- When you end a routine, tell your child to stay in bed until you come for them.
- If they get out of bed, calmly and quietly lead them back and tell them they must stay in bed.
- When they get back into bed, reward them by briefly telling them what a good sleeper they are being for being there, then leave the room.
- Tell them that you will come and check on them during the night. For some children it provides reassurance.
Prepare yourself for a bedtime struggle
But don’t kid yourself that the struggle is over. Be prepared to repeat steps 1 and 2 as many times as you have to for several nights in a row. Twenty "farewell appearances" in one evening is by no means an unusual number.
Above all, stay calm and keep interactions with your child on a low-key level; they should be brief and boring. The aim is to reward them with praise for staying in bed and not for getting out.
Children tend to feel, as many advertisers do, that any attention is better than none. If getting out of bed brings your toddler extra attention—even negative attention, by making you upset—they’ll do it again and again. By contrast, if you keep the atmosphere quiet and even boring, the excitement of getting out will soon pale.
Avoid rewarding bedroom breakouts
While respecting your toddler’s newfound mobility, insist on the rule that once it’s time for sleep, people have to stay in bed until morning unless they have to go to the bathroom. Avoid rewarding bedroom breakouts, such as by allowing your child to climb into your bed or join the members of the family who are still up. Instead, praise them in the morning for having stayed in bed all night.
Make climbers safer
If your child is going to climb out of bed whether you want them to or not, let them know that the only time that climbing out is acceptable is when sleep or nap time is over.
In addition, you should make their room as safe and hazard-free as you can. While you are waiting to get a new bed, place the crib mattress on the floor. Clear away furniture and large toys, like rocking horses, that could injure your child if they fell against them. You may need to install a safety gate across your toddler’s bedroom door to keep them from wandering when you are not awake. You will also need a gate at the top of the stairs to prevent possible injury when your toddler gets out of bed.
Also, take steps to prevent dressers and other furniture from tipping over and injuring your child. Install childproof latches on chests of drawers or tape drawers shut so they can’t be pulled out and used as steps.
If you have any questions about your child's sleep space or routine, talk with their pediatrician.
About Dr. Moon
Rachel Y. Moon, MD, FAAP is a pediatrician and SIDS researcher at the University of Virginia. She is also a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Her research centers on SIDS and SIDS risk factors, particularly in high-risk populations, such as African Americans and infants attending childcare. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), she is chair of the Task Force on SIDS and Associate Editor for the journal Pediatrics. Dr. Moon is also the editor of Sleep: What Every Parent Needs to Know.