How to Get Your Child to Stay in Their Bed in 3 Steps

The kids are in bed and you have just settled on the couch to relax when you hear the pitter patter of little feet. No! What is your little one doing out of bed? You give him a glass of water and tuck him back in. Off you go to return them to bed. Wait, he’s back! Let’ try this again - third time is a charm, right? Or maybe your child goes to bed just fine, but then you wake up to warm breath on your cheek or tiny feet jabbing into your back.

Does this sound familiar? If so, your child has “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome” -- as in they repeatedly come out of bed at bedtime or during the middle of the night. It’s a common diagnosis, but there is a cure!

But first, lets talk a little bit about this “big” bed your kiddo is sleeping in…

A Big Kid Bed is a Big Kid Responsibility
Your child's ability to stay in bed is hinged to the reality of whether they're actually ready to be in a big kid bed. Being in a big kid bed is a big kid responsibility and it's important not to transition from crib to bed before they're truly ready for this new independence. For most kids, this transition is around age 3 because they need to be at a developmental point where they can understand rules and follow them, and also handle having the security and safety of their crib removed. So, to avoid frustration on all sides wait until your child is ready for this new milestone before making the big move.

Once they are ready, you’ll make the transition in 3 easy steps:

Step #1: Call a Family Meeting

Little kids are egocentric (this is developmentally appropriate!) and love to be the star of the show. This is part of why they come out of their bed in the first place – for your attention! Use this trait to your advantage. At a non-sleep time, call a family meeting where your child and his/her sleep is the only agenda item.

Explain why sleep is important and that when they do not stay in their bed, no one is the family is getting the sleep they need. Also explain that there will be some new “Sleep Rules” to help everyone sleep well and that if they do not follow the rules and get out bed, then you will walk them back to their bed each time they come out without any talking.

To help reiterate the importance of sleep in a language that small children can understand, introduce the concept with books!

Step #2 Set the Sleep Rules

Toddlers and preschoolers often fight against rules, but actually crave them as a sign of safety. Many parents share that their kids always follow the rules about naptime at school or daycare; this is because their teachers enforce the rules consistently. Create "Sleep Rules" together on a piece of poster board, detailing bedtime routine and overnight behavior.

For example: “I will brush my teeth, read one book, have two sips of water, go to the potty, get into bed, and stay there until mom or dad tells me it is OK to be awake and out of bed. If I get out of my bed before it is time to be awake, mom or dad will quietly walk me back to my bed with no talking.” Be realistic with your rules and only include rules that you will 100% enforce. You’ll also want to be specific and quantify things so there is no question about your expectations. Let your child decorate the poster board to help them feel excited and included in setting the new sleep rules. Display your sleep rules sign somewhere you can review it each night before bed.

Step #3: Putting it All Into Play

Every night before bed, read the "Sleep Rules" together to remind your child of your expectations for both bedtime and overnight.

If/when they come out of their bed take them by the hand with absolutely no talking or eye contact (Remember they are getting out of bed for attention. If you give any attention to them at all, negative or positive, it will give them a reason to come out again.) and walk them back to bed. You can assist them into their bed, but no tucking in, snuggles, hugs, kisses, etc. Once they are in bed, leave the room right away. This trip should be all business. Do this each and every time they come out of his bed. The first night, you may have to bring them back to tier room 30 times but if you stay 100% consistent (and calm) and do this without giving any attention at all during the returns, after just a few days your child will be a Jack-in-the-bed!

*The original version of this post was written by Amy Lage and shared in the Boston Mamas Blog in 2015.

Well Rested Baby is a team of Family Sleep Institute certified sleep consultants that helps families like yours identify, address, and correct their children’s sleep issues. WRB works with moms and dad’s to create customized sleep plans that reflect a family’s comfort level and philosophies. When paired with WRB’s 360-approach, the entire family is set up for sleep success. WRB offers a variety of support packages.ContactWRB today to schedule a consultation or learn more about how we can help you and yours get the sleep you need and deserve.