Toddlers are persistent! Once they set their mind onto something, they “need” it and will do everything in their power to obtain it – whether it is having that neglected toy that their older sister just picked up or escaping their bedroom after the light goes out.
A toddler leaving their bedroom sounds harmless, but if it happens often enough, it can be every bit as hard on you as constant night waking.
On top of sneaking out of bed, as your little one grows, he is busy learning negotiating tactics. This isn’t a bad thing, as toddlers test behaviors and actions to see what’s okay and what’s not. The tricky part is that they are very fast in learning how to manipulate people, which sounds horrible, but it’s part of human nature – when we find behavior that gets us what we want, we tend to use it repeatedly.
So if asking for a glass of water gets mom back into the room, or asking to use the bathroom helps to satisfy your curiosity about what’s going on outside of your room after hours, you’re likely to use the same approach every time.
How to Keep your Toddler in Their Room
As parents, our patience can run thin after walking our child back to their room after the tenth time. We’d like to finish the show we’re watching or spend a couple of hours alone with our partner without interruption.
Yelling isn’t going to work. It will just upset everyone. Giving in won’t work as it encourages unwanted behaviors. So, how do you keep your toddler in their room?
Consequences, mama. Consequences are the key.
- Initially, give a warning for unwanted behavior.
Ask your child why he or she is not in their bed. Assuming that they are feeling okay, calmly but firmly tell them that they’re not allowed out of their room until morning. Walk them back to bed, say goodnight, give them a quick kiss, and let them know that there will be a consequence if they leave their room again.
Hopefully, that does it, but if this is a behavior that’s been going on for a while, it probably won’t.
- Implement the Consequence the second time around
When they show up in the living room again using the excuse that they forgot to tell you something or that they can’t find their stuffie, it’s time for the consequence.
What Consequence Should You Use?
I’ve had parents tell me that they’re worried that giving a consequence might upset their child. Of course, it will! How will it dissuade unwanted behavior if it isn’t somewhat disagreeable? Consequences are important for toddlers as they teach boundaries.
The trick is to find a consequence that is in-between something that your child doesn’t mind and something that throws them into a tailspin because we don’t want to escalate the situation. You’re looking for something unpleasant enough to dissuade the behavior.
You may have to try different consequences until you find that one that works for your family. Your child may cry a little, but you’ll have to ride it out. If they pitch a fit, let them and don’t give in or you’ll teach them that they just need to throw a tantrum in order to get their way. That’s just going to make things significantly worse.
Here are several ideas for consequences that work.
- Close the Bedroom Door
Yup, that’s right. Seems too simple, but just close the bedroom door.
There’s something about having the bedroom door closed all the way until it latches that toddlers really seem to dislike.
You don’t have to do it for long. Just a minute for the first offense, then bump it up by thirty seconds or so every time your toddler leaves their room that night. Heads up, if they try to open the door, you’re going to have to hold it closed.
- Take away their lovey/stuffie/blanket
If your child already sleeps with the door closed, try the same pattern with their favorite nighttime object – take it away for a minute for the first offense and thirty seconds more for each subsequent door opening.
Before too long, your toddler will start to recognize the negative consequences of leaving their room, and they’ll stay in bed unless they have an actual issue.
What about Early Morning Risers?
Toddlers don’t always come out of their beds in the evening. Sometimes they pitter-patter into your room way too early. Usually, your little one enters and asks, “is it time to get up?” Chances are she legitimately woke up and didn’t know if it was time to get out of bed or not.
Ideas for early risers:
- Invest in blackout curtains. They help block out the early morning light.
- Invest in an OK-To-Wake Clock or something similar. These clocks change color through the night and signal when to get up.
- Put a digital clock in their room, put some tape over the minutes, and tell them it’s not time to get up until they see the “magic seven” on the clock. Don’t set the alarm though. If they’re able to sleep past seven o’clock, you don’t want them waking up with a jolt when the radio suddenly fires off.
These are just a couple of options and they may not work with every toddler. You may have to try out a few different approaches before you find something that sticks, but what isn’t optional is consistency. You absolutely have to stick to your guns once you’ve given the warning.
Be patient, be calm, but be firm and predictable. Once they realize that you’re not giving in, you’ll be free to break out the good snacks and turn on HBO without fear of being interrupted.
If you haven’t reached this life-changing stage of having your child sleep through the night and want to learn how to develop better sleeping habits for your family, schedule a chat with us.