How to Keep Your Stubborn Toddler in Their Own Bed
It was a dark, stormy night (well, as stormy as Southern California can get), and my husband and I were trying hard not to fall asleep while typing on our computers. We had put both kids to bed, and it was our time to catch up on work. However, something was different about that night. Something… truly horrifying.
We had decided that night to convert the crib into a toddler bed. No no, we did not do this by choice. That’s like asking if we volunteered to scoop cow poop under the hot summer sun – do people scoop cow poop? We put Alex to bed that night thinking it was just any other night, said our goodnights and left the room. Then just as our bottoms were about to hit the soft, comfortable sofa, we saw a shadow looming in the doorway, followed by a voice that struck fear in our hearts, “Daddy? Mommy?” How did Alex get out of his crib?
We put Alex back in the crib and then watched the monitor closely. He tried going to sleep for 10 seconds, then stood up, threw his leg over one side of the crib, and climbed out. Easy as pie. We tried putting him back again and telling him to stay in bed, but nope, he climbed out again within minutes. So we decided to make the decision that would haunt us for nights to come – we took off one side of the crib and converted it into a toddler bed. We figured that climbing out of the crib creates a risk of Alex falling and hitting his head, so we might as well go on in and change his bed to the toddler bed.
Then all hell broke loose.
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Alex would not stay in his bed. Not even for a minute. He kept jumping out of bed, running out of his room, and coming to see what we were up to. It was almost two hours past his normal bedtime, so we sought help from our mommy friends and tried the following methods that worked for them:
Praise the Bed
From the way we talked about the toddler bed, you would think that it was magical. We tried to appeal to his pride and told him that only big boys can sleep in a toddler bed and he had grown and matured so much that he now is a big boy and no longer a baby. We tried running our fingers on the mattress and saying how it was the most comfortable bed ever. You would think we work at a mattress store and were trying to sell Alex the bed. Alex seemed to really like the concept and the bed itself, but not enough that he wanted to stay in it.
We tried restarting the bedtime routine so that he could settle down again from all the excitement of converting the bed. We read him a couple more books and sang to him, and said our goodnights. Nope, didn’t work.
Run Out of Excuses
Even in a crib, Alex was full of excuses at bedtime. Apparently, the idea of sleep makes toddlers want to pee, poop, drink water, drink milk, eat… basically anything except sleep. We accommodated his excuses the first few times he ran out of the room, including changing his pajamas and underwear and putting more lotion on his body. But after a while, we drew the line. As long as we knew that he did not need to pee or poop, he was not allowed to get out of his bed for any other reason.
Put Them Back in Bed
We started just putting Alex back in bed every time he opened the door. We camped outside his room so that he couldn’t even take a step out of his room before we jumped up and escorted him back to bed. We did not engage him in any conversation no matter how hard he tried to make us talk to him, and simply just guided him back to his bed and laid him down. It’s almost like sleep training for babies, but for a strong-willed, angry toddler that fought back instead. Alex started getting really frustrated that his attempts to run out of the room were futile. He refused to walk back to his bed and started hitting and kicking us when we tried carrying him. We persisted and continued the routine despite the fact that we were getting so tired and irritated that we wanted to just go in and lie down with him. After doing this at least a dozen times, he got the hint that there was no point opening the door, so he threw his tantrums and cried in his room instead. About a little over an hour later, he finally fell asleep.
After some peace and quiet, Marc and I searched for alternative ways to deal with this. We did not want to go through another night of battling a screaming toddler. Although most of our friends told us that they ended up just locking the door so that their toddlers couldn’t get out because nothing else worked, we felt that we owed Alex to try at least one more method before resorting to imprisoning him in his room. With tons of doubt in our minds, we decided to go with the famous sticker chart.
When you are a toddler, stickers are like gold. It’s rare to see Alex go a day without any stickers on his body. So, we took him to Party City the next day and told him to pick out two sets of stickers. Not surprisingly, we ended up going home with Frozen and Thomas sticker books. We then printed out a sticker chart and taped it right next to his bed, and told him that if he stayed in bed, then he could get one sticker on the chart, and one sticker on his body. The sticker chart had 10 slots, and we told him that if he filled all 10, then we would take him to the toy store to pick out a toy. However, he would lose a sticker anytime he decided to get out of bed and run out of the room.
We said our goodnights with a heavy heart that night, thinking the sticker chart would never work. Our eyes were glued to the baby monitor, afraid that we would see him open the door any second. But guess what? He stayed in bed. Yes, I couldn’t believe it. HE STAYED IN BED! He tossed and turned almost for 30 minutes in his bed before passing out for the night, but he never attempted to run out. I was speechless!
Our new bedtime routine continued the next few weeks: after books and songs, every night he would pick out one sticker that he wanted for the sticker chart and one he wanted for his hand. We put the sticker books outside his room so that they would be the first thing he saw in the morning. A couple of nights he did decide to come out of his room, and sadly we had to take stickers off the chart, but eventually, he made it to 10 stickers and got himself a train from the toy store!
*** Note: We did not continue with the sticker chart after the completion of the first one. We did not want him to think he gets a reward for doing something he is supposed to do anyway; the first sticker chart worked as motivation and catalyst, but after the initial few weeks he got used to the routine and should not need a reward system to keep him in bed.
Now that we solved how to keep our crazy and stubborn toddler in his bed at night, we still had another issue – how can we keep him in bed in the morning so that he is not up before the sun comes up, busting in our bedroom door and demanding the poor, sleepy parents to play with him? We got a stoplight toddler alarm clock! When the light is red, he is supposed to stay in bed. When the light turns green, he is allowed out of his room. Some mornings we can hear him getting up when the light is still red through the baby monitor, and he will either try and go back to sleep, or he will sing and play by himself in his bed until the light turns green… then we hear him run down the hallway and seconds later, BOOM! There goes the bedroom door.
Baby Gate/Dutch Doors/Locking the Door
Every parent and child are different. We try as much as possible to stay with positive parenting, but we know that the positive parenting methods cannot apply to every situation. When we asked around for suggestions, most moms end up saying the same thing – they tried everything under the moon and in the end, they just had to lock the door and let the toddler cry it out. Some moms suggested using a baby gate or Dutch doors so that the toddler could still look outside his room but could not escape it. Some others just reversed the lock so that it’s on the outside of the door so that they could lock the toddler in. I am glad that we did not have to resort to these methods, but hey, you got to do what you got to do.
Transitioning your toddler from the crib to a toddler bed is no easy task. My husband was traumatized the first night because Alex has been daddy’s little boy for the longest time and that was the first time he has gotten so angry at daddy that he fought back. So, prepare yourselves, set a game plan, and stick with your plan. Remember, after the rain and a few dark and stormy nights come the sun. Good luck to you all, and Godspeed.
What strategy do you use to keep your toddler in bed?