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Our toddler keeps getting out of bed during the middle of the night (yes – this is a current struggle!)
This started out innocently enough, with her telling us that she needed to pee right before bedtime. We are in the middle of potty training, so of course we obliged.
Potty before bed turned into TWO potty breaks before bed..which turned into our cute toddler getting up in the middle of the night.
Needless to say it was frustrating. We tried a couple of things.
We made sure and did “potty time” right before story time but after jammies. Then we tried after story time but before songs.
Neither of these things worked. The moment we close her door we hear “I NEEEED TO GO POTTTTYY!”
And of course, we continue to oblige. We don’t want to discourage her from using the bathroom (plus it’s kind of cruel to tell a three year old to “just hold it”).
At this point, things have improved. A ton. It definitely got worse before it got better (she ended up wandering around the house and into our room a couple of times in the middle of the night).
There have been a few things we have noticed throughout this experience. Some things that helped, and some things that seemed to make it worse.
When I first Googled “my toddler keeps getting out of bed during the middle of the night”, I realized there were NOT a lot of resources.
Which is why I started paying CLOSE attention to what we were doing (so I could come back and help ya’ll from making the same mistakes that we did).
How To Get A Toddler To Stop Getting Out Of Bed
Strategies for the Middle of the Night
Strategies During Before Bedtime to Help Prevent It
What You Shouldn’t Do
Other Tips & Advice
There may be affiliate links in this article. See my disclosure for more information.
WHY DOES A TODDLER GET OUT OF BED DURING THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT?
Personally, I think the hardest part of curbing your toddler getting out of bed repeatedly is figuring out WHY it’s happening in the first place.
There are multiple reasons your toddler could be getting out of bed in the middle of the night – some of the most common are listed below.
- Your toddler isn’t tired
- Lack of routine
- Over-stimulation before bedtime
- Using the bathroom
- Testing boundaries
- Needs reassurance or is afraid
- Doesn’t feel well
Keep in mind, if you don’t understand the intent behind your child’s actions (at least sort of) it will be difficult to handle the behavior correctly.
A child experiencing night terrors should not be handled in the same way as a kiddo who uses the bathroom and then wanders the halls.
Your toddler getting out of bed in the middle of the night can certainly be due to them testing boundaries – but keep in mind that there is usually more to it.
And let’s be real. If getting out of bed in the middle of the night is testing boundaries, your toddler is most likely testing OTHER boundaries at home too.
WHY DO THEY DO IT?
Try not to think of their behavior as testing boundaries and pissing you off. Understand that they are actually trying to learn and explore their world.
They are beginning to understand that they are their own person, so with this they try and establish control over themselves.
And we need to give it to them (to a point).
Remember that although your toddler is leaving bed to get a stuffed animal that they left in the living room, this really isn’t about that.
What I mean by that is even if you make sure your child has ALL of their stuffed animals before bed, they can still easily find a reason to get out of bed (trust me – I have been there).
WHAT CAN I DO?
This problem is bigger than just bedtime. Below I will outline things you can do to (hopefully) curb this behavior at night – but additional “work” is often needed.
Your toddler needs to be empowered to make decisions for themselves when appropriate.
Example. “It’s time to go to bed. Would you like to walk to your room or be carried?” Either choice is acceptable, but helps foster the independence from you that they crave.
This seriously works like magic with our toddler.
A word of caution with this – make sure the two choices you give have acceptable outcomes. Don’t ask your child if they are ready to get out of the car if you WANT them to say yes.
When your toddler gets out of bed in the middle of the night, make sure you and your partner are on the same page regarding your response.
HOW TO GET A TODDLER TO STOP GETTING OUT OF BED
When I started trying different tactics to keep my toddler in bed (in preparation for this post) I thought I would figure out the “secret” to getting a toddler to stay in bed.
The interesting thing we do as parents (or maybe just humans in general) is we feel the need to “fix” things. Unfortunately – sometimes there ISN’T a specific solution or action that you can take.
Sometimes the solution is consistency and time.
STRATEGIES FOR THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
The first strategy is the one most often recommended by experts for a toddler getting out of bed repeatedly. Although it will not work for ALL kids – it will work with most.
Keep in mind you may need to do this for a few days (hopefully NOT a few weeks) before it sticks.
WALK, RINSE, REPEAT
- Goodnight routine, leave room
- Toddler gets out of bed for whatever reason
- Calmly walk them back to their bedroom
- Tuck them in and remind them that it’s bedtime
- Say goodnight and walk back out
- Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.
DON’T MAKE AN EVENT
You can’t really force a toddler to not get out of bed (or at least you can’t if you want to parent in a healthy way).
The third night in a row that our toddler asked to get out of bed to use the bathroom, I will admit I felt a little frustrated. We certainly did not yell at her – but she picked up on the slight exasperation in my voice.
In a three year old fashion, she told me that my voice was “not very nice”. I was glad she said something because when I checked myself, I realized she was right.
I did not intentionally act upset, but toddlers (especially older ones) pick up on slight changes in tone or behavior. They want to recreate the situations where we are upset so they can better understand it.
KEEP IT DARK
If you can, avoid turning all of the lights on. Remember that a bunch of bright lights can trick the body into thinking it’s awake time.
Don’t distract from the task at hand. If your toddler is getting out of bed in the middle of the night to use the potty, don’t allow any books or talking, just ask them to use the bathroom and head back to bed.
I think this tip is key to success to getting your toddler to stay in bed.
Our toddler’s behavior is mostly motivated by her need to use the bathroom. She usually only gets about three or four drops out, but it’s still a legitimate reason to get out of bed.
If we allowed her to play with a toy or engage with her in a silly way, we are making getting out of bed exciting – thus you will likely see more of this behavior.
Stay neutral in your interactions, and stay on task with what they need to do.
UTILIZE A REWARD SYSTEM
Many toddlers do very well with a reward system. This consists of something like a sticker chart, where they get to add a sticker to the chart every time they do something positive (like stay in bed all night).
Personally, this does not work well with our three-year-old, however, I could see it being effective if she was a little older.
I am a little ashamed to admit we tried this – but I thought I should still mention it because it WORKED.
One desperate night I told my toddler that IF she stayed in bed, she could eat her gummy vitamin as we walked out of her room.
She happily agreed.
That night I held my breath as we quickly closed her door after hugs and kisses.
It worked! She actually stayed!
We decided not to continue this because it is bad for her teeth. Otherwise – it would have TOTALLY been worth it!
We tried something similar where I told her we could watch a little more movie if she went to the bathroom FIRST and did not get out of bed again.
That didn’t work. For a toddler, it needs to be pretty immediate. Immediate consequence (negative or positive).
Kids thrive and respond well to attention of any kind – and that, unfortunately, includes negative. When your toddler does stay in bed, give them some positive attention and praise the following day.
YOUR TODDLER KEEPS GETTING OUT OF BED TO USE THE BATHROOM
Our current routine goes something like this.
Stories. Songs. Hugs & Kisses. Bed. Potty. Bed. Potty. Bed.
The bed thing eventually sticks.
At first we struggled with this. We have an hour to spend together without kids at night, and so when the toddler spends an extra half an hour getting in and out of bed – it turns into a half hour. Sometimes less.
This was REALLY frustrating.
I was seriously perplexed with how to handle it.
My husband felt it was behavioral and that she was crossing a boundary we weren’t holding. I was worried that we would confuse her if we we tried to “hold” a boundary.
We KNOW that she is still learning how to use the potty effectively, but it was TOO habitual for it to just be that – there was definitely a behavioral component.
I ended up talking with my therapist about it.
She felt we definitely should not make this into a “boundary” as it would just confuse her (sometimes she was supposed to use the potty, other times she got in trouble for it).
That boundary ONLY exists if you make it one.
She encouraged us to try using a timer, with the understanding that it may not work.
Related: Toddler Hitting
We decided against using a timer, and have begun starting bedtime earlier instead. This way she gets to go to the bathroom, and my partner and I still get our time together.
YOUR TODDLER IS FEARFUL
Our oldest started acting fearful of certain things at two and a half. She is afraid of monsters, anything being on her floor in the dark, and red lights in the dark.
Fears can be a little tricky to deal with, because you certainly don’t want to “play along”. Don’t tell them that you have “gotten rid” of the monsters.
While you shouldn’t play into the fear, it IS important to validate their feelings, and work on helping them overcome it.
Spend more time playing in the room. If they are scared of the dark, try playing some games in the dark. This seemed to help with my toddler.
We had “dance parties” (thinking back, maybe dancing in the dark is NOT the smartest idea!)
If your child’s fear is directly related to the dark, get them a night light and access to a light switch or a lamp.
If the toddler starts screaming in the middle of the night due to fear, go in and comfort them. Encourage them to talk to you about their fears, and offer support.
STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH YOUR TODDLER BEFORE BEDTIME
There are some daily habits you can change with your toddler that will help keep them from getting out of bed repeatedly.
MAKE SURE YOUR TODDLER ISN’T SLEEPING TOO MUCH
A toddler that isn’t tired may be getting out of bed in the middle of the night because they are bored. They don’t want to sleep and possibly could not – even if they tried.
If you aren’t sure whether your toddler is getting enough (or too much) sleep, ask yourself the following questions.
- Does your toddler still take naps?
- How long are they sleeping at night?
- Does your toddler seem wide awake around bedtime?
- Does your toddler fight bedtime?
- How long are they sleeping during the day?
- Does your toddler seem sleepy in the evening?
- Does your toddler get cranky in the evening?
A month before our toddler started getting out of bed multiple times a night, we had a couple of really rough nights where our three year old did NOT want to go to sleep.
She just wanted to cuddle (which so did I but it wasn’t realistic EVERY night).
Your toddler still needs 11-14 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. We shockingly realized our toddler was getting about 15 (including her nap).
Related: Toddler Biting
Although there is no hard and fast rule on how much sleep an individual child will need – 15 was a LOT. She never really fussed before, and she didn’t know how to articulate that she just wasn’t tired.
We cut out naps (mostly), and things improved immediately. Usually this transition will lead to a few “grumpy” days with your toddler, but we haven’t experienced one yet.
If you pay close attention, you will be able to tell whether a nap is necessary depending on the day (and the toddler). On days that our three year old is a little more emotional, we do a nap. Otherwise we do quiet time with a movie.
CUT OUT SUGAR
We no longer allow sugar after five PM at my house (and I have thought about making this earlier).
I didn’t start doing this until a few months ago – and I have definitely noticed the difference it has made for my kids (and how my older toddler has reduced getting out of bed in the middle of the night!)
Surprisingly, sugar does NOT hype your children up in the way you think it does, but it can cause them to crash when their blood-sugar levels decrease rapidly.
If you wanna avoid meltdowns around bedtime (which can work your child up), keep the sugar for another time of day.
HAVE A GOOD ROUTINE
A good toddler schedule is the hallmark of a happy and healthy family (seriously).
I can definitely tell when we are having an “off” day schedule-wise. If we are off by more than a few hours, both toddlers start to get a little cranky. Hell, I get cranky.
It doesn’t only make bedtime a little more difficult..it makes EVERYTHING more difficult.Don’t forget – humans in general thrive off of routine. Not just your little one.
You need to have a good bedtime routine set up because your kiddo NEEDS time to wind down. A good bedtime routine allows for your kiddo’s body to start giving signals that it’s time to wind down, and it allows for some awesome bonding time.
Our time together before bed is my favorite time of day – and it’s actually the main reason I wanted to quit working. I HATED missing that time with my kids.
How you spend this time is what works for your family. For us it means a couple of stories, a couple of songs, pajamas, and sometimes a movie.
DON’T OVERSTIMULATE YOUR TODDLER BEFORE BED
We know that the blue light emitted from TV and phone screens affect how and when our bodies produce Melatonin…which is problematic when you are trying to get your little one to sleep.
You are essentially creating bad habits that can lead to insomnia for your child.
Not only that…I don’t know about YOUR child, but my toddler can get pretty worked up when it comes to the drama that exists on Paw Patrol (or whatever she’s watching).
It stimulates her. Which makes it so sleep is less likely of a thing.
Honestly…I struggle with this one. I know it’s NOT ideal..but – movie time is my FAVORITE time of day.
I get to cuddle on the couch with my toddlers and relax.
So this means we watch movies a few times a week before bed. I have not personally seen this affect their sleep (except for those riveting episodes of Paw Patrol)..but that certainly doesn’t mean I disagree with the research.
It just means I found that something different was better for my family.
WHAT YOU SHOULDN’T DO
CRY IT OUT
CIO is something we have never chosen to do with our kids, but I certainly don’t judge parents that have.
You will find that the CIO method is NOT as effective with toddlers (especially ones older than 18 months). Not only can it be ineffective, but it can end up damaging your relationship with your child.
Now – this may not be true for all children. Maybe CIO would work in your case. Personally, I think it’s a little risky, but you need to do what you feel is best for your kiddo.
SET BOUNDARIES YOU CAN’T KEEP
Sometimes as parents we threaten things that we won’t actually do – but this rarely ends well.
We told our daughter if she couldn’t stay in bed, we were going to remove her night light from her room. Two minutes later she was out of bed again.
We removed the nightlight, and she began screaming.
Because we wanted her little sister to sleep (they share a room) we put it back so she wouldn’t wake her sister. We did not hold the boundary, which led to more problematic behavior.
Think carefully about your words.
MAKE A SCENE
OTHER TIPS AND ADVICE TO GET YOUR TODDLER TO STAY IN BED
If you are off schedule or sleeping somewhere new, expect problems when it comes to bedtime. It’s possible that your toddler will transition smoothly, but more than likely this will not be the case.
If they are struggling, exercise a little more patience on nights where there is a change in schedule.
A SICK TODDLER
A sick toddler who keeps getting out of bed in the middle of the night can be super difficult to deal with. When good sleep habits turn bad, the catalyst is often the toddler getting sick and changing up the routine.
I can’t tell you how many of my friends with kids have said that their eight or nine year old is still sleeping with them. When did it start? The week their toddler had a bout of bronchitis.
Personally, we offer more support on nights that our daughters are sick (and I am guessing you would want to do the same). It’s the reality of being a parent – it’s OUR job to take care and protect them.
Maybe don’t let them sleep in bed with you, but sleep on their floor next to them. Hell, if you’re worried, go ahead and let them sleep with you.
As long as you are aware of the potential setbacks you will face.
Stick to routine as much as possible, but do what’s best for your family.
DRAMA = REPETITION
Your toddler is learning about their world – and a huge chunk of that learning comes from you. When they see you become upset over something, they want to understand it.
That means they will repeat the “bad” behavior. Again and again.
When your toddler gets out of bed repeatedly, stay neutral. A toddler doesn’t start getting out of bed in the middle of the night because they are trying to get a reaction from you – but it can quickly turn into this.
Personally I think this isolated “frustrated” reaction (from us) is part what drove our daughter to keep getting out of bed in the middle of the night.
Some toddlers suffer from night terrors (read more on that here) – and that is HARD.
Night terrors usually happen while your toddler is still in a deep sleep. You may see the following:
- Crying out
- Sitting up and screaming
- Thrashing around
- Fast breathing/heart rate
After some time (it feels like forever!) it ends and your child will fall back into normal sleep.
Most kids don’t remember these when they wake up in the morning. If you see your child having one, you can stay close and make sure that your kiddo doesn’t get hurt.
It’s not advisable to wake them. It’s difficult to awaken a child suffering from a night terror, and you may have a really hard time getting them back to sleep.
WRAPPING UP: A TODDLER WHO KEEPS GETTING OUT OF BED
I DO get it. Dealing with a toddler who gets out of bed repeatedly is ROUGH. It can be really difficult to stay patient, especially when it disrupts your night (again and again and again).
Hang in there and remember it is ALL temporary. People keep telling me that someday I will miss the toddler days…and honestly? I know that’s true. It doesn’t make me feel better in the moment, but it’s still good to stay mindful of that.
You got this mama! <3
Regardless, I would love to hear what has helped YOUR toddler stay in bed. Please comment below if you have any additional tips or ideas.