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Refuses to Stay in Bed

What to do:

Self-Talk. Say to yourself, "I don't like it that my child gets out of bed at night. But I can be patient while I teach her to soothe herself to sleep. We can work together, so we both can get the sleep we need."

Empathy. Tell yourself, "I understand how my child feels. She wants to be with me to see what I am up to in that world outside her bed, and maybe she's afraid she'll miss something exciting. I used to feel the same way when I was a child!"

Teach. Tell yourself, "I need to help my child learn that she can stay in bed for her whole nap and the whole night, and soothe herself to sleep. Teaching her how to follow a routine will make her feel more secure as she learns these skills."

Pre-bed Check. What happens before bedtime-a snack/drink, quiet activities, and a predictable, calming nighttime routine-is important, so your child will feel secure and ready to sleep.

Set a Bedtime Routine. Routines let children predict what will happen next. Routines are important guidelines and boundaries we all need, in order to feel comfortable that life is predictable. A bedtime routine might be: bath, PJ's, books, night light, good night kiss, leave the child's room. Find the routine that works best for your child by talking with him about it-he will feel more motivated to follow the routine when he's part of the routine decision-making.

Use a Timer. At your child's bedtime, set your timer for 5 minutes and say, "The rule is when the timer rings, it's time for me to leave and you to go to sleep. Love you." Then leave when the timer rings, so she will know that you can be trusted to keep your word.

Set Rules. Rules are limits that are predictable. Making and sticking to rules shows your child healthy, common sense, reasonable limits and how to stay within those limits. Say, "The rule is, you need to stay in your bed until morning. We all need sleep to make us strong."

Play the "Quiet Game". After hugs and kisses and final tuck-in, say, "Let's play the Quiet Game. See how long you can stay quiet. Shhhhhh." Then, in a whisper, say, "You are being so quiet. I'll be right outside listening." Then step outside his door and listen. Children love challenges, so he will try to stay quiet until sleep comes peacefully.

Set up a routine for when your child gets out of bed. When your child cries or gets out of bed, check on him. If he is okay, give him a quick kiss and hug (30 seconds maximum) and leave. Tell him firmly and lovingly that it's time for sleep, not play.

Enforce Rules. Teach your child that you mean what you say by reminding him of the rule. For example, if the rule is that your child sleeps in his own bed, say, "I'm sorry that you got in bed with me. Remember the rule: Everyone sleeps in his own bed. I love you. See you in the morning."

Praise and reward rule-following. We all need encouragement when we are learning something, so praising your child's rule-following the morning after she stayed in bed will make it important to her. Say, "I am so glad that you stayed in bed, and are rested and taking good care of yourself."

What not to do:

Don't Neglect to Enforce the Rules. Once you've set the rules, don't change them unless you discuss this first with your child. Every time you don't consistently follow your rules and give in to her whining or crying, your child learns to keep trying to get what he wants, even though you've said "No". Rules that are sometimes there and sometimes not are confusing and increase your child's stress.

Don't Use Threats and Fear. Threats such as "If you get out of bed, the alligators will get you," or "If you do that one more time, I'm going to punish you," will only increase the problem. Fear may keep your child in bed, but the fear may grow until your child becomes afraid of many things. Remember, threats are never okay, and they destroy your trusting relationship with your child and increase her level of stress.

The authors and Raised with Love and Limits Foundation disclaim responsibility for any harmful consequences, loss, injury or damage associated with the use and application of information or advice contained in these prescriptions and on this website. These protocols are clinical guidelines that must be used in conjunction with critical thinking and critical judgment.