Toddler Won’t Stay in Bed: Tips for Encouraging Better Sleep Habits

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 07/19/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Tips

As a parent, there’s nothing more frustrating than when your toddler won’t stay in bed. You’ve tried all the tactics you know, but nothing seems to work. So what’s your next step?

Why Won’t My Toddler Stay in Bed?

If you’re struggling to get your toddler to stay in bed, you’re not alone. Many parents face bedtime battles with their little ones.

But in order to get your toddler to stay in bed, you need to identify the reason why they are leaving it.

Here are some possible reasons why your toddler won’t stay in bed:

1. They Are Not Tired Enough

Toddlers have a lot of energy, and if they’re not tired enough, they won’t want to go to sleep.

Make sure your toddler is getting enough physical activity during the day and ensure they are exposed to natural light to help regulate their circadian rhythm and ensure they are more ready for sleep at bedtime.

Also, consider adjusting their nap schedule or bedtime by 10-15 minutes to ensure they are suitably tired when it’s time to go to bed.

2. There Is Not An Established Bedtime Routine In Place

If your toddler won’t stay in bed… remember how much toddlers thrive on routine. Having a consistent bedtime routine is essential to helping them feel calm and ready for sleep.

Make sure your toddler knows what to expect each night before bed by following the same routine every evening after teatime, with quiet play, bath, book and bed.

3. They Don’t Want To Be Alone

Toddlers quite naturally want to be with you all the time and it can be hard for them to separate at bedtime. Especially if that is the only time of day they are expected to be away from you.

Consider giving your toddler a special stuffed animal or blanket to sleep with.

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4. They Have Not Learnt To Self Settle

Some toddlers struggle with self-settling, which means they have a hard time falling asleep alone or settling back to sleep if they wake in the night.

If this is the case, consider teaching your toddler some self-soothing techniques, such as deep breathing or counting.

If you have been rocking your little one to sleep up until now… they may struggle to transition to falling asleep in their bed alone. Try using some sleep training techniques to gradually get them used to falling asleep alone. (I prefer the gradual retreat sleep training method. Keep reading to learn more)

5. That Have A Fear Of Missing Out: FOMO

If your toddler won’t stay in bed, it may be because they’re curious, and might worry they’re missing out on something if they go to sleep.

Reassure your toddler that everything will still be there in the morning and that they need a good night’s sleep to feel their best and to have enough energy to enjoy it all!

6. They Have Just Moved From A Crib To A Bed

Moving from a crib to a bed can be a big transition for toddlers. So make sure your toddler feels safe and secure in their new bed.

You might consider using bed rails or a special bed designed for toddlers.

Introduce them to their bed gradually, talk about the move and get them to help with the choice of bedding.

You can also try putting a favourite soft toy to sleep in the bed for a couple of nights before suggesting that your little one joins them.

7. They Are Afraid Of The Dark

Many toddlers are afraid of the dark. Consider using a nightlight or leaving the door cracked open to help your toddler feel more secure.

This night light also projects onto the ceiling which can give your toddler something to focus on as they fall asleep.

With time and patience, you can help your little one develop good sleep patterns and get a good night’s sleep.

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8. They Have Experienced A Sleep Regression

A sleep regression can easily throw your toddler’s healthy sleep habits out of the window if not handled properly. It can also mean your toddler won’t stay in bed because their sleep schedules are thrown off. To learn more about sleep regressions, read these posts:

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

Top Tips for Getting Your Toddler to Stay in Bed

Now we know the common triggers for why your toddler won’t stay in bed, you can create a plan of action to move forward and help them stay put once you’ve said goodnight.

Here are some tips to help you keep your little one going to bed and staying there:

Tips To Get Toddler To Stay In Bed

By following these tips, you can help your toddler develop healthy sleep habits and stay in bed all night long.

Remember to praise your child for their efforts and be patient as they learn to sleep on their own and never shout, berate, or punish if your toddler won’t stay in bed.

Best Sleep Training Methods for Teaching Your Toddler to Stay in Bed

Here are my two favourite sleep training methods to use when your toddler won’t stay in bed. I have used both techniques with great success, but I prefer the Gradual Retreat technique the most.

If you want to try sleep training, give both techniques a try and see what works best for your family.

Bedtime Fading (Gradual Retreat):

When your toddler won’t stay in bed, this technique works very well if you are happy to wait with your toddler for a little bit every evening.

Start by sitting next to the bed for a few minutes and gradually move further away each night until your toddler can fall asleep on their own.

Some toddlers will need to wait until they’re fast asleep, others will be happy for you to depart once they’re drifting off.

Remember to keep interactions to a minimum and use limited words to make the most of this technique.

Promised Return:

This method is also really effective for keeping your toddler in bed.

Say goodnight and say that you have a chore to do and will be back in a few minutes. Always return (don’t leave them for too long) and repeat until they are asleep on one of your returns.

Each night extend the time you leave them and you will find that eventually, they will be falling asleep on your first return.

Cry It Out:

I do not recommend the Cry It Out Method, especially so when your toddler won’t stay in bed. I believe it is too harsh for young children and as there are other techniques that work well to teach your little one to sleep independently, I do not see the need to incorporate additional emotional stress into the situation.

What To Do If Your Toddler Is Afraid Of The Dark

It’s not uncommon for toddlers to be afraid of the dark. If your little one is struggling with this fear, there are a few things you can do to help them feel more comfortable and secure.

  1. Make sure your child’s room is well-lit. A nightlight or a lamp with a low-wattage bulb can provide just enough light to help your child feel safe and secure without keeping them awake.
  2. Try to get to the root of your child’s fear. Ask open-ended questions to allow your child to tell you what’s triggering their fear. Listen to your child to help them identify their fear and name it. Remember that what may seem funny or trivial to you, can feel very real to your child.
  3. Use a comfort item like a favourite stuffed animal or blanket to help your little one feel less anxious and scared.
  4. Be patient and understanding. Remember that fears are a normal part of childhood development, and it may take some time for your child to feel comfortable sleeping in the dark. With a little patience and support, your child will eventually overcome their fear and learn to sleep soundly through the night.
  5. Read books about being afraid of the dark and discuss how the characters in the book deal with their fear. Often this is a perfect way to help your little one deal with their own concerns and prompt conversation about why they are scared.
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How to Keep Your Toddler in Bed When Transitioning from Crib?

Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed can be a challenging time for both parents and toddlers.

Many parents put off moving their toddler into a bed because they fear it will mean an end to their peaceful evenings and they are not sure how to keep their toddler from getting out of bed each night.

It is naturally quite common during this transition that your toddler won’t stay in bed because they have a newfound freedom.

However, it is important that you start as you mean to go on and make it clear that getting out of bed after lights out is not an option.

Here are some tips to help keep your toddler in bed:

Frequently Asked Questions When Your Toddler Won’t Stay In Bed

Looking for more information about what to do when your toddler won’t stay in bed? Here are the answers to the most common questions.

How Do I Get My Toddler To Stay In Bed For Nap?

To get your toddler to stay in bed for a nap, establish a consistent nap routine and stick to it. Make sure your toddler has a comfortable sleeping environment and a favourite stuffed animal or blanket. If they leave their bed, calmly and firmly lead them back to bed without engaging in conversation or play.

Don’t pressurise them to fall asleep but rather encourage them to stay in their room and enjoy some quiet time by offering them some books to look at or an audiobook to listen to.

How Do I Get My Toddler To Stay In Bed In The Middle Of Night?

Ensuring your toddler is getting the right amount of sleep during the day, eliminating screen time in the lead-up to bedtime and establishing a consistent bedtime routine will help to reduce the amount of nighttime waking.

However, if your toddler won’t stay in bed when they wake in the middle of the night… calmly and firmly lead them back to bed without engaging in conversation or play and repeat as often as necessary.

It is important that you do not give in at any point.

How Do I Help My Toddler To Stay In Bed?

To help your toddler stay in bed, be consistent in your approach and establish clear boundaries. Avoid giving in to your child’s demands or engaging in conversation or play when they get out of bed. Consider using a reward system to encourage positive behaviour.

Is It Ok To Lock My Toddler In Their Room At Night?

No, it is not OK to lock a toddler in their room at night as it can be dangerous in case of an emergency. If all other attempts at keeping your toddler in bed have failed you could consider using a baby gate.

Should I Consult A Pediatrician If My Toddler Won’t Sleep?

If your toddler’s sleep issues persist despite your best efforts, it may be helpful to consult a paediatrician or sleep consultant. They can rule out any underlying medical issues and provide guidance on how to improve your toddler’s sleep habits.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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