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How To Get Toddlers To Sleep in Their Own Beds: 10 Methods

Reading time: 13 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
May 21, 2024
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How to get toddler to sleep in own bed

What you’ll learn

Learn effective methods and tips on how to get toddler to sleep in own bed, promoting independence and better sleep for the whole family.

Many young children inherently want to share a bed with their parents. No matter how carefully you introduce your baby to their toddler bed or how much time you spend on bedtime, they’ll often crawl into your bed before dawn. This is normal behavior for a toddler, and there’s nothing wrong. However, it often leaves sleep-deprived parents searching “How to get toddler to sleep in own bed.”

Teaching your child to sleep alone will help them gain confidence and independence and allow everyone to sleep through the night.

Pediatricians often recommend applying the self-determination theory when helping your toddler sleep alone. This theory suggests that people have three basic psychological needs: self-competence, related connection, and personal autonomy. These principles can be applied through 10 methods on how to get toddler to sleep in own bed.

Understand Toddler Sleep Patterns

Toddlers need 11-14 hours of sleep per day. This often breaks down into approximately 10 hours of sleep at night and a mid-day nap.  You know toddlers need sleep, yet find yourself wondering how to get a toddler to sleep when they won’t stay in bed.

The Importance of Sleep for Toddlers

Sleep is very important for toddlers, helping them absorb what they learn each day and providing energy for their rapid physical growth. Sleep affects a toddler’s mood, behavior, and overall health. A well-slept toddler will be energetic and attentive, while a toddler who sleeps poorly is more likely to fuss and tantrum. A child’s sleep is also essential for their development and growing immune system.

Common Sleep Issues in Toddlers

Of course, just because sleep is important doesn’t mean your child naturally sleeps easy. 25 to 50 percent of young children have sleep troubles.

Young children often have sleep challenges including night walking, bedtime resistance, and separation anxiety when left alone in their bedroom. Many children wake in the middle of the night to potty or seek out the comforting presence of a parent or other family members.

Mom, dad, and toddler snuggled in bed reading bedtime stories together.

Credits: Pexels

Causes Toddlers Don’t Want To Sleep in Their Beds

Why doesn’t your toddler want to sleep in their bed? They may have been excited about their ‘big kid bed’ during the day, but they just won’t stay put at night. There are many reasons why a child won’t sleep alone, and parents should be sensitive to the fact that each child’s reasons may be unique.

Separation Anxiety

Nighttime separation anxiety in young children is the fear of being alone at night, away from parents. Some children respond to this fear with crying, others throw bedtime tantrums. A 2-year-old with separation anxiety can really make themselves heard, but it’s important not to both reassure them and not enforce their acting out.

Signs of separation anxiety at bedtime include refusal to stay alone, tantruming at bedtime, waking up or crying at night, clinging, nightmares, and nighttime stomach aches.

Fear of the Dark or Nighttime

Fear of the dark is a common childhood worry and sometimes the cause why a child won’t sleep alone. Toddlers are still learning what is real and what to fear. Deep darkness and cast shadows can both be scary.  Children may seek out a parent if their room seems frightening at night. Give your little one a night light and a comforting snuggle at bedtime. You can perform the honorary “monster check” to confirm there’s nothing hiding and conduct bedtime with the lights off (and night light on) so they get used to how their room looks in the dark while you are there.

Attachment to Parents

Children may strongly associate safe sleeping with co-sleeping with parents and caregivers. Lots of lap naps and being with parents during baby sleep can make sleeping alone more difficult. Toddlers find comfort and security in their parent’s presence, and they might not know how to feel that safe and secure or get a good night’s sleep when sleeping alone.

Inconsistent Sleep Routines

Small children benefit from a very regular bedtime. Irregular sleep routines can cause confusion. Your child’s circadian rhythm needs consistency to help them get sleepy at the right times of the day. This can cause resistance to sleeping alone because your child is uncertain at bedtime. Maintaining consistency can help establish safe and reliable sleep habits, and that’s really important especially if the child won’t sleep alone.

Developmental Milestones and Changes

Developmental changes, such as learning new skills or experiencing growth spurts, can disrupt sleep. These milestones may temporarily affect a toddler’s ability to sleep independently.

Toddler crying in dad's arms for comfort.

Credits: Pexels

How To Get Toddler To Sleep in Own Bed: 10 Expert Techniques

If you ask a pediatrician “how to get my child to sleep alone”, you will likely receive tips similar to the following 10 expert methods. Toddlers need support, comfort, and consistency to learn to sleep alone. These methods will help your family build that foundation of good sleep habits and the sense of security that will help your toddler sleep snugly in their bed.

Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Every human sleeps better with a consistent bedtime routine, but it may be necessary for toddlers who don’t yet have other sleep techniques to fall back on. Routine tells your circadian rhythm when to get sleepy and when it’s safe to sleep. Having a consistent routine before bed can also help for signaling bedtime.

Build a bedtime routine for your toddler that always preceeds sleep. This might include bathtime, brushing teeth, storytime reading, cuddles, and calming music. Consistent routines also support the SDT principle of ‘competence’ by helping your child feel skilled in managing their own bedtime by engaging in the routine.

👉 Want to make dental care enjoyable for your kids? Check out our article ‘Kids Brushing Teeth: A Fun and Effective Dental Routine’ for tips and tricks!

Create a Comfortable Sleep Environment

A good sleep environment is also essential. Choose the right bed, bedding, and lighting for your child. Choose a soft yellow night light and cover or switch off digital lights. Make the room cool, dark, and quiet.

Self-determination can help you answer the question “How to get my child to sleep alone.” A comfortable sleep environment supports the SDT principle of relatedness by making the child feel safe and connected to their space.

Method 1: Gradual Transition

Gradually transition your young one from co-sleeping to their own bed. There are several ways you can approach the transition and handle each step based on how your child’s attachment or separation anxiety manifests.

  • Put them to bed by cuddling in their bed.
  • Let them fall asleep in your bed, then tuck them into their own bed.
  • Place their bed in your room, then transition it to their room
  • Leave the doors open between rooms, then introduce half-closed and then closed doors over time
  • Use the baby monitor so you can still hear each other sleep.

Once you decide on a transition plan, focus on patience and consistency. This method respects the child’s autonomy by allowing them to adjust at their own pace. Be gentle but firm if your child resists or regresses. Comfort them, and then re-establish the transition.

This method links to the SDT principle of competence by showing the child that setbacks are a natural part of learning.

Transition Away From Parental Presence

Help your child reduce dependency on a parent’s presence at bedtime by focusing on the gradual reduction of time spent together after the lights are out. 

Method 2: Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement rewards your child for embracing the new bedtime rules. When investigating how to get a 3 year old to sleep, try a sticker chart. Children like to feel capable and self-directed, and enjoy being praised when they adapt well to new things.

Use Praise

Positive reinforcement is when you motivate your child after they achieve something. If you want to know how to get a 3 year old to sleep, you should understand the role of praise. This connects to the SDT principle of competence by reinforcing successful behaviors.

Set Up a Sticker Chart

One tried-and-true method is the sticker chart. Create a big chart on a poster board with a space for every day of the month. Use shiny stickers that your child loves to mark the days that they sleep in their own bed through the night.

Method 3: Comfort Objects

One of the most important methods for how to get toddler to sleep in own bed is comfort objects. Provide your child with soft sleep objects that make them feel safe and secure in their own bed.

Introduce a Lovey or Blanket

A “lovey” stuffed animal or a security blanket are very common when transitioning your toddler to sleep in their own bed. A comfort object allows your child to feel safer by making their bed a familiar and secure place. You can let them keep a baby blanket from their crib as a security blanket or a favorite toy. Alternatively, you can gift them with a special stuffed animal that will “protect” them from bad dreams and snuggle them at night so they feel safe.

Comfort objects support the SDT principle of relatedness by providing a sense of connection.

Method 4: Sleep Training Techniques

Surely, if you are interested in how to get a toddler to sleep in their own bed, you likely already know something about sleep training. Sleep training techniques involve shaping your child’s behavior based on how you respond when they cry at night.There are two leading methods, the Ferber Method and The No Tears Method.

Ferber Method

The Ferber Method is also known as the “cry it out” method or “graduated extinction.” It suggests that you slowly increase the amount of time you wait while a child cries until you respond.

At first, respond immediately. Then wait one minute before entering the room to comfort them. Then wait three minutes, five, minutes, ten minutes, and so on. Over time, your toddler will learn that they have to deal with the situation on their own. 

The Ferber method supports SDT by building up your child’s sense of competence and self-reliance.

No Tears Method

The no tears or “no cry” sleep training method involves providing a comforting presence without disrupting your baby’s sleep. Instead of letting your child cry it out, you try to gently introduce independent sleep. You might sit in a chair nearby until they fall asleep. You can go in and comfort them when they cry, but put them back to bed and sit nearby until they fall asleep. Then introduce gently leaving as your child drifts off.

The idea is to help transition from snuggles and co-sleep to nearby-parent comfort to independent sleep without the isolating experience of the Ferber method.

Mom and toddler laughing together at bedtime.

Credits: Pexels

Method 5: Consistent Bedtime and Wake-Up Time

Consistent timing is key. If you can put your child to bed and wake up at the same time every day, they will start getting sleepy at bedtime and pop out of bed around alarm clock time naturally, This is part of building a strong circadian rhythm that will work with your bedtime plans. Your child will also embrace bedtime routines more easily if they are always the same.

Set a Fixed Schedule

Start by setting a fixed schedule. Even if your adult schedule is around-the-clock, your child’s schedule should be clockwork. Determine the ideal schedule for your child’s bedtime and wake-up time and adjust their day gradually to align. Then keep to the clock and set aside time for a complete bedtime (and breakfast) ritual every day.

Manage Nap Times

Nap times are also essential for toddlers, especially if you want a peaceful bedtime with no sleep problems. Make sure nap time is the same time every day, and balance nap times to ensure they don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.

As your child gets older, slowly decrease the length of nap times by adding more activities in the middle of the day.

Method 6: Deal With Night Wakings

The best way to deal with night wakings is to smoothly help your child fall back asleep. Provide comfort without picking up your baby or fully waking them up, if possible. If your toddler is fully awake and seeking you out, comfortingly take care of their needs and put them back to bed.

Encourage toddlers to put themselves back to bed by praising them for both going to sleep and waking up in their own beds, even if they wake up in the middle of the night. If your toddler mentions they woke up in the night, praise them for being mature and smart to put themselves back to bed, and give them a sticker on the chart.

If you need to soothe your child back to sleep, use specific phrases or actions to promote self-soothing. Teaching self-soothing supports SDT autonomy by empowering the child to manage their own sleep.

Method 7: Rebuild Sleep Associations

Sleep associations are things your child needs to fall asleep. As a baby, your child may have associated feeding, rocking, and being held with sleep. This can could be the cause if your child won’t sleep alone. However, slowly phasing out sleep associations and replacing them with a new bedtime ritual can help your child rebuild their sleep associations and fall asleep more easily alone.

Identify Sleep Associations

Start by identifying what your toddler associates with bedtime and safe sleep. Consider how you’ve put them to sleep as a baby and the impact of these associations on independent sleep. Consider if you accidentally introduced a bad habit that could make it hard for your child to fall asleep alone.

Gradual Withdrawal Method

Gently remove sleep association behaviors that your child has come to rely on. Provide snuggles before bed instead of cuddling them to sleep. Sing them to sleep from a chair instead of rocking and singing. Teach them to put on their own pajamas instead of dressing them. By encouraging their SDT principles of autonomy while maintaining the comfort of relatability, you can help your child feel confident sleeping on their own with a new bedtime routine.

Method 8: Address Fears and Anxiety

Take time to understand and soothe any fears your toddler may have around bedtime or being in their room alone at night.

Understand Toddler Fears

Common fears that affect how toddlers sleep include fear of the dark, fear of monsters, and fear of being alone. Encourage your child to share why they don’t like to be in their room alone and to share their fears. This conects to the SDT principle of relatedness by addressing the child’s emotional needs.

Solutions for Nighttime Fears

If your child is afraid of the dark, provide a nightlight. If they are afraid to be alone, provide a security object. You can also tell bedtime stories that provide a comforting way to think about their fears. Be ready to reassure and comfort your fearful child and reassure them that they are safe.

Method 9: Encourage Daytime Activity

Plenty of physical activity can promote good sleep, and help your child sleep through the night. 

Physical Activity and Play

Play during the day should help your child use up all their physical energy. Exercise promotes deep sleep, and will reduce the frequency of wakings in the night. It can also help toddlers fall asleep faster. 

Running around, sports, climbing (soft) furniture, playing with pets, and dancing are all great ways to tire out your toddler. 

Limit Screen Time

Screen time can make it more difficult for a child to fall asleep and can reduce their total sleep duration. Limit screen time during the day, and especially in the two or three hours before bedtime. Focus on other activities like art, stories, or board games. Pediatricians advise to avoid watching TV before bed.

👉 Read more about the negative effects of excessive screen time and find out how to reduce it in just 3 simple steps! Dive into our article: ‘Should Parents Limit Screen Time? How to Avoid Turning Screens into “the Babysitter”.

Credits: Pexels

Method 10: Parental Consistency and Patience

Most importantly, stick to your parenting policies. Toddlers are comforted by parents who are consistent and sleep training of all types works best when the rules remain the same. This can take patience on your part, but your toddler will eventually learn sleep-independence and how to sleep in their own bed.

Stay Consistent With Rules and Routines

It is important to maintain consistency in sleep training methods. Stay committed and avoid mixed messages by building an absolute bedtime ritual. When the bedtime ritual is done, it’s independent sleep time. Also provide consistent rewards every morning for independent sleep.

Consistency supports your child’s SDT sense of competence because they can “master” the routine and receive regular rewards for being “good at bedtime” and at putting themselves back to bed if they wake.

Manage Parental Stress

Sleep training with a toddler can be pretty stressful for the parents. Forgive yourself for being frustrated and focus on managing the stress that naturally comes from teaching a new little human how to sleep confidently on their own.

Take care of yourself. Catch naps, when necessary. Take turns if there are still late-night nightmares and potty trips. Most of all, don’t hesitate to seek support when you need it. 

Managing your own stress can help parents model autonomy and self-regulation for your children.

Helping Your Toddler Sleep in Their Own Bed

If your toddler is having trouble sleeping in their bed, you’re not alone. Many parents have traveled this path. These ten methods can help you find peace while your toddler learns how to sleep independently with confidence and security. The peace of uninterrupted sleep is within sight. Provide a consistent bedtime schedule and routine, encourage your child with positive reinforcement, give them comfort without wavering in your goal, address sleep fears, and be patient – with yourself and your toddler.

Choose the methods that best fit your family’s situation, keep in touch with your pediatrician, and stay persistent.

If you want to learn how to get your kids to listen without getting angry or giving in, or how to get your kid to sleep alone, enroll in our parenting masterclass ‘How to Get Kids to Listen? 5 Steps to Get What You Want from Your Child’. If you have more questions on how to get a toddler to sleep, you can ask Sophie, our AI parenting expert, who is here to help you whenever you need.

References

Chennaoui, M., Léger, D., Gomez-Merino, D. (2020). Sleep and the GH/IGF-1 axis: Consequences and countermeasures of sleep loss/disorders. Sleep Medicine Reviews. (49). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2019.101223.

Children and sleep. Sleep Foundation. (2023, November 8). https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep

Cleveland Clinic. (2024, May 20). How much sleep do kids need? recommended hours by age. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/recommended-amount-of-sleep-for-children

Nieman, P., & Shea, S. (2004). Effective discipline for children. Paediatrics & Child Health, 9(1), 37–41. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/9.1.37

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