Your toddler and nighttime wandering

The light you forgot to turn off in the hall; the end table that always seems to stand about a foot to the left of where you remember it being; plastic toys of Baby’s that you could have sworn you cleaned up, but that seem to have multiplied and started exploring the house on their own since you went to bed; your home in the dark of night may be full of hidden dangers, but there’s a good chance that it doesn’t seem nearly as exciting to you as it does to Baby once he realizes he’s been freed from the comfortable enclosure of his crib at night.

The transition to a toddler bed, or an adult-sized bed, or a mattress on the floor, whichever contraption Baby ends up graduating to when it’s time to say goodbye to his crib, can be challenging for many reasons. Some toddlers are afraid of the new terrain they’ll be sleeping in. Others are too excited by the idea of sleeping in a “big kid bed” to actually get much sleep the first few days. And for some toddlers, the new freedom to get up and out of bed whenever they want is just too tempting, especially if they find themselves wanting to come find their very favorite people.

If your little one thinks that bedtime now that he and the crib have parted ways is a great time to get up and go wandering, there are a few different ways to address it that different families have found helpful.

  • Repetition: The simplest way to respond when your toddler gets up after you put him to bed is just to bring him back. Specifically, check in to make sure he doesn’t actually need something, like a diaper change, then quietly and boringly as possible, walk him back to bed, and tuck him in. This may need to be repeated a few times (or even a few times every few hours for a few days, if you have an especially stubborn wanderer on your hands), but eventually, he will catch on.
  • Waiting it out: Whether it’s because you feel he needs the extra comfort of your presence after you’ve tucked your little one back into bed (like if, for example, he is afraid or having nightmares), or just that you’re pretty sure he’ll pop right back up again when you leave, you may also choose to stay in the room while he falls back to sleep. Again, this may work best if you’re as boring as possible, no talking or singing, or really engaging with him in any way, just gently setting him back to bed if he wakes up again.
  • Giving an inch: For parents who don’t feel that either of the other methods mesh well with their parenting style, there are a few other directions to take. Of course, it’s always possible to give a toddler what he wants, and let him climb into bed with his parents and snuggle himself to sleep now and then, but there’s also the possibility of compromise. For example, setting up a little toddler-cot near your bed and in your room can give Baby the proximity and reassurance he might be looking for, without adding a squirmy little body to your bed.

Other reasons Baby might wander

If Baby is having trouble falling asleep, and that’s why he is getting up and about out of bed, it might be time to rethink either his sleep schedule or his bedtime routine. Making sure he isn’t napping too close to bedtime, or bumping his bedtime a little later might help make his sleep a bit less restless. On the other hand, taking a little extra time to start him winding down even earlier may help him fall more deeply asleep and stay asleep longer.

  • Kathleen Berchelmann. “How to get a 2-year-old to stay in bed.” Children’s MD. Children’s Hospital at St. Louis, May 19 2014. Web.
  • Laura Markham. “Toddler won’t stay in big kid bed.” Aha! Parenting. Dr. Laura Markham. Web.
  • Raising Children Network. “Calling out and getting out of bed.” Raising Children. Raising Children Network, July 28 2016. Web.

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