EXPERT Q&A

How can I keep my 3-year-old from getting out of bed at night?

It is exhausting having to put your child to bed again and again because they just won’t stay put! Expert Martha Tyler shares some great tips to help increase the chances of having to do it only once!

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Question

My 3-year-old won’t stay in bed! He gets up over and over again, asking for this or that. I repeatedly have to put him back, quietly as to not wake his sibling. As a single parent working from 7 am to 6 pm, time at home is often a mad dash to get things done—making breakfast and dinner, feeding and bathing the kids, and putting them to bed. I rarely have an hour at the end of the night before heading to bed myself. I’m hoping to solve my child’s getting-out-of-bed problem so I can decompress at the end of each day. Do you have any advice?

Answer

This is really difficult and frustrating, and I feel for you! It’s especially difficult given your busy schedule. And I can hear in your words how much you love your sweet kiddo and desperately need him to stay in bed. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful to your situation.

  • Wind down early. Start winding your 3-year-old down with your youngest child. Put on some calming music, have him read books with you, have him get into his pajamas, and talk to him about calming our bodies. Creating rituals around sleep can help set the tone and especially when you’re pressed for time, it can be hard to calm down.
  • Limit exposure to electronics. Cut out all electronics exposure in the evenings. The blue light from the TV or tablet can disrupt our circadian rhythms and make it much harder to fall asleep. If you do screen time at all in the evenings, I’d suggest switching to a podcast and coloring instead. And as listed above, calming music can help your child wind down right before bed.
  • Try mindfulneess activities. When it is time for your 3-year-old to get in bed, do some mindfulness activities with him to prepare his body for sleep. There are a lot of podcasts or online resources that will lead you and him through a body scan that has a high success rate for sleep in my experience. This will also help you be in a calmer mindset so you can drift off quickly to sleep when it’s your time. 
  • Use a clock. Some clocks help signal to kids when they can get up out of bed. Some have traffic lights or different colors to indicate different things. Some talk! Sometimes taking the blame off yourself can help with this. If your child gets up, simply ask, “what color is your clock right now?” 
  • Try the Bedtime Ticket System. Lastly, you can use a “ticket system” or “bedtime passes”. You present your child with one ticket or pass per night that they can use once to ask for something out of bed. If he gets up and uses his pass, then he’s all out of passes for the night and he can use his pass the next night. This method is supported by research! “The researchers found that the children who had been given bedtime passes called and cried out for their parents a lot less frequently than before, and the number of trips out of the bedroom dropped to almost zero.” Print CareNectar bedtime tickets here!

We are here for you! You’re doing a great job and this is so hard. I hope you get a little more sleep with these tips and we’re here for any other questions!

Recommended Activity

Check out the Bedtime Ticket System to help your child stay in bed throughout the night!

Meet The Expert


Martha Tyler

Martha has her Masters in Education and is a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. She has worked as a sitter, nanny, tutor, or teaching artist over the past 20+ years. In addition, Martha has hosted a child care podcast, Chronicles of Nannya, for several years. She is also the co-founder of Compassionate Childcare LLC and is thrilled to be able to share her experience, knowledge, and resources with CareNectar!