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What to do when your kid won’t stay in bed

toddler won't stay in bedSleep expert Amy Lage calls it “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome”: the phenomenon wherein your little angel, who has had his bath, heard his favorite story, and tucked in beside his favorite nightlight, emerges again and again and again. He needs another glass of water, he needs to go potty again, there is definitely a monster under the bed, and oooh, what are you watching on TV, Mommy?

There are a few reasons why kids do this (especially toddlers who have just graduated from their crib to a big-kid bed):

  • Separation anxiety: It’s a normal part of development for kids to want to stick close to their parents and caregivers; while it typically peaks at 14-18 months, there are going to be times even after this that your young child feels a little freaked out being alone and wants to be near you.
  • Whatever you’re doing while he’s lying in bed seems like it must be interesting: I definitely remember this one from my own childhood! I had a whole routine that involved trying to be permitted to watch TV with my dad for as long as possible before going to sleep. Kids can be very strategic about this!
  • Asserting independence: During the toddler and preschool years, kids have a strong urge to assert control and test limits. Sleep is one of the few things that a very small person can exert control over!
  • “Limit setting type behavioral insomnia”: In a column on Boston.com, pediatric sleep specialist Dennis Rosen M.D. writes that some parents simply have trouble saying no and sticking to it, letting their children “take a participatory role in decisions they are developmentally incapable of making.” Combine this with the tendency of preschoolers to test limits, and you can wind up with a truly dire sleep situation.

Techniques for preventing this:

  • Make sure they’re ready for a big-kid bed: Is your child ready to understand rules and follow them, and are they ready to have the security of all those rails around the crib removed? If they’re not, check out some of these tips for keeping them in the crib a little longer.
  • The no-talk technique: Amy Lage recommends that, when your child emerges from bed, you walk him back to his room in a manner that’s “all business,” avoiding giving either positive or negative attention. This method takes the fun out of getting out of bed, and makes those limits that he’s testing crystal-clear – the rules are the rules, and no exceptions will be made.
  • Reward charts: Every kid loves stickers, and giving them achievable ways to earn stickers is a pretty good way to get them to comply. Check out suggestions for how to use charts and download some of these cute and handy charts at Netmums!
  • Ok To Wake Clock: How about those early-morning risers? Kids often want to be out of bed earlier than you do, and you need those precious Z’s. Many of these clocks are also great cues for bedtime, and the Onaroo OK to Wake Clock doubles as a cute nightlight. The idea is to add a fun incentive to stay in bed, and reviewers say that kids love it!

Is your child a little jack-in-the-box, or a super sleeper? Got any suggestions for other techniques to keep kids in bed to suggest to the rest of our readers? Let us know in the comments below!

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