Please watch my video below on what to do when your child keeps coming out of his bedroom when he’s supposed to be sleeping.
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To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program. If you’d rather read than watch, I’ve transcribed the text of this video below.
This week’s question comes from Lisa. She asks:
I have a 20-month-old who was sleeping wonderfully in his crib until he learned to jump out. We couldn’t get a crib tent, and we were worried he would hurt himself, so we converted his crib to a toddler bed. Now, after we put him to bed at 7:30, he comes out of his room 30 to 40 times every night. I’m not sure how to handle the situation, as I can’t put him back in the crib. Short of putting a lock on the door, what’s left to do?
Thanks for this question, Lisa; it’s a good one. A lot of the questions in the last couple of weeks have had to do with toddlers coming out of their rooms at bed time. I can sympathize that you tried to keep him in that crib as long as you could. I do find that the longer you can keep your child in a crib, the better the transition goes to a toddler bed or a big boy or girl bed, and I find a good age to be anywhere between two and a half to three.
If you’ve got a jumper, though, who is risking hurting themselves, then you could go to a crib tent, which I think is a very good option. Or the last choice would be to go to the toddler bed.
Why I find it difficult with anyone under two, or even before two and a half, is that the child just doesn’t have the ability to think through to consequences very well, so it’s almost irresistible to get out of your bed and keep leaving your room. It’s so irresistible that they just do it and do it, and it’s really hard to break that cycle. It sounds like, with him coming out of his room 30 to 40 times a night, that you’re in that problem, Lisa.
So what can you do if you don’t have a choice? Well, this is a good example of how consequences need to be in place for this sort of thing. If he comes out and you say, “back to bed,” and you take him back to his room, and a few minutes later he comes out, and you say, “back to bed,” and this goes on and on, he’s getting attention. I’m guessing that this is taking you at least an hour or maybe more before he finally gives up and goes to sleep. So basically, every night this little guy has your undivided attention for an hour or more with this little game. And even if you’re getting angry and raising your voice and telling him what’s going to happen if he does it again—even negative attention—it’s still attention. For most toddlers, they’ll take it and they’ll just keep the game going.
So I would say something needs to be done in order to stop this behavior, and it has to be a consequence that he’s not going to like much, so that he’ll try to start thinking through to that.
Step one would be to just try to keep returning him to his bed, but don’t say anything. Don’t even make eye contact with him. Let’s say he comes out, and you don’t even look, you don’t even say anything. You just take him by the shoulder, march him back to bed, stick him in, leave the room. That is a bit upsetting, because most children don’t like it when you don’t make eye contact and you don’t talk. So that might be enough of a consequence that he’ll stop doing it. Because it’s sort of strange and odd, and they often don’t like it. They might even ask, “Why aren’t you talking?” and get a little angry about it.
That’s a good step one. See if that works, and if you find after three or four nights that things are not improving, even with that method, then you’ll have to probably go to plan B. And plan B would be to start securing the door in some way. Maybe get a little latch for the outside or maybe get the white knobs that cover the doorknob that are really hard to open. You’ll have to start securing the door.
You could try to do it in increments, meaning if he comes out once, you can give him a warning. “Don’t come out again or mommy is going to lock your door”—or whatever you want to say—and if he comes out again, then you’re going to hold the door closed or latch it. Put the knob on for five minutes or so to really set the consequence, and then you could give him another chance. And for a lot of toddlers, that works really well because they don’t like idea of the door being closed all the way. They don’t like the idea that you’re on the other side holding it or that they can’t get out, and after a few tries of this, that’s enough. They’ll say, “OK, I don’t like that. I’m going to stay in my bed now.” And they don’t come out anymore. With my own children, on occasion, I’ve had to say, “Don’t come out of your room again, or I’m going to close your door all the way,” and that’s enough of a deterrent for them that they don’t come out again.
So that would be plan B, and if that’s not getting you very far either, then you might have to go to step three, which would be to secure the door entirely. If he’s just not old enough to really understand this or get it, you might just have to latch it from the outside and know that he’s in there. It really is quite dangerous for a 20-month-old to be able to wander around the house. How can you even know if he got up in the night and wandered out of his room? Who knows what kind of trouble he would get himself into?
You can think of it from a safety standpoint—that you really need to know he’s safe and secure in there. And if he’s just not listening or responding to these consequences, then that might be your only choice. And it doesn’t have to be forever. Maybe you do it for a month and you give him another chance. You say, “I’m going to leave the door open tonight, but you need to stay in your bed.” And if he can prove to you that he can do that, then you can start leaving the door open again.
So those are some choices and strategies to try, and I definitely hope you have success. Thanks for your question, and sleep well.
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