How We Got our Toddler to Stay in his Toddler Bed

Transitioning our spirited toddler from a crib to a toddler bed turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. But, once we figured out a few key things, we had him sleeping in his own bed in no time.

Part of the problem in the beginning was that we were completely unprepared to attempt this milestone. We didn’t have time to arm ourselves with methods and ideas before taking on the challenge of moving our toddler from a crib to a bed. He just climbed out of his crib one afternoon and showed up downstairs by the back door, proud as could be.

We spent the afternoon evaluating our options:

  1. Hope that it was a fluke and keep him in his crib until we could prepare ourselves to move him to a big boy bed.
  2. Buy a Crib Tent to keep him from climbing out of his crib and hurting himself.
  3. Convert his crib to a toddler bed and hope for the best.

We decided to make the leap because I was newly unemployed and now was as good a time as any. Keeping the Crib Tent idea as a backup, we spent the evening researching what to do.

Some general tips we learned for keeping your toddler in bed
As all parents know, every child is different. Some tips work beautifully for some kids, but they don’t work for squat with others. As parents of a particularly spirited toddler, we were used to trying a number of things before finding something that worked. Below is a list of some general tips we found for transitioning your toddler to a bed:

  • Don’t close or lock the door – This can terrify a child and make them feel abandoned.
  • Don’t stay in the room with them if you can avoid it – You might find yourself sleeping on their floor until they go to college.
  • Make sure you have a good bedtime routine – Changing from a crib to a toddler bed is hard enough. The rest of their bedtime should be consistent.

As you will see from our experience below, these general tips were helpful but they only got us part of the way there. The two things that made the biggest difference for us were:

  • Remove all toys – Asking a toddler to stay in bed when their favorite barn is in the middle of the floor is just cruel.
  • Use a Pack ‘N Play as a threat – Well…Not really as a threat, but make sure they know that big boys/girls sleep in bed rather than in a “baby bed”.

Our experience with getting our toddler to stay in his toddler bed…
The first night, we did his bedtime routine like normal.  Then, we put him in his bed, told him to stay there, put a baby gate in the doorway, and left the door cracked so he didn’t get scared. Hiding out in the room next door, we could hear the door creek open. Each time it happened, one of us would calmly take his hand, walk him back to bed, tell him to stay, and leave the room. This became quite a fun little game for him. After about two hours of this, he finally fell asleep, half in his bed and half out.

Nap time, the next day was similar. I armed myself with my laptop, sat in the bed in the room next to his, and spent an hour and a half or so getting him to go back to bed.

The second night, we let him pick out a toy to take to bed with him. Unfortunately, a toy is not as much fun as the get-out-of-bed game. After about 45 minutes, we finally decided just to ignore him as long as he did not mess with the gate (which thankfully he didn’t). After another 20 minutes or so, he finally fell asleep on the floor.

The next day, nap time was a nightmare! I did “the game” three times before I decided just to ignore him. Over the monitor, I could hear him moving around in his room. He wasn’t crying and he wasn’t messing with the door or the gate, so I let it go for awhile. After about 45 min, I went up to check on him and he had taken out every toy and book he could reach. His entire floor was covered! He didn’t sleep a wink that afternoon.

That evening, we moved all of his toys out of reach and put things in his closet with a childproof knob cover. Then, we sat guard outside his door, walked him back to his bed three times, and then ignored him. After an hour or so, he fell asleep in his bed.

The next day at nap time, things did not go so smoothly. Ignoring him did not work. He kept playing with the door and shaking the gate. Finally, I finally broke down and  set up his Pack ‘N Play. The sides of the playpen are flexible and slippery, harder to climb out of than a crib. To my surprise, he didn’t even try. As I sat there feeling guilty for backsliding, I had an idea…

That night, we did his bedtime rituals as usual. Then, we took him up to bed and asked him if he wanted to sleep in his big boy bed or in the baby bed (the Pack ‘N Play). He chose his toddler bed and we made it very clear that if he got out of bed, he had to sleep in the “little baby bed”.

We put up the baby gate and hid out in the next room. After hearing the pitter-patter of little feet, we came into his room, picked him up, and put him in the Pack ‘N Play. He threw a fit! After he calmed down, we said we would give him one more chance. We explained the rules again and left the room. We could hear him moving around in his bed, but he stayed there! He slept like a big boy all night and when he woke up, he stayed in his bed until we got him. We couldn’t believe it!

Over the next week or so, he did end up sleeping in his Pack ‘N Play a few times as he continued to test us, but it wasn’t long before we were able to remove the “baby bed” from his room entirely.

While the tips we found online were helpful, the two keys to getting OUR toddler to sleep in his bed were removing all toys and threatening him with the “baby bed”.