Dear Dr. Johnson: How do I keep my 2 year old in her “big-girl bed” at bedtime?
Dear Reader: Developing good sleep habits can be difficult with a 2 year old. Just like many other aspects of their life, they are testing limits and developing preferences as to what they want. It is our job as parents to set those limits and to follow through.
Before I go into my thoughts on how to get your 2 year old to stay in a toddler bed, I want to make sure parents are aware there is no rush to transition a child out of a crib. When a toddler is in a crib, you don’t have to worry about them roaming the house in the middle of the night.
Reasons they need to be transitioned to a toddler bed would be that they have learned to climb out of the crib and could injury themselves doing so, they are potty-trained and waking up at night to use the bathroom, or a new sibling has arrived and needs the crib. In the last scenario, I have even encouraged families to use a bassinet for the infant or to borrow a crib for a few months.
I have talked in the past about how bedtime routines are important. Develop a quiet routine that helps their body calm down and makes it easier to sleep. Running around playing or watching TV right before bed can make it difficult for them to sleep.
It can be helpful to have a special item that goes to bed with them each night. This might be a teddy bear, a special blanket or a toy dinosaur. Whatever your child finds comfort in is OK, as long as it is safe and is not a choking hazard.
Be consistent in where and how your child falls asleep. If you do not want them sleeping in your bed every night, do not allow them to fall asleep there. It is also best for them to fall asleep without you in the room. Otherwise, when they wake up during the night, they will want the same help-me-to-sleep scenario they had for bedtime.
If your child gets up from bed once, gently direct her back to bed. Children can develop all sorts of reasons to be up. Try to take care of any that might be needed: going to the bathroom, sip of water, bedtime hug, etc., before “good night” is said.
Afterwards, try to avoid these actions if at all possible and quickly redirect the child back to bed. Keep verbal interaction to a minimum; simply say, “It’s time for bed” or nothing at all and redirect them back to bed.
It may take several times of doing this each night for several nights before they realize there is no reason to get up because you will just direct them back to bed.
If they yell out for you, take longer and longer each time to respond. Avoid going back into the room if you can. If you have to go in, keep it brief and don’t turn on the light.
Two year olds can be very persistent, so just make sure you are even more persistent. With time, she will learn to stay in her room at bedtime.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.