Trying to get your child to go to sleep is a challenge that most parents face at some point. Whether you’re putting your little one down for a nap or , it can sometimes feel like a battle you aren’t going to win. And even if you do, there’s the staying in bed part that can be even more difficult.
It is very common, especially in toddlerhood, for kids to get out of their bed the moment you leave the room—making the bedtime process feel impossible.
After the 64th time of walking your child back to her bed, you might be wondering how you’ll possibly survive this stage, and what it’s going to take for her to stay put.
As a mom who recently went through this with our school-aged child, I completely understand how taxing and frustrating the whole process can be. Thankfully, being a sleep coach came in handy in our situation, and we were able to use several key phrases that made a huge difference.
Here are 10 of them that you can implement in your household if you’re currently fighting this battle:
1. “I’ll check on you in 10 minutes.”
Rather than waiting for your child to get up and come find you, assure her that you will return in five or 10 minutes to check in. This will help give her a sense of security that you will come back and teach her that it’s okay to want you, but that it is still expected she stays in her bed.
2. “It’s time to sleep now in your bed. I’m going to sleep in my bed too.”
This doesn’t mean you also need to go to bed right away, but assuring your child that you too will be sleeping in your own bed, helps make that connection that beds are for sleep.
3. “You can have one pass tonight if you need one. After that, I won’t be responding to requests unless it is an emergency.”
We all know this trick. Children are put to bed and then suddenly want a glass of milk, another bedtime story, and . While it is important to make sure your child is safe, responding to every single request can draw out the bedtime process. If you allow your child one or two “asks," then it can help him to think a bit more about how often to call out to you.
4. “If you don’t get your sleep tonight, we might not be able to do X activity tomorrow since we will just be too tired.”
This isn’t meant as a threat or punishment, but as a reminder that lack of . There are negative effects associated with not sleeping enough, and often our children don’t realize this unless we explain it in a tangible way.
5. “If you stay in your bed tonight, we can do an extra activity tomorrow."
This is not to be used as a bribe or to entice your child to sleep better by rewarding them with treats or other objects. Rather, it emphasizes the direct connection with “more sleep = more energy”—when children have something to look forward to they might take it a bit more seriously.
6. “Can we make it your job to stay in bed tonight and can we count on you to do that?"
Often when we give our kids responsibility it gives them a sense of ownership. Even if it is something as simple as staying in bed, providing them with a “job” to do, can help it feel less scary or overwhelming. You can also ask your child to put his stuffed animals or loveys to bed and have him tell them the same thing.
7. “I know you can do this and I’m here for you."
Despite our frustrations that our children aren’t , it is so important that we provide encouragement as much as possible. Our children count on us to be steady and calm and when we model that behavior along with words of affirmation, our children have a much better chance of feeling safe to fall and stay asleep.
8. “What do you need in order to feel safe?”
It is very common for children to have separation anxiety and fear around sleeping alone and it is important to create an opportunity to address those fears. Talking about them and asking the appropriate questions will help your child work through any feelings of fear or anxiety.
9. “If you’re feeling scared it is okay to come get one of us."
School-aged children often have real and night terrors, and when you give them the option of seeking comfort from a parent, it can help them feel relief. I have seen the use of this phrase actually minimize the amount of middle of the night wakings because the child feels less anxious knowing they have our support.
10. “Once the light turns green or the timer goes off, you can go ahead and get out of bed."
The or kid-friendly alarms, are a great way to encourage your child to stay in bed until the clock says it’s time. These are typically best to use for the morning hours, but you can also set them for the 10-15 minutes check-ins after going down at bedtime.
There are a few other important factors to consider when using these phrases:
- Try not to use punishment or lose your temper during the process.
- Keep dialogue short when responding to call-outs and questions after bedtime.
- Remember that behavior at bedtime is usually a continuation of how your child behaves throughout the day (e.g., if your child can’t be alone during the day, that isn’t going to change at night).
These phrases can be helpful when managing a child who has a hard time staying in bed, but ultimately taking a look at why the behavior is happening in the first place is important to address the problem at its root.
Your child looks to you for guidance and support in all other areas of life and bedtime isn’t any different. By responding positively, while still implementing firm boundaries, you are helping to establish security and connection—and eventually a better sleeper.