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 they realize they're been freed from the comfortable enclosure of their 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 their 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 they 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 them to bed is just to bring them back. Specifically, check in to make sure they doesn’t actually need something, like a diaper change, then quietly and boringly as possible, walk them back to bed, and tuck them 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, they will catch on.
  • Waiting it out: Whether it’s because you feel they need the extra comfort of your presence after you’ve tucked your little one back into bed (like if, for example, they are afraid or having nightmares), or just that you’re pretty sure they'll pop right back up again when you leave, you may also choose to stay in the room while they fall back to sleep. Again, this may work best if you’re as boring as possible, no talking or singing, or really engaging with them in any way, just gently setting them back to bed if they wake 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 they want, and let them climb into bed with their parents and snuggle themself 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 they 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 they are getting up and about out of bed, it might be time to rethink either their sleep schedule or their bedtime routine. Making sure they isn’t napping too close to bedtime, or bumping their bedtime a little later might help make their sleep a bit less restless. On the other hand, taking a little extra time to start them winding down even earlier may help them 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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