Toddler Refusing to Go to Bed

Updated on January 18, 2009
S.C. asks from Seattle, WA
11 answers

My 2 yr old has suddenly decided to kick in high gear the "terrible twos". The most challenging thing right now is her not wanting to go to bed at night. She is VERY persistent and has extreme staying power. She will not go in her crib or will climb out. We've left her in her room and she's at the door crying. We go in every few minutes to try agin to put her to bed with no success. She will stop crying the minute we walk in....PLEASE ANY SUGGESTIONS OR ADVICE would be greatly apprecited.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for everyone's suggestions....keep them coming! After a few sleepless nights, the crib is now a coverted toddler bed. We had planned on doing it but hadn't had the time. One thing I didn't mention "about me" is that I've been on full time bed rest for at least a month so ALL the work has been done by my wonderful husband. We've always had a consistent bedtime routine with no problems. The last week a lot of changes happend and I think everything came to a we're trying some of your suggestions to make the transition. Hope it'll work. We'll keep you posted.

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answers from Seattle on

Hey there, I hope I never go through this myself, but...I have read this amazing, fantastic book.
Let me google it. BRB. Ugh. I can't remember the author or the title, but it's kind of like a chicken soup for the whatever soul book, for parents.
This guy is a pediatrician, and his advice for this very situation is to get a split door, and lock the bottom half.
I know it's extreme, but so long as the room is baby proofed, what does it matter where she sleeps, just so she DOES sleep. ie, she may wear herself out and fall asleep in the middle of the floor. Just dress her warmly, and let 'er rip.
Take care, hope this makes you chuckle, and if you do it, let me know how it went.

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answers from Portland on

My son did this same thing. What's important is giving rules and sticking to them, even if she throws a fit (which is clearly a manipulation).

I would get my son ready for bed, read a book, get him a drink of water, etc. I would then give him a kiss and say it's time for bed and leave the room. He would get one warning that he was just going to be put back in bed. I would then carry him back to his bed without saying anything. One night I put him back in his bed at least 75 times over 2 hours, but he did eventually give up. It took a couple of days, but he soon believed that I was the boss. He would try this every few months for over a year.

You must be really consistant and not give in to any manipulations. Kids will try all kinds of things, even that something hurts when it doesn't. My son is now 5 and has been going to bed like an angel for several years. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

We had to go the route of putting our daughter back into her bed/crib every time she came out. I remember one night that I spent fourty minutes putting her back into bed, approximately two times per minute. She was fast. She finally got tired out and realized that we were serious about bedtime. As long as she stayed in bed and was reasonably quiet, she didn't have to go to sleep right away. We went through several periods of testing, though thankfully they were short. It was not an easy thing to do as she was crying and/or laughing pretty much the whole time until the very end where she gave up.

Good luck and God bless you and your children.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

If she is VERY persistent, you have to be VERY, VERY persistent. It is a power of the wills and she needs to understand her boundries. She should be old enough to rationalize. Ask her how you can help her, what she needs. Talk about the day tomorrow, what you will do, etc when she wakes up. Then kiss her goodnight, explain she needs to stay in bed and leave the room. If that doesn't work after several tries, practice whatever form of punishment you have established; time outs, spanking, taking away something, etc. Good luck with the strong willed child...I have one too and we are in the process of establishing who is a loving and nurturing way. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

It's not the terrible two's, it's that she's terribly intuitive and she knows a new baby is coming and she doesn't want to lose your attention. This is the last time she is going to have you all to herself. Take the time to snuggle, comfort, rock her to sleep and put her in bed asleep. Ease the stress for you and her by spending this precious few weeks with her. Go to a toy store and get her a new teddy bear to be her snuggle buddy. Let her pick it out. When you go to deliver, have a new baby doll for her at the hospital so she has her new baby to rock, diaper, hold and feed a bottle to. You're sharing this experience and keeping the over helpful hands out of the initial mix of things. I bet you've got the nursery all set up for the new baby and she's sensing some displacement coming. Reassure her by spending the time with her and including her on any preparations for the new baby. Get her some new things. It's happening to all of you, not just you. This new baby is going to disrupt her world as she knows it, and from the sounds of things already has because you are tired and getting short tempered. Take a deep breath. Pick her up and cuddle, snuggle, sing and let her go to sleep in your arms in her room. Small sacrifices with big dividends.



answers from Portland on

She cries because she knows that it will get you to come into the room. She stops when you go in because she got her way. She is learning to manipulate you to get what she wants, and giving it to her will reinforce the behavior. If she is crying at the door, leave her there. When her crying gets her no attention, she will get bored and move on. You have to be very consistent and clear about what you expect of her. Be firm. If you have to, put up a baby gate in her doorway to keep her in, or two stacked if she can climb one. If she gets out of bed, just ignore her and let her play in the dark until she gets tired. You really should think about moving her to a toddler bed if she is climbing out of her crib because she can hurt herself climbing in and out. Plus, you need to have a place she can go lay down when she does get tired and decides to sleep.

Good luck. It only took my 2 year old a few days.



answers from Seattle on

I agree with a lot of the other posts suggesting consistency. We just went through a similar situation with our little one (also two, and also very smart/strong willed). We did what another mom mentioned..

Very consistent, same time every night, bedtime routine. Advance "notifications" about what will happen next. "Lucy, in five minutes (not that she has any concept of that), it's time to go upstairs for a bath, etc." After "Books" and "story of the day/prayers" we put her in the bed. We both make sure to kiss her goodnight, tell her we love her and then leave. When she gets up and tries to get out... she cries for a few minutes, and then one of us goes in and the FIRST time only, reassure her gently. We don't ask questions, just tell her we love her, it's late, she is a big girl and needs rest so she can have a good day tomorrow, etc. Then leave again. All times after that, no talking, just put her back in the bed.

After about four days, she figured it out. Now it's only when she's very overtired or wound up that we have to go back to the "method".

Consistency, consistency, consistency!



answers from Yakima on

Hi S.!

Your two year old is awakening to the world and she finds it scary, especially at night. Can I suggest staying with her till she falls asleep? But she has to promise not to play if you do this. You can also try soft music while you sit and read a good book in the same room. She'll know you are there but also know that you are unapproachable. We had a hard time for years with our oldest till we put a loft bed above ours. Now she goes to sleep within 5 minutes and stays asleep all night. I bedshare with my son who is 2.5. No night time theatrics at our house. I expect you already have a night light? That can make a big difference too. Good luck on finding the right routine for your house!




answers from Portland on

So many of us have been through this! And, trust me, it comes and goes too. My little girl is going to turn 4 soon, and we had the same thing start when she was 2. I remember it all too well since she was such a good sleeper and bedtime routine gal until one day we found ourselves at a loss. As the other moms below said, consistency is key. We also did two other things when she was two (and still use them by the way, although much less necessary now thankfully). First, we sat down together and wrote a set of house rules, just 10, on a piece of paper and put them on the wall in the kitchen. We did this together with her and it has things like: No Yelling or Whining, No hitting, No talking back, Do as Mommy and Daddy Ask, Dinner First- Then Desert, Bedtime means staying in your room, etc. It was funny because she wanted to add so many rules, but we just put up 10 so it was digestible for all. We would just refer to them as needed and breaking the rules, after fair warning (1 warning was all she got), resulted in a loss of a reward....which brings me to the reward. We got a plastic jar and a bunch of plastic butterflies (like the ones for party favors, since she loves butterflies) and we told her that good behavior earns her butterflies and breaking the rules takes away butterflies. We found many opportunities to give her butterflies, such as taking her dishes to the sink after dinner, washing her hands, helping clean up toys, saying please and thank you, etc. etc. It's easy to find stuff. We also told her 10 butterflies and she gets a prize. So the whole thing helps with numbers and counting too. We also explained that at night each time she comes out (unless a dirty diaper), she loses a butterfly. We gave her one warning to stay in her room, and then we would start taking them away. Our little one hated losing butterflies. And, what is important is that we gave her the choice, stay in your room or lose a butterfly. By the way, you cannot force her to go to sleep or be in her bed. Let her have that choice as well. Tell her after lights out/bedtime, she must stay in her room and that it is her choice to look at books or play quietly, but she has to stay in her room. That gives her some control and independence to do as she wishes. She just can't come out. It is mommy and daddy time. Period.

This worked well for my daughter and we broke the coming out of room habit. However her motivations and interest of course changed as she grew. So, while we still have butterflies in a jar, we don't use that in the exact same way anymore. At around 3 years old, we had another bout of getting out of bed/refusing to stay in room. At that time, we adopted something another mom told me about (and about which I was very skeptical to be honest), but I have to say it worked like a charm! Go figure! This approach is to place 3 (or 4 or 5 - you decide) pennies outside of your child's door with her each night at bedtime and tell her that each time she leaves her room (except for potty), you will take away one penny, and however many are left in the morning, she gets to put in her piggy bank! I didn't realize how motivating a few pennies would be. Go figure. She wants to fill that piggy bank (we bought one of the clear plastic ones from The Container Store for $5). That one worked wonders I have to say! She's almost 4 years old now, and bedtimes are fine, but I am sure it's just a matter of ages and stages! ;)

Whatever approach you use, it will take consistency and calmness on your part. She will get that you are not being unfair and your expectations are clear and simple. Stay in the room.

Hope those thoughts helped! Good luck.

By the way - I agree with getting rid of the crib now since she is climbing out. You can either get a toddler bed frame, or just put that mattress on the floor. We ended up buying a full size bed and just placing the mattress and boxspring on the floor. When she's a bigger girl, then she can have a bedroom set. :)



answers from Spokane on

Hi S.,
I have a 2 year old son and we just turned his crib into a day bed. At first he would be at the door as soon as we shut the door after tucking him in. We would put him back in bed without saying anything to him. This happened several times before he stayed in bed. Then we put a gate on his door so he couldn't get out by himself. This was about 2 weeks ago and now he stays in bed when he first goes to bed. It just takes patience and consistency. And I find that the key is to keep your child on a schedule, and stay on a regular routine. Once your second child is born it may be a little challenging because she will most likely become jealous and demand more attention from you. I was in your shoes, my 2 boys are 14 months apart. It gets crazy at times but it's such a joy! Congratulation, I hope everything goes well for you. I'm curious if you are in the Spokane area?? I'm a stay at home mom too.
I hope this helps you, let us know what happens!



answers from Portland on

We had this same problem when I was pregnant with my son. We went to the store and my daughter picked out a teddy bear that she could give to her brother for his birth day present. She also got to pick out a bear for herself.

Both kids love their bears and my son hates being without his.

Just make sure to spend time with your toddler now and set aside a couple of hours a week just for her without the baby. Maybe she can help pick out some activities you two can do together after baby. You could even start doing the special time now and let it continue after the baby is born. That way she will know it is there.

Congratulations and good luck,