5 Tips from a Child Sleep Coach to Keep Your Toddler in Their Own Bed

Jul 13, 2021

It’s 9 pm, you are settled in your bed, lavender in the diffuser, Netflix screen on, and that cup of hot tea to unwind from the long day. This is the most ‘me’ time you have gotten in weeks and you just want to binge-watch a good show or read a chapter in the new book you snagged at the library. Then you hear it, that small “thump” and the pitter-patter of feet walking down the hall. Your toddler doesn’t want to stay in his or her bed, and that bed you were nestled into just became a party of three.

While there are many reasons, like going to the potty or needing a drink can wake a child overnight, as parents, we want to ensure that they are getting the right amount of rest to be at their best the next day. We don’t need two of you with bags under your eyes and a sub-par slumber at best, since you will likely wake up with a toddler size 9 foot in your face.

My advice for parents is to start with asking themselves, is this a want or a need and responding accordingly. We don’t want to provide too much stimulation, engagement, or extra tuck-ins, because that can lead to repetitive behavior, seeking that engagement each time. In addition, these are my top 5 tips for balancing the bedtime battle with your toddler and helping them to not only stay in bed but to sleep through the night.

1. The Right Bedtime

To ensure you avoid your child becoming overtired before bed, which can lead to multiple wakings overnight. An age-appropriate bedtime for children is ideally between 7:00 pm and 8:00 pm to align with the right sleep and schedules for many families. Toddlers and children 3-5 years old need 10-13 hours of sleep in a day.

2. Set the Boundary

If you quickly open your bed to a tapping toddler at 3 am, they think, “why not ask,” right? Children are natural boundary-pushers, set what you are willing to do and stick to it. If you bend, the boundary is flexible and will continue to be pushed to the point your child knows you will give in. For example, try saying, “If you want mommy to stay, I will lay with you for 10 minutes, then it’s time for rest, do you understand?” Once they agree, then, set the timer and when 10 minutes is up, you must get up. If there is pushback, the use of a small consequence, like leaving and closing the door for a minute or taking something of value like a lovey and walking for a minute can be helpful to show that behavior is not acceptable. Upon reopening the door, reset the boundary, “it is now time to rest, lay quietly and you can have your lovey back…..” Then, give them a minute to comply, they can have their lovey back and quietly drift off to sleep. Another example if you are trying to get them out of your bed, but also trying to avoid epic meltdowns, try giving an alternative option. “You are not welcome in my bed, if you want to sleep in mommy’s room, you can sleep on the floor, in your sleeping bag, or in your own bed, you are no longer welcome in my bed.” That still empowers a little one to make a choice from the options, and after a few days, if they choose the sleeping bag, it too loses its luster and they stop coming in.

3. Be Accessible, Not Excessive

I never want a child to feel like they can’t come to a parent, but also, we have to balance that it’s out of a need not want for something out of habit. Try to minimize ‘asks’ by having a leak-proof cup and tissues at the bedside, a small nightlight if necessary {I love these as an example} and a response that is attentive without the extra engagement. Good attention or bad attention is still attention.

4. Fill Your Child’s Cup with Attention

Children need 1-1 engagement from parents, and while families are busy, it’s important they get that direct engagement from parents. Even 10-15 minutes of direct 1-1 screen-free time, playing a child-directed activity can be enough to fill their cup. It’s important that they feel seen and heard as they grow emotionally and physically.

5. Reward the Right Choices

The use of a rewards system can be helpful. They help empower a child to be the one making the ‘right’ choices’, while also balancing boundaries and earning rewards. Using a reward chart, or behavior bucks they can start the night with, but lose as they wake for undesirable asks, can be a great motivator for children. {I recommend 5 per night that they save, but also can lose, as a nice motivator.

Starting here will help you align the basics of sleep training a toddler, helping you to discover if they are waking from a habit or a need. Setting a boundary and sticking to it, especially at 3 am can be hard. Consistency is the #1 thing I see derail sleep in my private sleep coaching, they question what they are doing, create self-doubt and quit. Changing sleep in kids takes about a week, after all, it’s a habit they have to shift, so be patient, remain calm, and know that your binge-time is on the horizon for good!

Are you still struggling with sleep? Don’t forget to join my free sleep coaching community called Slumber Made Simple, where each week I share live sleep coaching and support for tired parents from newborn, through infancy, and into the toddler years.

Ready to get started with a Coach? Book a free discovery call today with myself or an amazing Sleep Consultant on my team, across the U.S., supporting English and Spanish clients.

Courtney Zentz, Founder of Tiny Transitions Sleep Consulting, is on a mission to change the way the world views sleep and provide accessible sleep coaching resources for all families to build healthy sleep habits in their homes for children of all ages. As a multi-award-winning speaker, author, and Pediatric Sleep Expert, Courtney works intimately with families from around the world to teach healthy sleep habits to children and adults. She helps her clients see that being tired is not a badge of honor but that sleep is the foundation for which the house is built. Courtney is a frequent contributor to MindBodyGreen, Purple®, NBC, Fatherly, Yahoo, Thrive Global, Romper, Parentology, Create & Cultivate, and Bustle, among other media outlets and parenting blogs. Courtney hosts The Kids Sleep Show, a Podcast geared towards solving sleep struggles in children outside of Philadelphia PA, with her husband Adam and two children, Max and Sovella, and has always felt passionate about making sleep & healthy living a priority in her family’s life.