It’s that time again!! Bedtime. The time every night where so many parents are trying to keep their cool without pulling their hair out. You went through your normal bedtime routine with your munchkins… jammies on, brush teeth, go potty, read a short story (or 5) and all of the other little rituals that are important to your kiddos. You answer the “hey, mommy?” question patiently about 6 times (for each kid), kiss them goodnight and head out of their room, pretending that you didn’t hear the 7th “hey, mommy”.
You grab a cup of tea, dig through the couch cushions and toy box for the remote, plop on the couch with your spouse and take a big kid-free breath. It’s done, bedtime is done. You love your kiddos more than life itself, but man, 8:00 is a magical time. However…
If you have a preschooler
You will hear the pitter patter of little footsteps about 3 minutes after you create that warm spot on the couch. You’ll see that cute little face peer around the corner and lock eyes with you, and you’ll probably hear either that his tummy hurts, he has to poop, his bug bite itches or he ‘had a bad dream’ (apparently that can happen before falling asleep??).
After taking care of the problem, you’ll tuck him back in. If your house is like my house, this will happen at least 5 more times before he’s asleep and then you can look forward to it happening again the next night. WELL NOT ANYMORE!! I’m going to try to rescue you, Momma!
5 Tricks to Keep Your Preschooler in Bed at Bedtime
1) Say the words “Keep your head on your pillow.”
Kid’s minds at this age are funny. Have you ever noticed that when you ask a young child not to do something, that is the first thing that they do? That’s because when you say something like “don’t get out of bed” they literally only focus on the words “get out of bed”. SAY WHAT?? Their mind just passes right over the “don’t”. Then that’s all they can think about so that’s what they do, over and over. Instead, you should give them directions without a negative word, like “stay in bed”. But apparently even that can be vague. I go right for the very specific direction “keep your head on your pillow.” It gives them a specific thing to do and think about. As long as they are tired, it should help them stay in bed just long enough to fall asleep thinking about it, which leads me to my next trick..
2) No more naps.
Sorry, Momma. If you’re having trouble keeping your preschooler in his bed, he might not be sleepy enough and it is definitely time to take away the afternoon nap! Sad face. I know. But you will love yourself come bedtime! I promise! Preschoolers age 3-5 need about 10-13 hours of sleep. You can read more about that in this article here from BabyCenter. If your child is having trouble staying in bed and he still is taking a nap, by removing that nap he should sleep longer at night. My 4-year-old sleeps about 12 hours at night, but if he falls asleep during the day, bedtime gets dragged out until close to 11pm. No thanks. We try hard to avoid car rides between the hours of 2 and 5pm because he almost ALWAYS will take a little snooze and throw off bedtime.
3) Create a Sticker Chart.
My 4-year-old needed to work on 2 things: 1) staying in bed and 2) having a dry pull-up in the morning. So I got a piece of plain white paper, drew a line down the middle, and wrote those 2 things at the top (and tried my best with a picture since he cant read.) I taped it to his door. Stickers are like gold to preschoolers. I let him help me pick some out at the dollar store and it made his whole week! If he remains in bed and wakes up dry, he gets to pick out 2 stickers and he loves it so much! If he doesn’t stay in bed, he loses that sticker and just gets one for the pull up. WE DON’T GIVE ANY EXTRA CHANCES HERE! (except the first potty request since we are still working on that, but only the first.)
There are some mornings that he doesn’t earn a sticker. He gets disappointed in himself and THAT’S OKAY! That’s good! We reassure him that he can try again the next night and do you know what he does? He TRIES HARDER. It only took 1 night of losing the opportunity to earn a sticker and he made sure to earn that sticker every night after that! For a few months anyways but hey, I’ll take that.
4) Give them a “Sleep Pass”.
This idea is not mine. I got it from an article from ScaryMommy. You can read that article here. But basically, you give your child an index card to use like a ‘hall pass’. You give them the card at bedtime and it allows for ONE trip out of bed, whether it’s to go potty or get a drink or tell you something that they had forgotten to before. This gives you control as the parent, but also gives them a little bit of the control too. After the sticker chart lost its appeal (about 3 months in) we switched to this method and it worked wonders. We also use this with our daughter who is 6.
5) No empty promises.
This one isn’t really a trick, but more of a tip. Now, I’m not advising bribery here, but we all know that sometimes as parents we get desperate and a bribe might squeak out under pressure. The main thing here though is to make sure it’s a do-able bribe and then you HAVE TO FOLLOW THROUGH!! A bribe works SO much better if your child knows that you are 100% serious about your offer. If you tell your child that if he stays in his bed all night you will take him to the splash pad the next day and he delivers, you better be getting your behinds to the splash pad the next day! And consequently, if he continues to get up, you can’t still take him. No false threats, and no empty promises.
Good luck to you!! If you have another good trick for keeping young kids in their beds at bedtime, please leave it in the comments below. Thanks for reading!