you would with any other tantrum but insist gently and firmly that they have to return to bed and stay there.

3. Never let them stay up or get into bed with you (even for a little while)!

This is VERY important.

Unless your child is unwell, you should not give in to their demands to stay up. This is one instance where there is NO NEGOTIATION.

Bedtime is bedtime and you will need to stay calm and consistent.

If you let them stay up for 5 minutes tonight, they will try for 10 minutes tomorrow and so on.

Even though this is a passing phase and completely natural, trust me when I say that your toddler will learn to stay in their bed sooner if you stay consistent and determined.

TOP TIP: Do not shut the bedroom door as a solution to keeping your toddler in bed. This is far too harsh for young children and is very likely to make them more anxious and upset rather than help them learn to stay in bed.

17 Top Tricks To Get A Toddler To Stay In Bed

There are some things you can do to preempt your toddler getting out of bed in the first place. These are little tricks to help your toddler learn how to stay in bed and how to motivate them to do so.

1. Have A Consistent & Calm Bedtime Routine

A regular bedtime routine will go a long way in preparing your toddler for sleep and therefore, making bedtime run more smoothly. 

A toddler that is primed for sleep will be more likely to fall asleep quickly and respond well to your insistence on staying in bed.

2. No Screens Leading Up To Bedtime

Limiting screen time in the lead up to bedtime is proven to help children fall asleep more quickly and to stay asleep too. 

If your toddler struggles to fall asleep they are more likely to get out of bed so keep screens off before bed!

3. Get The Timing Right

Once you have made the decision to move your little one to a bed you need to get the timing right. 

Don’t let the move coincide with any big life changes such as the arrival of a new baby, moving house or starting nursery school. 

Your toddler may then associate these big life changes with being in a new bed and will want to stay in your room in a cot as it’s a safe place they know and find comfort in.

4. Get Your Toddler Involved In The Transition From Crib To Bed

By getting your toddler involved in the bed transition, you are more likely to have their acceptance and commitment to it. 

Allow them to be around when you put the bed up, let them help choose the bedding and what toys they would like to have to sleep with them. 

If they feel part of the process they are more likely to embrace it.

5. Make Their Sleep Environment Comfy And Cosy

Ensure that your toddlers sleep environment is inviting, comfy and cosy. 

Make sure they are not too hot or too cold and use a nightlight and or white noise machine to create a pleasant atmosphere.

6. Don’t Rush The Process

Take your time over the transition. 

Don’t expect your toddler to happily fall asleep in their new bed on the first night (although some will). 

You may have to lie with them for a while and then over successive nights remove yourself gradually from the bed until they eventually fall asleep without you present.

7. Invest In A Night Light

If you have not had one yet then investing a night light is a very good idea for the toddler sleep phase. 

Many toddlers develop a fear of the dark and have nightmares so a comforting night light is going to help them resettle and drift off to sleep.

8. Have Sleep Rules 

Having some sleep rules works especially well with older toddlers. 

Having a poster with the sleep rules laid out in picture form can help keep your toddler on track and you can refer to it when your toddler keeps getting out of bed. 

The picture rules should be clear and simple and in an easy to see place at toddler height.

9. Utilise Incentives And Reward Charts

Having a reward chart that you can fill in the next morning after a successful night can be a great incentive for your little one.

A reward being offered after 3 or 5 nights of not getting out of bed have been achieved is a wonderful motivator.

Avoid giving sweets as a reward and rather go for a special outing or much loved activity instead. You can have a selection of rewards and let your toddler choose from a couple of options so that they can feel more in control of the outcome.

10. Praise The Next Day, Don’t Shame

If your toddler has had an unsuccessful evening and or night of getting out of bed, then do not refer to it the next day. 

Instead, say nothing at all.

Ignore the bad behaviour and don’t shame them for getting out of bed. 

You don’t want to encourage this behaviour to happen again but equally, you don’t want your toddler to be terrified to get out of bed when they really need to (ie: being sick)

However, if they have managed to not get out of bed then praise them the next morning and tell them how proud they should be!

11. Try The “I’ll Check Back Shortly” Technique

In the early days, your toddler may need a helping hand to stay in bed. 

Therefore, try the “I’ll be back shortly” technique. 

This involves staying with your toddler for a little while then finding a reason for having to leave them for a short while to go and check on something but assure them that you will be back shortly. 

It is important that you always come back as promised.

Gradually extend the time that you leave them alone over the next few nights until eventually, they have fallen asleep before you’ve returned!

Success! Your toddler has learnt to fall asleep alone!

12. Offer Them A Toy For Company

Your toddler will often find the company of a favourite toy will help them feel safe and fall asleep more easily. 

Let them choose who gets to share their bed and use words of encouragement such as “I am sure Teddy is ready to sleep after such a busy day, shall we read him a story?”. 

Then kiss your toddler and get them to kiss Teddy goodnight, all as if they are putting teddy to bed. You can even say “shall we tell Teddy that it is now time to go to sleep?”. 

Using this method can take the focus off your toddler’s behaviour and put them in charge of Teddy’s behaviour instead.

13. Try An Audiobook

Another great way to help your toddler to settle to sleep is by playing an audiobook. My own son loved to fall asleep listening to an audio story!

Audiobooks help your little one cope with separation and give them something to focus on when you say good night rather than coming to look for you.

14. Try A Sleep Trainer Clock

Coloured sleep trainer clocks are another cool tool for helping your toddler stay in bed. These clocks are designed to indicate to your toddler when they should stay in bed and when it is time to get up by the colour of the clock face. 

15. Do A Last-Minute Check

Doing a last-minute check of potential excuses your toddler will use to get out of bed will put your mind at rest that your toddler does not need anything when they get out of bed. 

You can then put your toddler back to bed when they wake up without asking all these questions again. 

So make sure they have been to the toilet, have a fresh nighttime nappy (if they are still wearing one), have had a drink and have their favourite toy to sleep with.

16. Allow Your Toddler To Look At A Book Alone.

If your older toddler insists they are not tired then you can suggest they read a book in bed until they feel sleepy enough to fall asleep… BUT that they are not allowed to leave the bedroom.

This takes the pressure off them having to fall asleep immediately, distracts them from being alone and also allows you to keep the boundaries in place for staying in bed.

Check out my Books page to discover all my favourite reads for little ones! I’m constantly updating and adding new books, so it’s the perfect one-stop-shop for your toddler’s library!

17. Make Your Expectations Clear And Talk About Tomorrow

Finally, make your expectation for them to stay in bed clear. 

Talk about the fact that it is time for bed and that they need to stay there. 

Talk to them about why sleep is important and what amazing things you will do the next day and how quickly that will come around once they go to sleep.

TOP TIP: Toddlers can be very persistent and this is one area where you have to beat them at their own game!

As you can see there are lots of different things you can do to help train your toddler to stay in bed but whatever method you use be prepared for it to take time to get results.

However, with plenty of tips and tricks up your sleeve and some solid determination to stay calm and patient, you will have your toddler going to bed and staying there in no time.

Moving Your Toddler From Co-Sleeping To Their Own Bed

While some parents will have been co-sleeping with their children at the toddler stage it is now important to move them to a bed where they can sleep independently.

This will involve a weaning process by which you will need to probably lie with your toddler until they fall asleep to begin with, and then gradually reduce the amount of time you stay with them until they are able to fall asleep alone.

I will be writing a more in-depth post about co-sleeping soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that! But if you’re keen for some tips now, drop me an email at [email protected] and ask me directly. I’ll be happy to help!

You can also read my post My Toddler Won’t Sleep Without Me to learn more.

Why Is It Important For Toddlers To Sleep In Their Own Beds?

Moving your toddler into their own bed is so much more than just about getting them to stay there. 

There are a lot of developmental benefits to your toddler sleeping in their own bed too,

Sleeping alone helps your child to be: 

  1. More independent, 
  2. Builds their confidence,
  3. Gives them more space and comfort to sleep soundly and undisturbed.

While this will have been subtly established by sleeping in a crib, moving to a bed is the final stage in this journey.

Other important reasons and benefits of your toddler sleeping in their own bed are:

  1. You are able to snuggle up together in bed for the bedtime story and goodnight cuddle.
  2. Some toddlers sleep better when they are moved to a bed as they have more space.
  3. Your toddler can often feel more in control of their sleep environment if they are in a bed, placing their favourite soft toys around them and responding well to not being hemmed in by a crib.
  4. They can get up in the morning and play independently or come to you instead of calling out for you to come to them.

Ultimately, all children will eventually sleep alone in their own beds. But how long this takes is largely up to how you handle the transition.

Staying calm, firm and consistent are essential to success with a lot of praise and love thrown in too.

And as always, with love and support, Happy Parenting.

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.