5 Tips On How To Keep Your Toddler In Their Big Kid Bed

May 18, 2020

We have three girls.  When they were babies and toddlers they were all pretty different when it came to sleeping.  My oldest was not a fan.  Napping? Nope.  Staying in her bed? Yeah, right.  Sleeping through the night? She’d rather not.  And oh boy, once she learned how to propel herself out of her crib–it was over.  One night we watched on the baby monitor as she hurled herself out of her crib.  We knew that night we were screwed.  

Did I mention, we also had a newborn at home too? So the next day, the crib came down.  The toddler bed went up, with the cute little rail on the side so they don’t fall out.  It was wishful thinking that she would somehow think that little rail was meant to keep her in there.  Nighttime came and I’ll be honest, I was a ball of nerves.  Would she stay in? The thought of her having free reign over the house was terrifying.  Let me preface this with the fact that she is my adventurous kid.  From the moment she could open a cupboard, drawer, or any kind of door–she did.  When she was two, unbeknownst to me, she discovered how to open our front door and I found her out on our front lawn.  She is an explorer and not one to miss the action.   (After finding her on the lawn, Justin immediately went to Home Depot and bought the beefiest baby lock he could find and drilled it into our door.  Thankfully that bought us a few years!)

So that first night in her “Big Girl Bed” was terrifying.  I listened for every creak and woke up probably a hundred times, not to mention getting up with a newborn.  My toddler did visit us somewhere around 3 am and my sweet husband walked her back to bed.  After a few more visits, we surrendered and he slept on her floor.  She was not an easy nut to crack.  But eventually she stayed in her bed. 

Then came my second daughter.  She was the exact opposite.  At three months, we sleep trained her in one night after only a couple of minutes of protest crying.  She thoroughly enjoyed napping and bedtime was a breeze.  As she got older, she even asked to nap.  I have no idea where she came from.  She was night and day different from my first (pun intended!).  I had heard of these magical sleep-loving children, but thought they were like unicorns–simply a myth that moms talked about at mommy playgroups.  Even to this day (she’s 8 years old now), she will still crawl into her bed and take a nap if she is tired.  Incredible.

Then came my third and I’d say she was hybrid.  She slept decently well, but also very much enjoyed night time visits, protesting naps and waking up ridiculously early.  Did I mention my first preferred to wake up at 5 am every day?!  Every freaking day. Ugh.  So back to my third.  We had gained a few tricks along the way that I’ll share with you in a minute, but with our third was when I had my moment of genius and it was an absolute game-changer.  We went from nightly visits, to monthly, to now only on occasion.  When she does grace us with her 2 am presence, I have a blanket and pillow in the rocking chair next to my bed–in the ready–to be laid on the floor next to my bed.  My hubby calls it her “nest”. Thankfully for us, most nights she does sleep throughout the night in her own bed so the occasional visit doesn’t completely throw me off like it did when it was nightly.

Ok…so what did I do?

First let me share with you a few other tips that worked well for us when our girls were toddlers.

  1.  Have a Routine

I can’t stress this one enough.  This is helpful in all areas of toddler (I’d say all kid) life, but especially when it comes to sleep.  If your kid knows the routine, eventually they will anticipate going to bed.  Their body will expect it and respond as such.  For us, that looked like dinner, bathtime, brushing their teeth, reading a story, prayer, song (I made up a “good night” song when my oldest was born and have sung it ever since to all of them), kiss them good night and leave.  We did this over and over and over and by doing it on the regular, our kids knew what was coming next.  It was a non-negotiable.  I mean, of course, they tried.  They are kids!  “Mommy, I’m thirsty,” “Mommy, one more book, song, kiss, fill-in-the-blank.”  I’d gently remind them that we already did our night routine and they could have that story tomorrow. And then leave.  Don’t linger and negotiate. They are stalling and if you stay to reason with them, then you are getting played.  If they do come out (they will, again these are some strong-willed kids), walk them back to their bed.  The first time, I’d tell them good night, I love you, and I’ll see you in the morning.  After that, just walk them back and say nothing.  Say nothing.  That TV show called Super Nanny really drove this point home.  The Nanny on the show preached “do not engage!”  I’ll tell you from loads of experience, it does work.  Is the process hard and will there be tears, from then and you? A resounding yes! However, keep focused on your end-game. For them to sleep on their own, through the night.  Of course, kids get sick, and sometimes you have to start the process over again. For me, remembering that sweet sleep was on the other side was enough for me to keep going.  I know I was happier and so was my little one when we got the sleep our bodies needed.  Even though the process was trying at times, it was definitely worth it.

  1. Sound Machine

I had a friend with a daughter just a little bit older than my first, and she said I absolutely needed one of these babies. Life-changing, she said.  Prior to kids, I had never once considered the need for a sound machine.  Let me tell you, she was right.  Why? Because we can’t control the noise.  We do our best, especially with our firstborn.  We turn down the tv and shush all over the place.  But we can’t control the trash truck (ours always, without fail came at naptime), or the guy mowing his lawn (again, why is naptime prime time?), or the barking dog or the thousand other sounds you now hear because you’re a parent.  The sound machine washed it all away.  Dulling the outside noise so it was not as evasive.  Here’s an added bonus we noticed especially with my second daughter.  When we would turn it on, she would yawn.  It was like a Pavlovian response.  She heard the machine and would start to show signs of being tired.  That was a completely unexpected bonus. We bought two of these sound machines so they could go in both bedrooms.

  1. Night Light

All of my kids hate the dark.  The fears would start churning and coupled with any noise (real or imaginary), they would high tail it out of their room.  Even with the sound machine on, sometimes a car alarm or the likes would still breakthrough and in they would come.  Or maybe they thought they saw something.  Either way, they were out of their bed.  Our next line of defense was a little night light.  For one of their birthdays, they were given a light-up Turtle (we now also have a Lady Bug and Unicorn–hey, three kids).  These are especially fun because they change colors.  Now suddenly, their room was still their room. They could faintly see their dresser and toys.  With a little bit of light, the dark wasn’t so scary.  For Christmas, my little one got this projector night light that she absolutely loves and can’t wait to turn on at night!

  1. Doll/Stuffed Animal/Something Snuggly

In my opinion, this is one of the sweetest things in the whole world: a toddler snuggling their lovey.  Nothing melts my heart more than tiny fingers wrapped around a doll or stuffed animal.  The comfort this can bring is absolutely precious.  Each of my girls had very different preferences for what they wanted to sleep with. One of my kids loved her two giraffes and slept with one on each side.  Another one, had a little cloth doll.  And my youngest has a baby doll and her blanket.  When there would be protests at bedtime of them being alone, I would gently remind them of their treasured friend and how they could hug them all night long.  On several occasions, just the reminder was enough to keep them in there. 

  1. Sleeping Bag

Ah! I’m so excited to share this one because it has had the most impact and man I wish I would have thought of this with our first two kids.  But alas, better late than never right?  And by the time I got to my third, I knew that I was not a good mom or happy human unless I slept. 

So here we go…it’s a sleeping bag!

Friends, here me out.  This was such a game-changer.  For my big girls, we got the cute toddler bedding set from Pottery Barn.  It was darling with little hearts on it, but it did not keep them in there.  Why? Because they would kick off their sheets and blankets and get cold.  Then stumble into our room and tell us they were cold and that they couldn’t find their blankets. 

We would groggily walk them back, fumble with the blankets and tuck them back in.  And then it would happen again.  I wanted to scream “Your blankets are literally right there!” but instead, we’d walk them back and tuck them in again.  After doing this a couple of times a night, I was definitely not a very pleasant mama.  Then everything changed.  My littlest really wanted a sleeping bag and I wanted her to have one as well with the wishful thinking that she too could join her sisters in sleepovers with Grammie and Gramps.  My thinking was if my little one just had her own–maybe she would eventually join in on the fun as well.  We gave it to her for Christmas and she was obsessed.  She loved how soft it was and that it zipped!

She liked it so much, I suggested: “let’s put it in your toddler bed.” So, we did and she slept.  At bedtime, I did her routine and zipped her in it.  No more covers on the floor, no more losing her baby doll (she was zipped in there too!), and the rate of night-time visits was almost non-existent.  Cue mic drop.  

The sleeping bag literally changed our lives and our sleep. And the best part was, she loved it.  She was excited to climb into her bed at night and get zipped in.  I think she liked feeling so cozy and snuggled in every way possible.  Shoot, I even pondered it for myself!  Ha, ha!!!  Of course, it’s not 100% fool-proof.  We still get the occasional visits, but nothing like the way it was.  The end result has been happier and overall more rested people.  

What tips and tricks do you have to keep your kiddos in their beds? How was the transition out of the crib? What didn’t work? I’d love to hear from you.  

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