How to Prevent My 2.5 Year Old from Getting Out of Bed?

Updated on March 01, 2019
C.N. asks from Sunnyvale, CA
15 answers

My two and a half year old boy has always been a good sleeper, give or take periods of sleep regression, clinginess, refusing to sleep... Etc. All normal infant and toddler stuff.
He's transitioned from crib to toddler bed a bit more than 3 months ago in preparation to move his younger (now 7 month old) brother to the crib in the same room. he's been doing great so far. Of course with this comes his ability to get out of bed and coming out the door when he wakes up, instead of calling us.
For the past month, he's been occasionally refusing to sleep (nap or night) wanting to prolong the bed time routine (read more stories, cuddle longer, etc.) The problem is the more we do this the more he asks the following night. We left him to cry it out a few times (won't last more than 10 minutes) but now it's getting longer and longer, and he eventually gets out of bed, throws a tantrum and refuses to go back to bed. I tried reasoning with him which only calms him momentarily then explodes as soon as I tuck him in bed and leave and eventually gets out of his room!
The only thing that works is if we give in to his demand (more stories and cuddling) which I don't want to continue, so far we've gone from 15 to 40 minutes bed time routine and the more we give in the worse it becomes the following night.
I don't mind leaving him to cry a bit but since he comes out of the room it's not possible
When I'm ready to go, he tells me (I don't want you to sleep in the other room). He's very articulate and have no problem understanding what I tell him. He just says he wants me to stay with him.
Little brother didn't move in to the same room yet so can't say change is a reason.

Thoughts on the reason and how I can manage the situation?

Update: thank you Madra. I do many of your suggestions and will certainly try others. The real issue is how do I prevent him from getting out of the room? Yes I don't want to cave in but I also don't want to enter long discussions and negotiations at bed time (he listens and agrees when I explain then cries and leaves bed when I leave). On one occasion we got into a battle of me putting him in and him coming out like every 2 minutes. It only ended when dad decided to to hold him for more cuddles till he fell asleep :( I tried keeping the door open and staying outside the room, worked for a few days and now he wants me to stay longer and keeps checking if I'm still there. I tried talking to him about it outside of bed time. He positively agrees with me, but when it's time to implement he's back to square one! The problem is whatever I give he asks for more... How do I stop that cycle?? :(

What can I do next?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Will a baby gate across the door stop him? It will stop some kids, but if he's a climber, he might go right over...

Otherwise, put a child proof thing over the door handle or just keep putting him back into bed. Don't wait outside the door, go back to whatever you were doing. Yes, it means that you are going to have to stop whatever you are doing a hundred times the first night, but it will get better. No long explanations. Just - "You need to be in bed now." and take him back to the room. Over and over.

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answers from Washington DC on

i see several big fat red flags here.

'the more we do the more he asks.' yes. he's two. he does not yet have a mature developed reciprocity awareness system in his psyche. when you do more, that 'more' becomes his normal.

'i tried reasoning with him.' yes, i try that with my dog when she runs off, my horse when she spooks at the wind, and my tomato plants when they droop despite my best efforts. he's two. he does not yet have a mature developed reasoning capacity in his psyche.

'the only thing that works is if we give in to his demand.' is it working? then what's the problem? will it also work if you give in to his demand for birthday cake for breakfast? to go to disneyland today? to make a pair of functioning wings for him? why are you putting a barely-verbal toddler in charge?

stop all this faffing about. he's two. you're not. when he comes out, march his little butt back in. no negotiating. no long yawping explanations. no reasoning with him. no yelling. no punishment. silently and inexorably put him back. close the door.

repeat until you have learned your lesson about drawing parental boundaries, and he figures out you mean it.

having taught the poor little fellow that you are bendy and squishy about rules, this will probably take a long time now. no one will sleep well for a day or three or ten. remember you created this. it's yours to fix.

or not.

for his sake, i hope you do.


7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

This is so frustrating, I get that.

I think you are making 2 main mistakes:

1) You are reasoning with a 2 year old and assuming that, because he has the vocabulary, he also has the emotional understanding of what he's agreeing to. He does not. The reasons for him doing what you want need to be from his perspective entirely - not yours. You're just talking way too much - at night, and during the day. It's like kids who say, "Oh, let's get a dog. I promise I'll walk it every day and feed it and do everything." They say it 100 times, whether they are 4 or 8 or 12. They even mean it when they say it. But 2 days after the parents get a dog, it's the parents' dog entirely. That's the nature of children. It's easy to be put off by his verbal abilities. He's still 2. My cousins, BTW, have a 5.5 year old who is also verbal and he's now impossible because they talk him to death and never follow through on stuff. What their mistake is - they don't work on his level.
2) You are giving in. So yes, the whole routine is taking longer because you are changing it every day or every few days. So, he's learning that nagging/crying work perfectly well, and that someone will eventually snuggle with him. You have 3 choices: a) barricade the room with a gate and let him cry it out, knowing you will be miserable; b) keep taking him back to bed, 10 or 20 times if necessary, with no snuggling and no talking beyond one agreed-upon phrase that you and your husband repeat every single time ("It's bed time. Night night" or whatever you choose, but zero variation from this) which will make you all miserable but which will work eventually (in a couple of days) when he sees he's not getting his way; 3) putting a sleeping bag or little cot at your bedside where he may sleep with zero talking besides "Night night" and which will only work if he gets up after you are in bed but not if you are still doing stuff in the main part of the house (eventually, he'll get sick of being on the floor but in the short run he won't be alone).

No matter which method you choose, you will have 3 nights of hell and then it will be done. So pick a weekend and just be miserable Friday/Saturday/Sunday night or whatever, and get through it. And I agree that, if this is going to take 40 minutes instead of 10, you start 40 minutes ahead of the usual time.

I know this is hard to listen to but you will be glad you establish yourself as having house rules that he has to abide by whether he understands them or not. If he knows he's not going to get added attention, he'll eventually stop. If he thinks he can get you to cave, or if he turns everything into a negotiation (one more story, lie down with me, sit by the door, whatever), then he is in charge of bedtime, and that's not going to end well. He needs his rest more than anything, and you have to make it happen.

Whatever you choose, you and your husband have to agree 100% ahead of time and commit to doing the same thing. You need to get this done before the next change of moving the brother into the room.

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answers from Boston on

This is actually a pretty common issue when they transition into a toddler bed. Nothing to make them stay so when their eyes are open their little feet want to go places. You need to reestablish his bedtime routine without any additions when he requests. As you've already experienced when you give in it makes it worse. My motto is 'I don't negotiate with terrorists' so basically when I decide something there's no long discussion and no negotiation.I'm the grown up so I set the rules.

If you decided on 2 books then its 2 books and done. Kisses from mommy and daddy and then good night. If he cries let him cry. Don't go back and comfort him. Bedtime is bedtime and once he figures out his cries will not buy him additional time he'll knock it off. If he gets out of the bed and leaves the room then walk him back without saying a word and tuck him back in. If he gets out of bed and stays in the room crying leave him be. He might get back in bed or he might fall asleep laying on the floor. If he ends up sleeping on the floor pick him up and put him in the bed.

Stop sitting outside the door. Again you are just lenghtening out the time you are available to him and it isn't working. If you set the rules and follow them then its going to be rough for a few nights until he figures out that crying won't get him what he wants.

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answers from Portland on

He moved to a toddler bed. He knows baby brother will have the crib. Doesn't matter the baby isn't in the crib yet. This is serious change for a toddler.

I suggest praising him for making the move. Have him help get the crib ready for the baby. Ask him what he thinks the baby would like in the crib. Encourage him to talk about the move while he's helping with the crib. Tell him you know this is a big change and ask him what would help him to stay in bed. Reassure him that you're nearby. Give him something of yours that has your smell to take to his new bed. Perhaps take him to pick out a new stuffed toy or whatever he takes to bed.

Perhaps try a change in routine. Read before he goes to bed. Set a boundary. Ask him to pick out 3 books. Reading is over when they're read. Add a night light and or music before you leave him.

I had difficulty at first to be sympathetic, perhaps sad. In this way you're letting him know the way he feels is OK. Never try talking him out of feeling that way. I learned a phrase that helped in many situations, especially older kids. An example. "I know you want me to stay nevertheless it's time for you to stay in bed.

I suggest that when you give in by reading longer, staying longer you are telling him that boundaries don't count. And that because you cave maybe there is something to be afraid about. He needs to know his parents are in charge. It can be scary to find out parents can be manipulated. When a parent craves in, the child feels less secure. This is a difficult concept to grasp. Of course the child isn't able to know the reasons he does things.. In the early years babies and children have more emotions than logical thoughts. That's why reasoning with a preschooler doesn't work.

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answers from Seattle on

Ah yes...freedom!
I remember one of my sons doing this. I finally brought a book with me and sat outside of his room to read. Every time he'd open the door I would say, "back to bed!" and he'd head back over. The first couple of nights I sat outside his room for a couple of HOURS! I couldn't believe it. But finally, after a couple of weeks, he was staying in his room, in his bed.
For the tantrums...I would ignore them. My ears do NOT hear tantrums. I do not negotiate with 2 year old terrorists either :)
He comes out, I say, "back to bed" the first few times. Then I would just guide him to bed and leave. No talking, no negotiating, no cuddles, no songs, no reading. You and husband have to be firm. He has been getting away with this for a while, so it's going to take some time to get him to behave correctly at bed time.
Also, while little brother isn't in his room yet, that doesn't mean that "change isn't the reason." Change is the reason. You had a baby!! Whether or not the baby is in his room, your toddler feels the change. Where as before, he could probably climb on your lap whenever he wanted for cuddles now he cannot. So...just take the time throughout the day to make sure that he is feeling the love. LOL!
It will get better...I promise.

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answers from Washington DC on

Bed time routines at my house never ever varied.
Bath time
One or two stories. No more.
Lights out. No matter how much begging. “Not tonight.”
I put a digital clock in the bedroom and covered the minutes with tape. Then I put a 7 above the clock until they knew what 7 really was.
“You cannot come out of your room in the morning until the clock says 7. That’s the rule. Do you understand? What’s the rule?” Make him repeat the rule back to you. Before you turn out the light you ask him, “What’s the rule?”
My kids didn’t test me. The knew I meant what I said, but if they came out, I’d bring them right back. I would not discuss. I would not cajole. I wouldn’t say one word. FYI: it will get worse before it gets better. He needs to know you mean what you say.
I did not care if they stayed in bed. They only had quiet time toys in their rooms. They could read in their beds with the lights off. They could talk to their stuffed animals, they could play with their legos. But they could NOT come out of the room until it was 7am.
You created this mess and now you have to fix it. It’s far easier to fix it now than it will be when he is 10 or 14 or 16 and screaming that he wants what he wants. Mean what you say and follow through.

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answers from Norfolk on

If the bedtime routine is taking longer then start it earlier.
Try having him sleep in a sleeping bag next to your bed.
He just doesn't want to be alone.
Many kids go through this phase.
I really think it's an instinct that goes back to our caveman days.
Unattended young in the wild is prey.
Young that stay near adults tended to survive.
Don't make it too comfy - and it could take awhile - but eventually he will want his comfortable bed in his room.

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answers from Springfield on

Don't discuss & don't negotiate. He's too young to "understand" what you're saying. At this age, you just need to calmly repeat directions. It's time to lie down and go to sleep.

At the moment, he feels somewhat abandoned by you when you leave him before he falls asleep. You can tell him that you’re just down the hall, but at his age it's completely normal for him to feel insecure when you leave. When he leaves the room looking for you, he's looking for reassurance that you are still there. The best way to help him through that is to help him feel safe and secure again.

Right now, since he is pushing so hard, I think it would be easiest for you to stay in his room until he falls asleep. Put him in his bed like you normally would. Bring a tablet or something with you so that you can read or do something quietly, and sit in a chair in his room until he falls asleep. If you do this every night for a week or so, he will trust you and not feel abandoned. At that point you can begin leaving while he’s still awake. Maybe say, “I’m going to go put in a load of laundry, but I’m going to come right back.” Make sure you do come right back. That lets him know her can trust you to do what you say and he can trust you to still be there. Do this for a couple of nights, staying away longer each time. Eventually, he will just get used to falling asleep, knowing you are near.

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answers from Kalamazoo on

My hubs and his brother made a half door with a lock on the outside. Way more secure than a baby gate but still open up top so I could hear what was going on. It worked great!!! Also, my son went thru a phase when he would get up, turn the light on and start playing, so I unscrewed the light bulb! lol. He had plenty of blankets and stuffed animals on the floor also and sometimes would sleep on the floor instead of toddler bed. Once he knew I was serious about bedtime, it didn't take long for him to just go to sleep. My daughter is 2 years younger so as a momma of two little ones, I had to be firm and get some sleep! LOL

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answers from Portland on

Here's what we did - if this helps.

When mine transitioned from crib, they went to a twin with a mesh guard side rail which I think helped them feel secure kind of like their crib. It was not easy to just climb out. The other side was against the wall.

Then they had stuffies and a dim light on the wall that was fun (child oriented). One of mine never just went right to sleep after we read them stories. We lay in the bed when we read to them 1-2 short stories, max.

I said you can read in your bed then. I left the dim wall light on. He enjoyed this, and bedtime was fun for him. He'd read to his stuffies quietly. Ten mins later, I'd come in and turn light off.

If it's a battle, see if you can change it into making it about him enjoying a new routine that involves being a big boy. Books that he can look at, less cuddling, less you .. maybe new light, side rail to help him feel secure (line up stuffies along it, have it be his night game..) whatever. Or a new blanket for big boy bed. I wouldn't make it too complicated - but make it fun. Let him choose.

He sounds overtired because it's dragging on. If you know this, start reading in his bed earlier, and then let him read to himself at actual bedtime. So that when he's really tired, he's all set to konk out.

If you have to stay in the room, get a comfy chair, a magazine and say "I'll sit here while you read, and I'll read my magazine for a few minutes." if you have to get up to go check on something, you do ... you do this for a while. It doesn't become a habit, but only do this if it's so bad that he's not able to fall asleep in his room without you. At least get him to fall asleep in his bed - in a pleasant, non stressful, happy way. Get him used to that feeling.

Then work on - shortening you being involved. Reward him with a new book - go to library. New routine.

Good luck :)

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answers from Anchorage on

You have done yourself a disservice by giving in, now he has learned that if he just cries harder and longer he will eventually get what he wants so things will likely get worse before they get better, but you have to be consistent and stick too it once you start something. With my son we simply put a baby gate up in front of his doorway and made sure his room had minimal items and was completely toddler safe. The first couple of nights he ended up falling asleep on the floor by the door and we moved him into the bed so he would wake up there. After a couple of nights he started sleeping in his bed no problem, but we left the baby gate up because we did not want him getting in to anything around the house while we slept.

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answers from Dallas on

Have you tried one of those child proof door nobs on the inside of his room? At 2 and a half he should not be able to open those yet.

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answers from Miami on

I haven’t read the other answers yet, but to answer your question about how to keep him in his room, I will give you the answer that came from my ped years ago when my older son started coming out of his room when I was very pregnant with his little brother.

Buy a cheap interior door and have someone make a Dutch door out of it. Separate the bottom from the top higher than the doorknob so he can’t climb it. Turn the doorknob around so that it locks outside. You can shut the top when you want to, and leave the top open (swinging it open OUT of the room) if he is too scared of the entire door being closed.

This works better than a baby gate which he will climb over.

If he tantrums, leave him alone. Let him lay in the floor. He will eventually sleep where he is more comfortable, and that’s the bed.

You have to put the brakes on allowing bedtime to drag out. And you must keep him in his room for safety’s sake.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hello C., I think it would be best to put a baby gate on the front of his bed or on the front of the door, then he can't get out and he won't be able to get out of bed and maybe that would help with your issues. As for the long bedtime routine what I did with my daughter is I would lay with her on the bed until she falls asleep. I hope the problem gets solved, A.

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