When Your Kid Won’t Stay in Bed

November 12, 2014 |  by  |  1 YO, book review, guest author, Success Stories
Toddler bedtime battles
This post is by guest author Tracy Cutchlow, who is a smart cool person, and also the author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I’’ve Learned So Far) and editor of the bestselling books Brain Rules for Baby and Brain Rules. As a journalist, she has worked for MSN Money and the Seattle Times. She lives in Seattle with her husband and daughter. Get more of Tracy’s parenting tips.

One night, my husband and I relaxed on the couch after we put our toddler to bed, as usual, in her crib. Suddenly: “Hi, mommy!” We looked over. There she was, standing in the living room, quite proud of herself. At 22 months old, our toddler had climbed out of her crib.

Recovering from our surprise, we put her back to bed with a laugh. She’s a climber! we said. We’d figured this day would come. We had an easy solution: put her in her sleep sack. Surely then she couldn’t get her leg up over the railing.

“Hi, mommy!”

You know how the minute something goes well with your kid, you imagine that thing (finally!) will go well forever? Bedtime had been going well for us, minus occasional rough patches, for about a year. Our daughter had been fairly easy to put to bed after a short routine, and she’d been sleeping through the night since she was 11 months old. So we were feeling entitled. We’d gotten smug. (Naps are a whole other story.)

Now, every night, a bleary-eyed baby was stumbling into the living room, unsure how to handle her newfound freedom. And we were just as bewildered.

Of course, I Googled it. Once your kid climbs out of the crib, I learned, you should convert it to a toddler bed so she won’t fall and hurt herself. We didn’t think our daughter would fall, but we thought at least if she had a toddler bed, she’d be able to get back into bed on her own.

She could. But she didn’t.

Instead, she’d open her bedroom door and make random requests: “Hungry. [Insert food she’d declined to eat at dinner]. Milk! I want to sleep with Mommy and Daddy. Listen to music? Ride my bicycle! I want to walk outside.”

Naps were not happening; she wasn’t sleeping through the night anymore.

Round and round we’d go. We’d put baby in bed; moments later, she’d pop out. We tried various responses: gently returning her to bed again and again. More food (well … she didn’t eat much at dinner …). A stint on the potty. Ignoring her. Counting to three. Holding the door closed. Until I’d had it and would yell, “Get back in your bed!” and firmly dump her there.

Which didn’t work, either.

Desperate, we started laying down on the floor next to our baby’s bed until she fell asleep. That worked. But it was also disruptive to our own sleep, and it wasn’t teaching her how to stay in bed on her own.

How to Get Our Mobile Toddler Back in Bed?

It was obvious that our toddler didn’t need any of the food or toys she was requesting, and our attention just reinforced her behavior. We needed to stop providing that kind of attention. Maybe she was too young to have the self-control to stay in her room; maybe her physical coordination was getting ahead of her mental ability. We needed to remove the option of opening the door. Maybe our bedtime routine—laying her down with a bottle and kissing her head—was too short, and bed felt like a place where she got left behind while we continued our evening.

Based on these guesses, we made a new plan:

We put a lock on the outside of the door (with baby’s help). I let her test the handle to feel the difference between locked and unlocked. I told her she wouldn’t be able to open the door when it was locked, and this would help her stay in her room at night. We would open the door in the morning. Essentially, we turned the whole room into her crib.

We lengthened our bedtime routine, reading baby three stories as she lay in bed. My husband snuggled in close, so she’d get more cuddle time. Then we said good night.

Baby immediately climbed out of bed.

This time, we did our own version of “fading”: we sat outside the door, instead of laying on her floor, to comfort her.

“I want Mommy to lay on the floor,” she cried at the door. “Sad baby!”

“Aww, sad baby,” I replied. “Yes, Mommy is right here on the floor. When we’re sleepy, we lay down. Do you want to lay on the floor or climb into bed?” She wandered back to bed. We repeated this a few times. “I’m going to sing you a song, sweetie, to help you stay in bed,” I said.

My song calmed her crying for a bit. When she cried again, I sang again. If she said, “I want Mommy to lay on the floor,” I repeated, “Yes, I’m right here on the floor. I’ll sing you a song.”

This lasted for half an hour as she wandered between the door and her bed, crying off and on. “Get me OUT of here!” she said at one point. I tried not to laugh. I sang to her probably a half-dozen times as she woke up throughout the night. Each instance took less and less singing to calm her.

The next night, she stayed in bed from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.—the usual.

Lessons learned?


Solve the problem, not just the symptom.

To solve the problem, we couldn’t just be indignant that baby wasn’t following our orders (although we were). We had to take a step back and try to figure out why baby might be doing this. Locking the door wasn’t enough; I tried that for a couple of naps and was met with screeching. We needed to address the underlying issues — what we guessed was baby’s desire to spend more time with us or her sudden dislike of being left in bed.


Make sure it works for you, too.

Be willing to back out of an unsustainable solution, like laying on the floor was for us, and start over.


Try your plan for a week.

Once we decided on our plan of empathizing and comforting from outside the door, we had to use it many times throughout the night. If we’d said after the first 15 minutes, or after the first middle-of-the-night wakeup, “Well, she’s still not staying in bed; that didn’t work,” we would have given up too soon.

We didn’t get smug for at least a week. But bedtime was indeed back on track.
{Photo Credit: Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press}

Zero to Five
Tracy’s book is a great parenting resource that touches on all the hot parenting topics that cross your path: food, play, sleep, positive discipline, etc. I don’t say that because I’m mentioned in it (WOOHOO!) or because she supported my Kicstarter campaign (YAY!) but because it’s true. She’s also kind enough to offer a special price to all Troublesome Tots readers through 11/28/2014 – get 50% off the ebook by using code “troublesometots” at checkout. Or if you’re still a paper reader like me, you can get 24% off a hardback copy at Amazon.


  1. I will be coming back to reference this soon. My 2 year old hasn’t attempted to escape yet but I just can’t envision a scenario where she would just stay in bed all night if she wasn’t in a crib. She’s very tall and getting to be almost too big for the crib and baby brother will be joining us any day now, so the transition is coming.

    • Why rush things? Just because she’s capable of escape doesn’t guarantee that she will. Is there any way you can get a 2nd crib for new baby (congratulations BTW!) so you don’t have to move to a big kid bed? If there is any way to keep older sister in the crib till her 3rd birthday I’m all for it! 3 YO kiddos are a lot more open to discussion about bedtime rules than a 2 YO who’s all, “Wheee!!! look at me I can go wherever I want! Whopppee!!”

      • I am going to try and keep my 2 yo in his crib as long as humanly possible. He loves it, and IKEA has cribs for $100, so the new baby coming in March will get his/her own rather than mess up my toddlers sleeping!

        • I’m always a big fan of keeping kids in their crib as long as they like it and are not climbing out. You may also want to consider a co-sleeper for the first few months for the baby. Might be cheaper and will extend the time you have for your 2 year old in the crib.

      • Alexis,
        While my (almost) 2 yr old can not get out of her crib, she is now regressing and will not fall asleep without one of us laying on the floor next to her crib. Every. Single. Night. Even naps too. I feel that all the sleep training we did months ago is right out the window. I also have an 8 month old so it’s hard for me at times to do this unless my husband is home. I am at my wits end. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  2. Thanks for this!! We are just recovering from the 18 month regression, so good to know this is coming. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the ideas! I am pretty sure when my 16 month old is ready for the toddler bed, we’ll need this! Right now she stands up in the crib yelling “mama!” when she wants me, but I’m sure that will transition into getting out of bed once there are no crib rails!!
    P.s. I subscribed to your e-mail tip list. Thanks!

    • You would be surprised – just because kids are capable of climbing out doesn’t mean they will. The whole pattern you’ve established is that they get out of bed when you come get them and to many kids, that’s just the way at is. Also it’s a BIG intimidating drop for a little person so when they’re looking down on the floor, they often decide that yelling for Mom is the better option 🙂

      Thanks for signing up for the newsletter!

  4. Thank you for this post! We are getting ready to transition my 2.5 year old and I’m a little scared. I love the reverse door lock idea! Meanwhile I am using your 3 step plan and applying it to my 5 month old and her sleep. “Make sure it works for you too” ie I need to stop nursing her to sleep for naps, stat. She can sleep fine on her own at night so should be able to sleep in the day. Thanks for the reality check! 🙂

    • Any chance you can get your hands on a 2nd crib (borrow from a friend? Craiglist?) and thus postpone the 2.5 YO transition? I’m super “wait till 3 if you can” on big kid beds. Giving a child with no capacity to self-moderate freedom of movement is a risky proposition. I know everybody hates buying a 2nd crib (and assembling a crib is one of the worst possible ways to spend a weekend) but I’m all for it if it’s a possibility…

      • We have two cribs, both kids are in them! I just thought as we approach 3 we should think about a real bed but you’re right, why rush it? Both cribs convert into twin/full beds eventually. Worth the investment for sure!

    • Nursing to sleep: I know what you mean. I was starting to feel bitter over that! Here’s one thing I tried:

      Reverse door lock: If you decide to, say, swap door handles with the one in your bathroom because that one already has a lock on it, just make sure you put all the pieces back together properly so that turning the handle actually opens the door. Otherwise someone could get stuck in the bathroom and you might have to knock down the door to get them out. Ahem.

      • I am going to try the humming/singing for naptime. She’s fine at bedtime so I know she can do it. Bedtime was a bit of a struggle so I’ve just been putting off naps indefinitely but she’s almost 5.5 months. Thanks for the door handle advice, haha! 😉

  5. I think sometimes the hardest part of this for parents is those initial nights–as you said you had to sing to her a half dozen times that 1st night. When you are so exhausted you can’t think it takes SOOO much willpower to stay consistent that 1st night. It can be soooo hard without a supportive partner too. Sounds like you had a good plan and I guess we all just have to keep our eyes on the prize!

    And when she says, “Sad baby!” Oh how adorably sad and cute 🙂

    • “Sad baby!” = toddler speak for, “Don’t you love me Mama? Don’t you LOVE MEEEEE!”

      PS. My 5 YO says stuff like this when I explain why we aren’t buying him the $300 lego set 😉

      • Funny how “sad baby” is SOOOOO much more persuasive to me than “BUT Mooooooooooooooom if you loved me you would buy me MORE LEGOS!” 🙂

    • SO TRUE. There were certainly nights when we tried one thing or another but gave up on it. Consistency may be born of desperation…

      “Sad baby”: I know! 🙂 It’s actually been very cool (and helpful) to see how she’s naming her own emotions after we’ve practiced so much with her.

  6. My 22 month old tries to get out of the pack n play (it will certainly happen any minute now), but hasn’t really made an effort to get out of the crib. We know the day is coming though! We have another baby coming in two months and are debating whether we leave the toddler in the crib until she can get out, or just switch her when her brother needs the crib?

    • Can you get a 2nd crib? There’s some pretty bland ones on Amazon for $150 (US). Lots of disruption when a second kiddo comes a long and you’ll likely see what I affectionately call the “new baby bedtime bounce” (older kids start having bedtime issues a few months after new baby arrives). It’s nothing you can’t handle but having a MOBILE 2 YO will likely complicate matters. I know nobody wants to buy 2 stupid cribs but if you can, I totally would 😛

  7. I thought I had willpower until I had a baby. I’m sure we’ll be trying this soon!

  8. Great information! We will have to transition our 28 month old soon and he is very strong willed. I know we are going to have to stick with however we decide to handle it.

  9. I love this post. First, the idea of showing the baby about the lock and then second, being consistent in what you’re doing gives me hope. My twins are 19 months and not close to jumping yet, but this is great information for when a change is coming.

    • No no – you’ve got YEARS to worry about this. But yeah, people forget that their older kids understand your words so they talk about “doing CIO with a 3 YO” when in reality, when your kid is 3 it’s about having a conversation with your 3 YO. Your 3 YO might get uber-pissed about the conversation but it’s a far different thing than CIO 🙂

    • Thank you, Eve (and Julie)! So happy to provide hope. 🙂

  10. The idea of turning the whole room into a crib worked for us too! We didn’t need to install a lock, just shut the door. Let’s hope the same works for baby #2 (when the time comes!).

    • How does your child not just open the door? My kids were like mini-scientists who figured out how doorknobs worked almost as soon as they were mobile enough to reach them!

      • My kiddo loves rules. So we laid down the law and after a day or two of reminding him of the rules, he stayed in his room. Also if he thinks the rule came from a book, it is Truth. So we pretended to read the rules from out of his big boy bed book.

      • My kiddo is just the opposite, at about 16 months old she figured out how to LOCK US OUT!!!

        • Oh yes. Our house is a million years old so the door locks couldn’t be turned off, so we broke them all. Now you can’t lock any doors in the house because one time my 2 YO locked me out of his bedroom and I freaked out about it.

          Warning to anybody who ever uses the bathroom in our house – you may very well get walked in on 😉

      • We used two baby gates, one on top of the other to keep escaping two year olds in their rooms. Still wasn’t so pleasant, but it did the job without having to lock the door (which I don’t really like).

        The problem now is that our almost two year old does not have her own room. She is blessedly not coming out, but wakes up crying at night. The other kids who share a room with her come knocking at my door to tell me she is crying. It is just so hard to let her cry when she is keeping everyone awake!

  11. So as I sit here, I am at a loss. My son has been a pretty crappy sleeper his whole life. We sleep trained in the crib at 9 months and it worked for 5 months…then more teeth. He stopped sleeping and I started going back into his room and we would sleep together after the first wake up. Sometimes at 4am, and sometimes 10pm, it varies wildly just as his sleep always has.

    Fast forward to today, my little guy is 22 months old and we lay with him in bed as he falls asleep(which takes around 30 min). I then sleep in our room until he wakes up yelling or walking to our room looking for us. I blamed his bad sleep on so many things, a cold, teething, sleep regression, but I know we need to change this.

    He never climbed out of his crib, just started sleeping in his big bed with mom, so we put it away. We are moving in 2 weeks…

    Should we set the crib back up in our new house?? Are we stuck on #1 and our problem is the big bed? At 22 months old, should we go through cry it out again?

    By the way, #2 is due in May, so we have to get this sorted out before them!! My hubby and I are so confused.

    • Moving is a huge transition which will likely bring you guys healthy heap of stress and sleep deprivation because…moving.

      But yes, this is about limit setting and sleep associations. He’s almost 2 so I don’t look at this as a “cry it out” issue but you DO need to have some conversations with him (over days, not at bedtime).

      What is going to happen at bedtime? (You guys leave, he falls asleep alone)
      Why? (Not good for Mommy/Daddy, everybody needs sleep)
      Tools to encourage: let him pick out a special night cuddle buddy, special sheets, nightlight – whatever you think he would be into but ideally HE picks them out so they’re HIS
      TALK about this for days prior. Make a bedtime book (pictures glued to paper is fine) – where does the cat sleep, where does the bird sleep, where does HE sleep, where does Mom sleep?
      Talk rewards – what happens if he stays in his bed all night without yelling or getting out? (reward chart, pancakes for breakfast, etc.)
      Talk consequences – what happens if he gets out of bed or yells for you? (close door)

      And lastly – he’s a little kid now (no longer a baby!) so you want to MEAN what you SAY. If you say you aren’t sleeping with him then you aren’t. If you aren’t ready to tow that line, don’t say it.

      I know moving is the absolute WORST, especially while PREGNANT. So it’s OK to wait until you feel you’ve got your footing re-established in the new digs. But when you’re ready to pull the lever, you go for it. And good luck!

      • Thank you for the response.

        I have helped so many friends get their babies to sleep through your website, but I can’t seem to get it down with mine, who is not a baby anymore : )

        DO you think that going back to the crib is ok at this point? I feel like it may be an easy way to keep him in his room, rather than working with him each night as he roams the house(unsafe).

        We are ready, and have been ready to take this big step, but moving was delayed 1 1/2 months, so I have just not been sure whether to start in the new house or in this house…suggestions on that? Should we start here and put him back in the crib, or start after we have gotten comfortable in the new home???

        I am so appreciative to have your response on this matter. It is literally driving me batty!!!

        • One thing that seemed to help us when we first moved G to her own room (this was at 11 months) was making a big deal of setting up the crib in G’s room. She “helped” us assemble it. We talked a lot about what would happen now, like Alexis was saying. She seemed to see it as “Here’s a new space with new rules, so the old rules no longer apply.”

          Personally, I’d work on this now to save myself another 1 1/2 months of struggle. But I’m also a fan of taking on only as many changes as you personally can handle at one time.

  12. Love this, not only is helpful for us in the future, if our LO has these issues. It also will help with work I keep getting several kids with sleep issues.

  13. Thank you for this! We’re not quite there yet but I have a few friends who are struggling with this right now and about to lose their minds, so I’m going to pass it along!

  14. We are in a black hole with bedtime and cannot get out! We transitioned our daughter in May at 2 years old into a different room and full size bed. We did this to prepare for our 2nd due in Sept. We didn’t want her to feel like we were evicting her for the new baby so we did it early (and before potty training which we’ve succeeded with). Now, 6 mos later bedtime is still a struggle and nearly every night my husband lays with her until she is asleep. Her middle of the night wakings have increased too and usually result in her climbing into our bed. Our son arrived in Sept and it has only made it harder bc he is in our room so essentially she is the only one not sleeping in there! I loved this post, we were those smug parents with a good sleeper for the first two years and now we feel like complete failures! Help!!

    • Oh no Lisa – new baby, husband AWOL with older toddler, and nobody sleeping!

      How about we go back in time, put toddler back in the crib and buy a 2nd crib. Does anybody have a Tardis handy? No? Shoot.

      OK here it is – older siblings OFTEN have sleep issues when the new baby shows up. Baby gets tons of attention so bedtime is a super effective time to get all the attention diverted back to THEM. And you’ve got a mobile 2 year old on top of that. Blerg.

      So the two key issues are that:
      1) Dad needs to leave before she’s asleep at bedtime and
      2) She needs to stay in her bed (ideally) or her room (fallback) during the night.

      All huge stuff when you’re juggling a newborn (congratulations BTW!). If it were me I would start talking to her about this – lay the ground work for change. Give her lots of control in things – we need to change what happens at bedtime (firm), what do you want to do first – potty or bath? How many books do you want to read 3 or 4? Do you want to sing songs? Take her shopping, let her pick out a SPECIAL bedtime cuddle buddy (transition object for Dad), name the buddy, make cuddling with buddy what you do while reading books (again we’re working Dad out of the scene). It may help to have some sort of timer – when the timer goes off it’s time for Dad to give last hug and kiss and LEAVE. Use a toddler light – house rule is that toddler stays in bed WHILE LIGHT IS ON (can’t come out of room till light goes off). Mean what you say – if you say Dad leaves after 3rd book then he leaves. Talk to her about this for days prior to change and when it’s not bedtime. Be firm but kind.

      If she gets out of bed you reminder her ONCE of the rules (stay in bed till light is green) and walk her back. Subsequent wakings you walk her back silently (a la Supernanny). I would start here see where it gets you. Works GREAT for some kids. Others simply make you walk them back to bed 100 times until everybody gets tired and frustrated and looses temper. If THAT happens I would consider the “make room into crib and close door” option the fallback.

      This can also be the consequence to her getting out of her room. “It’s bedtime, if you keep getting out of your bed we’ll have to close your door to help you stay in bed. You need sleep, we love you, I’ll be here with big kisses in the morning. Goodnight!”

      Good luck and godspeed!

  15. Through some wonderful miracle, my 19 month old monk- I mean daughter- hasn’t tried to climb out of her crib yet. I am expecting in May and we were just debating what we we going to do concerning buying a new crib. I’m so glad for these articles because I have been getting pressure from my family on moving her to ‘big girl bed’ and not to ‘baby’ her any more. We will definitely be sticking with cribs and I am secretly hoping that our super old house door knobs will be too tricky for her to turn the right way. Question though. Her room also serves as her playroom right now. When baby is climbing out of bed and trying the door, is it wise to remove all the toys from the room or is the darkness enough to keep them from playing all night long? She sleeps with no lights on and all electronic lights covered with black tape. Thanks 🙂

    • Hey Lauren,

      I highly recommend this post (I didn’t write it 😉 to prep for new baby’s arrival:

      There are some things you want to do to not “baby her” (Hmmm…I think I hate that phrase but not sure why?) only because your arms will be less free. So for example if she’s used to you carrying her everywhere, now would be a great time to get her used to holding your hand in parking lots because you’ll struggle to carry a toddler AND a newborn as you navigate the grocery store.

      But the big kid bed is definitely not part of that prep work. If your monk is sleeping like a champ in her crib and you can afford $150 for a second crib then you can tell all your relatives that the Internet sleep lady fully supports your decision to do so 🙂

      If she’s mobile at night AND mucking about with toys then you’ll definitely want to remove them OR store them in a closet that can be locked or what have you. But hopefully that issue is at least 1+ year away for you 😉 Good luck with the new baby!

  16. Thank you for this! I have always had a sneaking suspicion that my 2YO NEEDED her snuggle time with me at bedtime, and it’s good to hear that the absence of that snuggle time was the crux of the issue for you. I read three stories, we do a “let’s talk about our day” segment, prayers, song, and kisses–I’m like a talk-show host for toddler sleep! It takes about 15-20 minutes, but after that, she falls asleep on her own at 7:45pm, and she doesn’t make a peep until 6:45am!

    My husband, who is a wonderful dad, gets a bit impatient for us to start, say, the next episode of The Americans, and he has wondered if maybe I could cut my snuggle time down. Thanks for the leverage for me to keep on snugglin’!

    • Ha — he needs his snuggling, too! You could always do two stories, prayers, one song, and kisses, and see what happens. But 15 minutes sounds pretty great to me. Our nightly “we WILL brush teeth” struggle has extended bedtime to more like 45 minutes…

      • Right–husbands need snuggling, too! 🙂 And yeah, brushing teeth is a struggle for us. Often television (for distraction), bribes, threats, and good ol’ strong-arming are all used in the same evening. What the heck? It’s sort of fun, right? Ah, toddlers.

        • As soon as she starts wiggling away or keeping her mouth closed, I’ve been saying, “OK, then, I’m not going to brush your teeth. I’m not going to play a game. You let me know when you’re ready.” I leave, and then she says no, no, she’s ready. Every time, I fear her response will be, “Awesome!”

  17. Good post. I have an 11 month old already climbing out of the pack and play. Man alive!! It’s exhausting to look ahead at all the challenges to come. We’ve already just broken sleep associations, now this plus more regressions…yay…Anyway eternally grateful for the tips on toddlers!!!

  18. Ah, yes my daughter was 21 months when she first climbed out of her crib. I was both impressed and mortified. I kept saying over and over again in my head and sometimes out loud to my husband, “Alexis says to wait until 3 to transition to a toddler bed.”

    In a desperate attempt to keep our daughter in her crib, we lowered her mattress to the floor. Problem solved. Except now we are potty training (well she is day trained), I’m just wondering what the implications will be once we attempt night training in a crib.

    Also, she has been in a sleep sack sine she was 4 months old. It is very much a part of her sleep routine, do you just stop using it cold turkey once the transition to a toddler bed is made?

    • I so wish our crib had done this!

      How will you go about potty training in a crib?

      • I have no idea. I’m secretly hoping that she will be one of those kids that miraculously night-trains themselves.

        A mom can dream, right?

        • Hey Jonelle,

          Don’t sweat it 🙂 For starters very few kids are night dry at this age so plan on night diapers for a while (years?). Waking to pee is a whole developmental thing that comes waaay late. What is more likely is that you’ll see her starting the day with a dry diaper (eventually – probably not for another 1-2 years) and you’ll go YAY! No more night diapers 🙂 So getting out of the crib to go potty isn’t really an issue!

    • Before we transitioned to a bed, we got our daughter a “big kid” sleep sack with feet in it so that they can still walk around. We didn’t think she would stay covered with a blanket (she is sleeping on top of it) so it works well. But it will have to go when we work on nighttime potty training. It’s a good intermediate step for a sleep sack lover.

      We totally had a not-so-good sleeper for the first year (okay, a little more than that) and then, knock on wood, sleep since then hasn’t been too bad, and the transition to a bed was pretty smooth.

      • Congratulations on your smooth transition! Also most kids end up “night dry” before they’re “night potty trained” so you might not need to worry about getting her in/out of the footie sleep sack for a long time 😉 Good luck!

    • No need to get rid of the sleep sack when you transition to the toddler bed. I thought we needed to get rid of it, you know because 2.5 seemed old for a sleep sack – especially according to my parents. It was a total disaster. I had told my son that now he was a big boy (potty trained in day time), that he was ready for using a blanket instead of sleep sack. After 2 weeks of waking up to put his blanket back on him at least once a night, I decided we were crazy to get rid of it. I had to spin it carefully so he was convinced it was a good idea, but now he has sleep sack and blanket – and back to sleeping all night no wake ups. He’s in a toddler bed, his crib converts. For some reason, hasn’t figured out he can just get up and get out of bed on his own.

  19. We are dealing with this now! My 2 YO (at the end of July) went from a crib loving guy to diving out of it head first at night!!! We were not planning to transition, but once it became a safety issue, we moved to a big bed. For the first two weeks after we switched him, he did really well. Now he is getting out of his bed, even though we tell him he is not allowed to, and doesn’t seem to care one bit!!! Is he too young to really understand that? We did try a Tot Clock which worked ok in that he didn’t get out of his bed, but he would stay awake and scream for us until the clocked turned green and we came in to get him. Sometimes that was well over an hour, even more. He never made an attempt to go back to sleep if the clock said it was time to stay in bed. So I suppose the clock worked to keep him in bed but he would watch it obsessively and never go back to sleep! Now he goes to bed fine, but is waking up at 4 or 5 am and getting out of his bed and not staying. And he was napping really well too, and now doing the same – getting out of bed…What are tips to keep him in there at this time? Maybe we will try sitting outside the door like the post says? Any other thoughts?

    • “Even though we tell him he is not allowed to”: Heh heh. As Alexis commented earlier: “Good luck with the 2 YO sleep regression! Or as I like to think of it, the “I’m 2 now, you are no longer the boss of me!” regression!” This is partly why we just turned the whole room into a crib. If she wanted to sleep on the floor, OK. It gave her choices — that little measure of control toddlers crave so much.

    • Hey Lauren,
      Closing the door is definitely an option. But I would also consider a few other options.
      – The tot clock is great. So he stares at it and screams. That’s his choice right? The rule is he stays in bed until the light changes. If this is the rule then it’s the rule. Think carrots and sticks. The carrot is that if he stays in bed QUIETLY until the light changes he gets a gold sticker (7 gold stickers= something awesome). If he yells OR gets out of bed prior to that then there’s a stick – probably closing the door. Will he yell and stare at the clock for a while. Probably. But who cares? Trust me, if you’re consistent it’ll get super dull super quick.
      – Be really clear about the rules and WHY the rules are there. Maybe it’ll help to make a visual bedtime chart (just print off photos from the Internet, glue to poster board). Show all the steps of your bedtime routine that INCLUDE turning clock on AND light turning green and THEN kiddo getting out of bed AND getting gold star.
      – If he screams or gets out dont’ make a big lecture out of it, just march him back and calmly explain that it’s not time to get out of bed and if he does it again you’ll close (lock) the door to help him remember.
      – If he stays in bed make a BIG DEAL about giving him the gold star. Make whatever he gets AWESOME and ideally tangible. Like something he picks out himself but you put it on the fridge where he can SEE it but can’t TOUCH it until it’s earned 😉
      – Same thing at naptime (maybe another chart?) – if the light is an issue for naps set a timer and the rule is he can’t come out until the timer dings.

      You can totally get this boat back on track – not easy stuff but I have total faith in you!

  20. I can’t believe my almost 2-year old hasn’t climbed out yet! She’s crazy like that.

    When my son stopped staying in bed when my daughter was born, we put him back in com his crib. When he climbed out, we lowered it all the way to the ground, off the springs. He couldn’t do it from there. We didn’t move him back into his bed until he was more than three.

    He would sometimes sleep in bed for nap and to get him to stay in I would put 3 M&ms in a bowl and say if he got up I would take one away and he would get to have as many were left when naptime was over. That worked well!

  21. Awesome essay. I’m sure we’ll be referencing this in the future! Thanks, Alexis, for always leading us down the path of sleep righteousness!!

  22. This is such a helpful article! It is nice to see thoughts on toddler age battles!!

    We have a very active and tall 15 month old so I know the time is approaching for a big boy bed but I hope not soon 😀 We are right now trying to figure out what we do with him as we travel for the holidays. He is actually too big for the pack-n-plays and is very active during sleep so I fear he would not stay in a cot/bed with rails. We have no idea what we will do with him! But, after reading this, I think introducing the big boy bed just so he has a place to sleep during vacation is probably not the answer either.

    • Ehhh….never easy to travel with babies or toddlers. Is there a way you could buy a crib on craigslist and have your family sell it after you leave (huge hassle I know). Or buy one of the jumbo pack in plays?

    • So it might be too late, but when I flew solo with our daughter to LA, I RENTED baby stuff. A pack n play and mattress, a feeding booster seat, and a swing. (Brought my own car seat & stroller). They delivered it AND picked it up. (And didn’t charge for full days on the delivery or pickup dates)

  23. I like the ideas in this article, but my husband is really uncomfortable about installing a lock on the door. He’d rather we teach our son that he should stay in bed for his own sake (however long that takes), rather than us locking him in there, which he feels is a bit wrong and heavy-handed. Just wondered what your thoughts were about this because I’m a bit undecided on the issue…

    • We weren’t sure about it, either. We decided that a crib is, in a way, also locking your child in, so we tried it. I’m sure Alexis has some thoughts, but here are a couple of mine:

      One, if we’d had the idea about the more involved bedtime routine earlier, we would have tried that first.

      Two, we actually didn’t need to lock the door for very long — less than a week? We transitioned out of it. At some point, we switched to giving her a couple chances to stay in her room before the locking the door. Then I’d say lovingly, “It looks like you need some help to stay in your room. I’m going to lock the door now to help you stay in your room.” Laying out some choices and consequences helped us feel less helpless. We don’t lock the door now.

      I don’t think there’s any reason to do it if it makes you super uncomfortable.

    • Well it depends on the age and personality of your son. Some kids (especially if they’re a bit older or more mellow) respond great to the Super Nanny technique of silently walking them back to bed. The first time they get out you reiterate the rule, “It’s bedtime, we stay in bed until morning.” and walk them back. Each subsequent waking you walk them silently back. The upside is that by silently marching them back they eventually get bored and fall asleep. The downside is that you may have to do this 100 times and if at ANY POINT you break (engage, nag, lecture, or in any way reward the getting up) you’ve blown the whole thing. So essentially it requires huge commitment and patience.

      But if the locking doesn’t feel right to you then definitely start with “the silent walk” and see what happens!

  24. I thought this was a really interesting story. I don’t know about other parents out there, but for my 4.5 YO son, bedtime is still kind of an issue and he moved into a bed 2 years ago. unless he’s exhausted or i threaten him (no TV tomorrow if you can’t stay in bed!), he’ll visit us upstairs at least once, sometimes 3 times. i’ve explained the importance of sleep; we have a LOOOONG bedtime routine that involves books, snuggling, recapping the day, telling stories, etc. i’ve done the whole “walk him back to bed silently” routine while he’s crying “why won’t you talk to me, mommy?!” he just resists sleep because he’d rather be up with us. (my 2 YO on the other hand can happily lie in her crib awake for an hour, just chatting to herself.) SOOO here i am thinking that this is just going to be how it is for us until he’s old enough to read with a flashlight till he passes out. anyone else have similar experiences with a child who just really doesn’t want to go to sleep?

    • Parent coach Sarina Natkin, who helped me with my book, has a great post about this “bedtime whack-a-mole.” Bedtime tickets are one idea:

    • Hey Enad,

      You can definitely try bedtime tickets but I would also suggest you possibly consider some other approaches also. Your son is 4.5 years old which means you have a LOT of options at your disposal. Why? Because he’s not a 2 year old – he’s a legit kid! For starters I would call a family meeting and lay it on the table, “We have a problem at bedtime. It’s not OK for you to be getting out of bed to keep visiting us. What do you think we should do to make this better?” Come up with a list of options. Punishments that aren’t related to what is happening (no TV time the next day) generally don’t work well. Ask both kids – what CAN you do when you can’t fall asleep at bedtime? You can sing songs, count toes, tell yourself stories, play with bed buddies.What CAN’T you do? Get out of bed, visit Mom. Consider carrots and sticks (carrot = sticker reward chart, gold sticker every night he stays in bed full night). Ask HIM what the stick should be? What happens if we don’t stick to the rules at bedtime? What do you think is fair? See what he comes up with (kids will OFTEN surprise you with amazing ideas). Talk about why this is so important, “You need your sleep so you can grow strong and healthy! I’m always nearby and I ALWAYS love you. But it’s time for you to sleep.” Put it back on him – if he wants time with you, how would he like to GET that time BEFORE bedtime? Whatever you collectively come up with – agree to try for 1 week. Then assess at a next family meeting – how do we all feel about how this is working? stick with it? Change things?

      Also I think your kiddo will be far more engaged in making change when he feels like he’s got some say in it 😉

      • you know, i LOVE all these ideas. truly love them. i have to say the unrelated punishment does work (but i really hate to pull it out). we definitely did the sticker chart too but he wasn’t that interested. one real difference has been lately that he’s not napping at daycare anymore. i mean he’s legitimately tired at 8 pm instead of wide awake at 9 and making games because he just really isn’t tired. so i AM going to try the carrot and stick idea and let him come up with his own sticks, i am definitely going to suggest counting toes in addition to some of the other “how to fall asleep” tricks we’ve gone over, and …. one of these days he’ll decide he’d rather actually try to fall asleep instead of trying to stay awake! thanks 🙂

  25. Alexis,
    Do you have any tips for early wake ups? DS is consistently waking between 4:30 and 5am. Bed time is between 7 and 7:30. I can’t take this much longer!

    • Hey Kate,

      That’s a tricky and multifaceted issue – it be like asking, “What type of hairstyle would look good on me?” when I don’t know what you look like 🙂

      In general the themes are: earlier bedtime is better, not awake too long, not awake too short (confusing I know), go to bed awake, tons of soothing (as much as is age appropriate), and solid napping.

      Not the magic sauce you were looking for but there it is!

  26. Alexis,
    Great post as always. Our twin girls were a little older (3.5-4 years old) when we started having new issues with them that slowly started arising until they needed to be fully addressed. Loved your comment about how you’re in steady state and very smug that things are going well, and then they change on you! One twin began having a tendency to continually call us back to her room repeatedly at bedtime. The other twin would get out of bed in the middle of the night and stand next to my bed looking at me until I sensed a presence in the middle of sleeping and woke up to her right next to my bed. Or, she’d just fall asleep in our bedroom on the floor next to our bed (we’ve always been adamant that they cannot sleep with us beyond snuggling together in the morning). We took her back to her room, but then she’d cry when we left. So, we started sleeping with her in her room until she fell asleep. However, when we made it back to the master, she’d wake up several hours later and repeat the cycle again.

    We employed two strategies that were extremely successful. First, we used the bedtime pass for bedtime:
    And then we had the “sleep fairy” come and visit us, such that in the morning, there was a treat (food or small toy) left in their sleep fairy pots for successfully sleeping through the night (some articles recommend putting something under the pillow, but I was always afraid they’d wake up and see us sneaking something under so figured the pot was always better).
    Reading the sleep fairy book each night really helped. It’s more about staying in bed at bedtime, but you can modify to suit your needs and specific problem you’re having. Also, we took baby steps, so at first, we gave a treat for not making a huge fuss when we brought the twin back to her room and didn’t stay. Then, we moved to coming in only once to Mommy and Daddy. Then, finally, treat was for making it through the whole night. It took a couple of weeks total, but we achieved our steady state again!!

    Note, what may have additionally helped us is that with twins, they have the element of competition that worked to our benefit in this situation. They both wanted treats and were disappointed when one got the treat and the other didn’t.

    Thanks again for the wonderful website. We’re expecting #4, so I’m sure I’ll be on here more often 🙂

  27. BTW, a couple other fun books for when kids are struggling to stay in bed are Back to Bed Ed and The Girl Who Got Out of Bed

  28. Oh boy, I could use some help here! We moved my toddler to a big girl bed about 4 months ago and for 3.5 months it went great. We put a baby gate up at her door and never had any issues with her getting out until of course we went and had another baby and now we are having serious issues. She figured out how to open the baby gate, so much for that child proofing, and since would not stay in her bed and would just scream cry at the gate until we came to get her. Unfortunately her bedroom door looks out into our family room so any chance of a peaceful evening was shot, ha not that that is happening with a newborn, but still we could’t take her standing there shouting for hours…So, we have since reversed the lock on her door, shut the door and locked her in.

    So, now every bedtime results in lots of dramatics…She most definitely still needs a nap, she is 28 months, but is now fighting it with all of her heart. We do the standard nap time routine, 1pm everyday, room darkening shades, story, snuggles and leave with the door locked. For 2 weeks this had resulted in at least 30 minutes of her crying at the door, and almost always falling asleep on the floor. I have tried putting a pillow and blanket at the door and giving her that always needed toddler choice to sleep in bed or the floor and she just moves them back to bed then goes and lays by the door crying until she falls asleep. We have a camera in her room so can see all of her antics. I have tried going back and leading her back to bed but that seems to just extend the drama. I have also told her if she stays in bed with no crying she will get a sticker, 5 stickers = a trip the carousel, her favorite thing! but that hasn’t helped either. So presently she is passed out at the door and will most likely be up in an hour, she used to always sleep at lest 2 hours and is visibly tired after all of this drama, but she never naps as well on the floor, surprise surprise. Suggestions? Do I just continue to let her scream every day for 30 minutes and then pass out at the door and not nap as well? I am already losing sleep at night so not to have this break during the day and all the drama that comes with it makes me want to curl up in a postpartum ball of emotions and cry. Wow this was a big ramble, please help.

    I should also say at bedtime there are also always lots of tears, and recently removal of all of her clothes, toddlers are crazy, but she always gets back in bed at night after the crying, naps not so much.

    • I feel you about really needing this break. 🙁

      One idea to consider is removing both the lock and the baby gate. There was definitely a certain age at which my daughter did *not* want the door locked. The way she reacted to it (the type and intensity of the cry), the locked door seemed like too big a loss of control, plus perhaps a fear of being cut off from the safety of her parents. That was my interpretation.

      I wonder if your daughter might be struggling with the presence of the new baby, and being cut off from access to you is too much to bear. I’m not saying an unlocked door suddenly makes things easy. You still have to go through all the silent walks back to bed and the bedtime whack-a-mole requests. But you’re finding, after giving it a solid try, that the gate and the lock aren’t working for her or for you. Removing them might reduce the drama.

      These are all just experiments, right? In our case, we did leave the lock installed on the door. I don’t lock the door when I leave the room after putting her in bed. But occasionally if she’s still rustling around in there after a while, I quietly lock it. Today was one of those days. She tried the door handle and then cried for a moment, “OK, I will try — I will!” It gave her the encouragement to get back in bed and practice self-soothing. She’s asleep now. I try to unlock the door before she wakes up.

  29. something that has helped our LO stay in her crib longer is her zipadee-zip. It prolonged her from climbing out and she sleeps so great in it. I would definitely recommend it! We started using it very early, after she needed to transition out of the swaddle. Hoping this helps!

  30. Our 21mo old just climbed out of his pack n play and opened the door from our bedroom. Two things I didn’t know he could do! He is very good at climbing out, so I’m not worried he will hurt himself, but I am not sure how to enforce bed and nap now. We have a rule that he has to wait for the “music” which goes off at 7. He sleeps till then 75% of the time, and plays or sings in the crib if he wakes up early. Sometimes he calls for us or cries though and I’m worried he is just going to climb out now. I would make his whole room a crib except we have a one bedroom and it’s all our room. Do you have any ideas? Like are their kid fences I could out around the bed to make him a play area? I’m kind of stumped!

  31. My daughter was a bad sleeper since birth. as an infant she would sleep on me chest as I sat up, at 4 months she began sleeping in a crib but would wake up several times during the night ( would only drink 4th at a time so would wake for a bottle once sometimes twice a night). At about 20 months she climbed out of her crib which scared me more then her so I would watch monitor till she fell asleep every night and if she woke in the middle of night usually 2-3 hrs before she would wake for day) so I would just bring her in my bed in fear she would jump out of crib again. The at 2 years old she was easily climbing out so I switched her crib to a bed with guard rail. She was not having it. She will not sleep in the bed and click bs into mine. I tried everything laying on the floor next t of her bed and slowly moving away, letting her cry (sscreaming bloody murder) and go in after 2 min then 3 then 5 etc.. she screamed for 2 hrs straight. I have other children and husband and she wakes everyone up and keeps them up so being so tired I just give up. I’m at my last wits end I haven’t slept since I was 5 months pregnant and I need help

  32. This is great my wife and I are going through the exact same thing. Our daughter is 2.5 years old and with her sleeping bag managed to get out of her crip repeatedly. I was proud but shocked but proud. Now I’m just tired haha. We had to put her in a big bed becuase it was becoming dangerous but it’s been hell. Just like the article we trained her to sleep and nap perfectly. She got sick and combine that with acrobatic skills, she no longer wants to nap and bedtime is a nightmare. She won’t stay in her bed! So I’ll try tonight locking the door and talking to her. It’s all about consistency. I’m tempted to lay beside her till she naps in hope she will get used to sleeping in a new bed and then get used to sleeping in it on her own. But I don’t think that’s a good ide. Thoughts?

  33. I would love if someone has some advice or some insight on what’s happening here….. So my daughter will be 2in a few weeks up until now sleeping has been great (not without some hard work in the beginning) a week ago we caught her with her leg over her crib twice so we decided that it was time to convert the crib into a bed. Since then naps have totally gone out the window and bed time is not so good anymore either. When I put her to bed I lay her down and stay with her and hum to her until she goes to sleep there have been a few days where she slept throughout it seems like she is now waking up between 130 and 4 in the morning and no matter how much I try she will not go back to sleep. I am staying. In her room and putting her back in her bed but she is wide awake and most times won’t go back to sleep. I just don’t know if I am doing something wrong or if this is just how it goes at this age and when your transitioning little ones to a bed. I would love any adive anyone has…. Thanks!

  34. I know this is an old post, but I just found it today! I’ve been madly googling the topic because I have two year old twins and my son has been climbing out or his crib for a couple of weeks. Just occasionally at first, but now it’s on the regular…and he also gets in his twin sister’s crib and wakes her up. Then this morning I awoke to both kids out of their cribs. I had left their sleep sacks off since it was hot and it didn’t stop him, but I guess it looks like it was the only thing stopping my daughter.

    My son gets into everything when he gets out, messing with the nightlight and the clock (the one with the sleeping bunny on it that we bought to help teach them to stay in bed!) so I’m terrified to convert the cribs to toddler beds and give him all that freedom! Ironically the only door knob cover he HASN’T removed in the house is the one in their room, so he hasn’t roamed the rest of the house, but I feel it’s only a matter of time.

    From what I’ve been reading it seems a lot of folks don’t seem comfortable with locking a child’s room, but I just can’t think of another solution! Thanks for your article. If you keep up with feedback on old posts, can you explain what kind of latch you installed?

  35. This post needs to be revisited. There is a serious need for help here =) My now 2 year old climbed out when she was 21 months old and there was nothing we could do to make her stay in bed, until we took off the bottom of her crib and put her mattress on the floor (inside the crib.) this seems to have stopped here and she went back to sleeping normal, but the symtoms are still there…she is still getting anxious at bedtime, now she wants me to lay next to her and sing for a bit, which I do, and we follow her now very high maintenance bedtime routine, and she is still complaining when I leave. Not sure what to do. I am concerned that like this article there is something else she needs that I am not handling.

  36. I’ve gotten my 2 year old back into her toddler bed and we get to the point where she will fall asleep with me in the room. So basically, we are at the point where you left off. How do I get her to sleep without me in the room? She will fall asleep ONLY with me in the room, laying next to her bed. Then, I escape to my own bed once she’s asleep. In the middle of the night, she wakes up, sees I am not there and screams and cries and will not stop. So I go back in and sleep on the floor again. Help?!

    • I am having the exact same issue! Would love to hear what Alexis advises!

      • Any sleep strategy that involves the word “sneak” is going to fail. So if you’re sneaking out = fail – she’ll wake up later upset, screaming, or hunting to find you.

        However the fact that she’s falling asleep without you in bed WITH her is actually great. I would simply fade out your presence. So if you are sitting next to her while she falls asleep, move the chair a few feet away every night. You’re THERE but father away. She’ll continue to scream of course because you’re sneaking out (if you stayed in the room all night things would be different, you’re mysteriously disappearing). If you want to avoid the middle of the night scream thing while you’re fading out you do the same thing (move farther away at bedtime each night) BUT you camp out there. Meaning you sleep in her room in that spot all night. It sucks in the short run but you can fade your way out of there within ~1 week.

  37. Hi Alexis, I am having the same problem with my 3 year old. She has been a great sleeper since she was 1 year old and then figured out how to jump out of her crib and started doing that multiple times a night, so we moved her to a bed over a month ago and she continues to leave her room and come into my room multiple times a night. We tried silent return to sleep for a month and I think it’s a game to her and is reinforcing the behavior. We are holding the door shut (like Ferber recommends) when she comes out multiple times but it still doesn’t keep her in her room for the night. And she always sleeps with the door closed so having the door closed is not a consequence of her leaving her room. I know you said you locked your child in her room. My pediatrician doesn’t like the idea of a lock and I am at a total loss as to what to do. My husband and I have been doing this with my daughter for 2 months now and we are exhausted. Please help!

  38. I have a similar situation here with my nearly 3 year old.
    He once mastered a peaceful bedtime routine and slept through the night beautifully. Now we have a new baby (3 months old) and things started began to change. Currently he violently throws a tantrum behind the locked door to where 1) we fear for his safety and 2) it wakes the sleeping baby in the next room. The only succes we have is staying next to his bed until he is asleep, which is even more challenging now that we have the baby who has their own sleep dependency issues.
    How can we get our non-violent and quiet bedtime routine back?

  39. God help us. My 3 year old is and always has been a terrible sleeper. We never did cry-it-out because he has severe reflux and wasn’t properly medicated for most of the first year. Once he got the right meds, he slept much better. Flash forward a year and he started waking up in the middle of the night and needed us to put his blanket back on. Finally we taught him how to put his own blanket back on right around the time he started climbing out of his crib. Now, he has his own bed and 1) refuses to stay in it at bedtime and 2) gets up in the middle of the night and comes into our bed. We’ve done the calm walk back, taking away items, closing the door – we’ve tried it all and nothing works. He takes at least an hour to go down AFTER his bedtime routine. Then in the middle of the night sometimes he’ll refuse to get back into bed/sleep so will wake up for the day (@ 4am)…like today. We threw a new baby into the mix 8 weeks ago and my hubs and I are really to lose it. Nothing seems to work. We’re all over tired and miserable. HELP!!!

    • We transitioned our two year old about a month ago from crib to toddler bed. We also sleep trained early on (five months) so my experience is different from yours – I say this to emphasize your mileage may vary. Some of the things we did/do:
      -Baby gate at door and close the door for naps and bed time. Maybe an extra tall gate since your son is older?
      -Exact same routine every night at the same time. No variations. We are vigilant in our consistency which our extended family considers overboard but whatever! Sleep is greater than all! 🙂
      -On the rare occasion he does cry out in the motn, I do not turn on lights. Typically I assume either nightmare or temperature (which I respond to with patting his back, etc to calm or recover with blanket and tuck back in.) I whisper to him that we’re all sleeping and time to go back to bed. Then I leave. Usually I get no kickback. Occasionally he’ll wail once or twice and that’s it.

      Sleep is a non-negotiable activity in our house and maybe we’ve been lucky because our son knows that. I don’t know. That isn’t to say we don’t have rough patches and regressions but I’ve found that if you bear through a couple nights when that happens, things resume back to normal.

      Have you tried sticker charts or rewards for good nights? Maybe your son would be more responsive to rewards?

      • Thanks so much for your response Robyn! Sleep is so valued in our house too – we miss it!
        My little guy has had the same night routine since he was an infant – bath, books and then bed. We’ve tried removing privileges and giving rewards – even have purchased a small trinket toy beforehand to tempt him, promised munchkins. He’s interested at the time but the second we leave the room, he’s up out of his bed. When we were using the gate, he either climbed over or under it or pushed it over all together. It seems like he sees bedtime as a game and he has an extremely difficult time listening to us. I’m wondering if his bedtime is right – we start books at 7:30 and leave the room by 8. Last night he didn’t go down until 9pm. Not sure what we’all do, but it’s clear he’s tired during the day and his impacts his behavior. Sleep is SO IMPORTANT!

  40. Hi, I see how the lock on the door/toddler gate could work, and I have considered doing this but I worry that it will create a negative association for my son to his bedroom, bed, bedtime in general…. effectively making him terrified of going to bed at all and associating his bed with a punishment. What do you think about that? Isn’t your opinion, is this a valid worry or is this not really something to be concerned about?

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