In almost six years of parenting, one of the five hardest things I've ever done was transition my children from cribs and co-sleeping to a "big kid" bed. While I'm happy to say that they both, at ages 5 and 3, are spending the night in their own designated sleep areas, the road to get here was long, bumpy, and full of screaming and self-doubt. So I want to share with you, fellow parents, my advice on how to get your toddler to stay in bed. Once you have a solid plan behind you, you'll be surprised by how simple it is!
Of course that's not to say it's not a ridiculous amount of work. Of course it is, because this is parenthood and everything is work now. In this endeavor persistence, a positive attitude, and an unwavering belief in yourself will carry you over the finish line and into the beautiful milestone that is both you and your child getting a full night of restful, satisfying sleep.
I call the following technique The William Method, named after my son. If we're being honest, he developed this program just as much as I did. Toddlers are so wise, and they will always let us know (in their way) how to guide us to be the best parents we can be.
Are you ready to begin your "big kid" bed adventure with the William Method? Let's go!
1. Make Their New Bed Exciting
Transitioning from a crib (or your bed) to a "big kid" bed can be daunting, challenging, and even upsetting for some kids. It can also be really exciting! Play up how exciting it is to have a bed all to yourself. Let them pick out their own bedding (nothing will make a kid feel happy and secure at night like a Wonder Woman duvet), too.
2. Follow Your Established Bedtime Routine
Routine is going to be essential in helping your child "buy in" to this new bed idea. Sticking to what they know assures them of the following: "The bed may be different, but going to sleep doesn't have to be. You are safe, secure, and loved, and becoming a big kid doesn't mean we have to give up this beloved nighttime ritual."
3. Leave The Room
Give them time to adjust and settle. They will probably get out of bed, but you'll be prepared for that. Still, this gives them time to observe what their new, crib-free independence feels like.
4. When Child Gets Out Of Bed The First Time...
Calmly and sweetly tell your child "It's bedtime, my love!" escort them to bed, give them a hug and a kiss, and leave the room again.
(Full disclosure: I base Steps 4-6 on the Supernanny Stay In Bed Routine, which I watched performed many times on a million and four episodes of Supernanny. Jo Frost: you're my hero.)
5. When Child Gets Out Of Bed The Second Time...
Simply state, "It's bed time," and tuck them back into bed.
6. When Child Wakes Up Each Subsequent Time After That...
Say nothing at all, just calmly escort them into bed. Do not answer their questions and do not verbally engage with them. This is a firm but kind way to show them you mean business and there will be no funny business. Not on your watch.
7-25. Repeat Step 6 Until Your Head Explodes
Children naturally like to test boundaries, and with one fewer boundary in their way (i.e. the bars of their crib) it makes sense that they will really test you here. Hey, it's OK. This is just part of the process. You're doing great!
26. When Your Child Doesn't Emerge For Five Minutes...
Feel good about yourself! You did it! They're in bed! Sure it took you putting them back in bed 28 times, but remind yourself it will get better and better. I mean, really, that wasn't so bad in the grand scheme of things, right? Time for you to reward yourself. Go sit on your couch and maybe crack open one of those craft beers in your fridge. You've earned it!
27. Psych! Ha! They're Back Out Again!
Hahahahaha! You should see the look on your face!
28. Break Your Silence & Lose Your Sh*t
Because who the hell does this little punk think they are?
29. OMG, Child Are You... Laughing?!
It is in this moment you realize that this is all a game to your child. A huge, cosmic joke in which you are the punchline. Your feelings are like so many hacky sacks for them to kick around with precision and joyful abandon.
30. Ask Them If They Think This Is Funny & Really Lose Your Sh*t
You know when cartoon characters get really angry and they grow to 100 times their normal size and shout, and then the hair on the other person's hair blows back. Yeah, kind of like that.
31. Soothe Them When They Start Crying
Oh God! I'm sorry, baby! I'm sorry. That wasn't nice. Mommy loves you so much! Mommy is sorry! She made a mistake. She shouldn't yell at you like that.
32. Feel Like The World's Worst Mom
Think back to Essie Davis' character in The Babadook, the button-eyed "Other Mother" from Coraline, or OG bad mom Joan Crawford as shown in Mommie Dearest. Yeah, that's who you are now. You're a monster. You're garbage. You're a garbage monster, and not a cool one, like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street.
33. Tuck Them Back In Bed, Kiss Them, & Walk To The Door
OK. They're calm and you're calm. Give them a big kiss as you tuck them in once more. You'll do better now. They'll do better, too, because they know that it's time for bed. Besides, it's about an hour past their bed time now, so they must be tired.
34. Try Not To Trip As They Dive For Your Ankles & Cling To You With A Desperation The Likes Of Which You've Never Seen
You'd be annoyed, but that was some ninja magic. Damn they can move fast.
35. Drop Them Into Bed & Trot Briskly To The Door, Closing It Behind You
You realize at this point that you need to be faster than they are, which is tough, but hey: you have height on your side.
36. Sit In Front Of The Door & Hold It Shut
Yes, it really is the only way to keep them in and you can not do this right now. Oh, they'll scream, but that's a price you're willing to pay at this point.
37. Google "Is Locking Toddler In Room At Night Illegal?"
(I mean, I'm not personally finding anything that says it's strictly speaking illegal... and it's already child-proofed... but I don't know if it's the best choice safety-wise... *keeps scrolling on phone*)
38. Wait For Screaming To Subside & Quietly Open Door
You feel a little bad about letting them cry themselves to sleep, but if it's the only way, right?
39. Start Crying When You See Your Child Is Still Awake
Not only awake but playing with toys! And literally all of the bedding you let them pick out for their bed has been stripped from the mattress and is on a pile on the floor.
40-80. Repeat Step 6 Until You Wish Your Head Would Explode
You know, the one where you wordlessly bring them back into bed every time they get up. Just, yeah. Do that over and over and over and over...
81. Feel Your Soul Die
You'd imagine soul death would be pretty dramatic, but no. It's sort of like someone gently blowing out a candle that had been flickering dimmer and dimmer for a long time. If you could feel anything anymore, it might be a kind of catharsis as you watch the wisp of smoke drift elegantly upward before dissipating into air. But you can't feel anymore.
82-97. Repeat Step 6 Some More
It doesn't hurt anymore. It's like you're watching yourself from below, only things are wavy. Almost like you're at the bottom of a pool looking up.
98. Wait Until They Have Remained In Bed For About 10 Minutes
That's it. That has to be it. It's late now, nearing your bedtime.
99. Take A Peek To Be Sure
There they are, asleep in their big boy bed. You search the depths of your soul to find a measure of satisfaction or maternal softness as you gaze at your sweet baby lying there, but then you remember you have no soul. You do not weep. You cannot.
100. Go To Bed Yourself
No dreams. Only sleep.
101. Wake Up Around 2 A.M. When Your Child Crawls Into Bed With You
Hey, it's OK! Remember, your soul has been dead for hours now, so you don't mind. You don't feel anything anymore. You're a shell! And the best part about being a shell? When you have to do this again tomorrow night it won't hurt as much! So go ahead and let your kid share your bed: there's always tomorrow.
102. Wait Until They're In Middle School
By then, coming to sleep in your parents room will be embarrassing and they'll stop.
CONGRATULATIONS! You have successfully completed The William Method and your child to stay in their big kid bed.