Parent Tips: Getting Your Kids to Stay in Bed

I have read many books about parenting. There's always something in every book that ends up working for one of our three kids. So I wanted to write a book encompassing ALL the ideas that worked for our toddlers. But since there are so many parenting books out there already, I figured maybe blogging about it would be best. So here are the ideas that worked for us, one tip at a time...

Parent Tip #1: Getting Your Kids to Stay in Bed

Our 5-year-old and our 3-year-old girls (who share a room) suddenly decided it would be fun to get back out of bed after they were tucked in. Over and over and over again. It became an epidemic. We have a consistent, restful nighttime routine, so that shouldn't have been the issue. They were clearly tired (if they did stay in bed, they fell asleep within 10 minutes), so that wasn't it either. It seemed like they just discovered it was fun to do. And they didn't want to miss anything, like most toddlers. 

Love and Logic suggests to announce it's "Bedroom Time" and let the kids do whatever they want in their rooms as long as it is quiet and restful (since you can't actually make your kid go to sleep), then wake them up at 6am and have them be so exhausted that they learn their lesson and go to bed at a decent time. They also suggest that if the kids come out of the room one time, then you close the door, and if they come out again, you lock the door. We weren't comfortable that our kids were at a good age for this approach - it seemed better suited for older kids who actually learn their lesson. It's also harder since we have our girls sharing a room. You can't punish one by closing or locking the door without punishing the other.

My husband used to suggest kid + duct tape + closet. But then some movie came out where there were really kids duct taped in the closet and he decided he couldn't joke about it anymore.

So, we tried many new approaches. Walking them back to bed again and again with as few words as possible, hoping they'd get bored of the game, didn't work. Praise, awards and sticker charts didn't work. Begging didn't work. Threats and consequences didn't work. I was ready to pull all of my hair out. One night I couldn't take it anymore, and jumped online after midnight to see if I could find a creative solution. I combined advice from several places to come up with the following "policy" for bedtime. It has worked 95% of the time since we put it in place five months ago.

Step 1 - Get them into bed 15 minutes earlier than their usual bedtime, and give them the freedom to look at/read books in bed with a flashlight. This gets them comfortable in bed, helps tire them out, and gives them some power. It's also easier to get them into their bed. I usually let our 5-year old turn off her flashlight whenever she's ready, but with our 3-year old, I give her a 5-minute warning and then tell her it's time to go to sleep. I haven't had much push-back in this area.

Step 2 - Have a talk with them about the importance of sleep for everyone and the new incentives to stay in bed. We took them to the store to pick out small "prizes" to put in their "earn jars" - toys and stuffed animals that were $5 or less. They earn these prizes with chips (we use poker chips that we happened to have around already). They receive one chip every night. They can save their chip to earn a prize, or they can use their chip by getting out of bed (they have 30 seconds to get back to bed), needing one more tuck-in or song, or any other disturbance after the lights go out. I say "LAST CALL" before I turn out the lights and leave the room just in case they need water or anything else. 

Our girls used their chips almost every night in the first few weeks (we started out giving them two a night, but then realized one worked much better). But then they started saving them up so they can pick out a prize. What I like about this system the most is that, again, it gives them some power to decide if they use their chip or not. Sometimes they just need one more hug, and that's okay.

Step 3 - At the same time we implemented the "chip program," we also collaborated on our daily calendar, with one fun thing planned each day. 








Step 4 - So what do you do if they get out of bed or call out a second time after they've used their chip? They miss the "fun thing" the next day - either what's on the calendar or something else that's even cooler! (Giving up screen time is also an option, but since we don't watch much television at our house, that wasn't a stick we could use effectively.) They tested the limits a few times to see what the result would be, and got quite upset when they had to miss the fun thing, but it serves as enough of a deterrent to help them get to sleep at a reasonable time without all the commotion we used to deal with on a daily basis.

Step 5 - After this system has been implemented for a while, you can go a little lax on taking a chip or enforcing a consequence. They're used to the routine and so unless they go overboard, we don't have to be nearly as strict as we were at the beginning.

Best of luck! Let us know the creative ways you get your kids to bed...