How to Keep Your Stubborn Toddler in Bed at Night

Do you have a stubborn toddler who refuses to stay in bed at night? Discover how to keep your toddler from getting out of the bed repeated at night.

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It was a dark, stormy night (well, as stormy as Southern California can get), and my husband and I were trying hard not to fall asleep while typing on our computers. We had put both kids to bed, and it was our time to catch up on work. However, something was different about that night. Something… truly horrifying.

We put our son Alex to bed in his crib that night just like any other night, said our goodnights and left the room. Then just as our bottoms were about to hit the soft, comfortable sofa, we saw a shadow looming in the doorway, followed by a voice that struck fear in our hearts, “Daddy? Mommy?” How did he get out of his crib?

We put Alex back in the crib and then watched the monitor closely. He tried going to sleep for 10 seconds, then stood up, threw his leg over one side of the crib, and climbed out. Easy as pie. We tried putting him back again and telling him to stay in bed, but nope, he climbed out again within minutes. So we decided to make the decision that would haunt us for nights to come – we took off one side of the crib and converted it into a toddler bed. We figured that climbing out of the crib creates a risk of Alex falling and hitting his head, so we might as well go on in and change his bed to the toddler bed.

THEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE.

Alex would not stay in his bed. Not even for a minute. He kept jumping out of bed, running out of his room, and coming to see what we were up to. It was almost two hours past his normal bedtime, so we sought help from our mommy friends and tried the following methods that worked for them:

1. Praise the Bed

From the way we talked about the toddler bed, you would think that it was magical. We tried to appeal to his pride and told him that only big boys can sleep in a toddler bed and he had grown and matured so much that he now is a big boy and no longer a baby. We tried running our fingers on the mattress and saying how it was the most comfortable bed ever. You would think we work at a mattress store and were trying to sell Alex the bed. Alex seemed to really like the concept and the bed itself, but not enough that he wanted to stay in it.

2. Bedtime Routine

We tried restarting the bedtime routine so that he could settle down again from all the excitement of converting the bed. We read him a couple more books and sang to him, and said our goodnights. Nope, didn’t work.

3. Run Out of Excuses

Even in a crib, Alex was full of excuses at bedtime. Apparently, the idea of sleep makes toddlers want to pee, poop, drink water, drink milk, eat … basically anything except sleep. We accommodated his excuses the first few times he ran out of the room, including changing his pajamas and underwear and putting more lotion on his body. But after a while, we drew the line. As long as we knew that he did not need to pee or poop, he was not allowed to get out of his bed for any other reason.

4. Put Them Back in Bed … Again and Again

We started just putting Alex back in bed every time he opened the door. We camped outside his room so that he couldn’t even take a step out of his room before we jumped up and escorted him back to bed. We did not engage him in any conversation no matter how hard he tried to make us talk to him, and simply just guided him back to his bed and laid him down. It’s almost like sleep training for babies, but for a strong-willed, angry toddler that fought back instead.

Alex started getting really frustrated that his attempts to run out of the room were futile. He refused to walk back to his bed and started hitting and kicking us when we tried carrying him. We persisted and continued the routine despite the fact that we were getting so tired and irritated that we wanted to just go in and lie down with him. After doing this at least a dozen times, he got the hint that there was no point opening the door, so he threw his tantrums and cried in his room instead. About a little over an hour later, he finally fell asleep.

5. Reward System

After some peace and quiet, Marc and I searched for alternative ways to deal with this. We did not want to go through another night of battling a screaming toddler. Although most of our friends told us that they ended up just locking the door so that their toddlers couldn’t get out because nothing else worked, we felt that we owed Alex to try at least one more method before resorting to imprisoning him in his room. With tons of doubt in our minds, we decided to go with the famous sticker chart.

When you are a toddler, stickers are like gold. It’s rare to see Alex go a day without any stickers on his body. So, we took him to Party City the next day and told him to pick out two sets of stickers. Not surprisingly, we ended up going home with Frozen and Thomas sticker books. We then printed out a sticker chart and taped it right next to his bed, and told him that if he stayed in bed, then he could get one sticker on the chart, and one sticker on his body. The sticker chart had 10 slots, and we told him that if he filled all 10, then we would take him to the toy store to pick out a toy. However, he would lose a sticker anytime he decided to get out of bed and run out of the room.

We said our goodnights with a heavy heart that night, thinking the sticker chart would never work. Our eyes were glued to the baby monitor, afraid that we would see him open the door any second. But guess what? He stayed in bed. Yes, I couldn’t believe it. HE STAYED IN BED! He tossed and turned almost for 30 minutes in his bed before passing out for the night, but he never attempted to run out. I was speechless!

Our new bedtime routine continued the next few weeks: after books and songs, every night he would pick out one sticker that he wanted for the sticker chart and one he wanted for his hand. We put the sticker books outside his room so that they would be the first thing he saw in the morning. A couple of nights he did decide to come out of his room, and sadly we had to take stickers off the chart, but eventually, he made it to 10 stickers and got himself a train from the toy store!

*** Note: We did not continue with the sticker chart after the completion of the first one. We did not want him to think he gets a reward for doing something he is supposed to do anyway; the first sticker chart worked as motivation and catalyst, but after the initial few weeks he got used to the routine and should not need a reward system to keep him in bed.

6. Toddler Alarm Clock

Now that we solved how to keep our crazy and stubborn toddler in his bed at night, we still had another issue – how can we keep him in bed in the morning so that he is not up before the sun comes up, busting in our bedroom door and demanding the poor, sleepy parents to play with him?

We got a stoplight toddler alarm clock! When the light is red, he is supposed to stay in bed. When the light turns green, he is allowed out of his room. Some mornings we can hear him getting up when the light is still red through the baby monitor, and he will either try and go back to sleep, or he will sing and play by himself in his bed until the light turns green… then we hear him run down the hallway and seconds later, BOOM! There goes the bedroom door.

7. Baby Gate/Dutch Doors/Locking the Door

Every parent and child are different. We try as much as possible to stay with positive parenting, but we know that positive parenting methods cannot apply to every situation.

When we asked around for suggestions, most moms end up saying the same thing – they tried everything under the moon and in the end, they just had to lock the door and let the toddler cry it out.

Some moms suggested using a baby gate or Dutch doors so that the toddler could still look outside his room but could not escape it. Some others just reversed the lock so that it’s on the outside of the door so that they could lock the toddler in. I am glad that we did not have to resort to these methods, but hey, you got to do what you got to do.

Good Luck to You

Transitioning your toddler from the crib to a toddler bed is no easy task. My husband was traumatized the first night because Alex has been daddy’s little boy for the longest time and that was the first time he has gotten so angry at daddy that he fought back. So, prepare yourselves, set a game plan, and stick with your plan. Remember, after the rain and a few dark and stormy nights come the sun. Good luck to you all, and Godspeed.

What strategy do you use to keep your toddler in bed?

keep toddler in bed all night

34 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Stubborn Toddler in Bed at Night”

  1. I actually never had an issue. My kids slept in their own rooms from day one, so they knew to stay in their own beds in their own rooms.

  2. First I am a big Supernatural fan so seeing this was fun for myself. Will show my daughter this, she has one that likes to get out of bed and sleep in different places. Fun to watch them on the monitor.

  3. LOL at the gifs! I love Supernatural. My kids always slept with me until they were ready for their own beds. I know everyone does things differently, and you gotta do what works for your family.

  4. These are great tips. I remember this phase. I used to just keep the routine and make sure to put my kids back in their beds every time they escaped.

  5. when my daughter was small and got out of her crib we too knew it was time to get her into her bed. I started to sleep by her bed for the first few days and gradually moved farther away from the bed until I was by the door. This calmed her down and it worked.

  6. Pam Wattenbarger

    It can be so hard to get toddlers to stay in their own bed. It sounds like you tried just about everything. I’m glad the reward system worked for you!

  7. I have to admit that I really don’t miss those days. The excuses for not staying in bed are genus what they come up with for sure. My sister called me one night to tell me my nephew said his A** was broke so he couldn’t go to bed. They pick up every word that comes out of an adults mouth. He was only 2 at the time. The trick is patience. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. This is such a tough stage of life, having a toddler is fun but so trying. I think these are great tips, I agree with them. We used a lot of these when I had little ones that fought with bedtime.

  9. My children slept with me until they were about ready for nursery school. Transitioning to sleeping in their own bed was easy. I took them to shop for their new bed. 🙂

  10. I am lucky that I never had this issue but I know a lot of fellow moms who have. These are some great ideas. I know the reward system works for us on behavior issues.

  11. Night routine was a breeze with my first two kids. My third sounds like Alex. She’d climb out of her crib from the time she was 8 months old. She’d climb the walls at a year. I wish I had thought of stickers. Nothing worked for her. We kept persisting but it was a nightmare.

  12. Really it such an informative post. But, it’s really difficult for the new parents. My Princess sleeps her own bed in her room. But I want to a new bed for her. Can you suggest me which type bed I will buy my Princess? If you have any idea, please let me know.
    By the way, you have guided in good issue. Thanks for sharing such a valuable post and Keep Posting!

    1. We use a convertible crib to toddler bed. There are a lot of toddler beds out there and many have cute designs, so maybe your princess would like one of those! 🙂 If she likes the designs she may be more inclined to stay in it! Thank you for your kind words!

  13. I never had a problem with my kids climbing out of the crib. I put them in toddler beds at 1 year and had no problems. They actually sleep better when they know they’re not trapped in a cage lol. However now that my oldest is 3 he has trouble sleeping because of monsters. Its always an adventure!

  14. Yep, I agree with locking the door. It sounds God awful, especially these days with all the picture perfect helicopter moms that Mom-shame everyone else, but it works. It’s easier if you train them to sleep in their crib before they can crawl out, and then baby gate the entrance to their door before the can crawl over that, and then lock the door once they can turn the knob. 🙂

  15. The toddler alarm clock is GENIUS! I’ll have to try that! We are currently dealing with stubborn toddler syndrome too…refusing to nap, refusing to go to bed at night, and then waking up at 5am! It’s ridiculous because she’s always been a perfect sleeper. I do feel like we are having to sleep train all over again.

  16. I’m definitely pinning this for later! <3 Thank you! 🙂 It's funny, I was just thinking about when I should start transitioning my son to a toddler bed. I really like the sticker chart idea 🙂

  17. We switched the lock around on my son’s door, then for the next 2 nights we resorted to locking him in and letting him cry it out. I really hated doing it, but with 3 other kids I just couldn’t do anything else! After those 2 nights, now I just remind him I’ll have to shut his door if he gets out and he *usually* chooses to stay in now.

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