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How do you get a toddler to stay in his bed at night?

How do you get a toddler to stay in his bed at night? We've tried night lights, music? What works?
-Stephanie C. from Spring


 Dear Stephanie –

          Great question.  Here’s the bottom line.  People (especially children) are going to do what they want to do.  They are not going to do what they don’t want to do.  With some self-control, people (grown-ups) can change that.  People can put down the hamburger they want to eat and go out to exercise instead.  Let’s face it though; your toddler’s self control is about 0%.  So it’s up to you to tip the scales between your bed and his.  Casually, without letting him catch on to you, here’s the plan:

1)Re-do his room.  Spend all day re-arranging, dusting, vacuuming, and bring in really cool bed sheets & accessories.  Is your bed softer than his? Invest in a nice memory foam pad and some high quality sheets.  Is your room cooler?  Get him a fan.  If it’s too dark, try the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling.  There’s a reason why he wants your bed over his.  If he’s lonely, break out the baby monitors again or get walkie-talkies so he knows he’s not alone.  (I’m a firm believer in siblings sharing a bedroom by the way, so you could also hurry up and have another kid, haha.) 

2)Destroy your room.   Strip your sheets and put the mattresses on end.  Drag a pillow and blanket out to the living room and declare no one is sleeping in your room tonight while you are redecorating your own bedroom too.  CASUAL.  You are pre-occupied with redecorating and have NO hidden agenda as far as he’s concerned.  If he catches on to you, the game is up. 
3)Be jealous!  Have your spouse and anyone else who will play along throw a jealous fit over how amazing your son’s new bedroom is and how soft the bed is.  Let him hear how lucky his is to have such a nice place to sleep. 
4)Keep that up for two nights and then put your bedroom back together with a firm rule.  NO children period.  Make sure there is nothing of temptation for a child in the bedroom, no toys, no movies.  It is a grown-up sanctuary.  Would you let him drive the car? No.  Would you let him run with scissors?  No.  So you can say it and he does understand some things are off limits.  Now one of them is sleeping with you. 

5)Have slumber parties, but have them in HIS room.  Plan for a Dad & Son or Mom & Son sleepover in his new room every Saturday night to start, then space it out to once a month.

Last thing to consider: People only do what they want to do, which means you want him to sleep in the bed with you too.  It’s perfectly understandable.  A mother sleeps with one eye and both ears open, so I’m sure it’s been easier and more comforting to you to have him right by your side.  Admitting that to yourself is the final step in making this transition. 

Hang in there Stephanie.  You have our full support as you accept this challenging mission.  You are absolutely right in realizing this needs to change and being ready to “obsessively” tackle the problem!

The Obsessive Mother’s Guide to Parenting

P.S. – “Obsessive” parenting means Roots and Wings.  It’s not about being over-protective and sheltering your child.  It’s about helping them become happy & successful adults while maintaining a lasting loving relationship with them.  If you give your child nothing but roots, you have the 35 year old living in the basement.  If you give your child nothing but wings, you have the kid who won’t come home for Christmas.  The Obsessive Mother’s Guide to Parenting is about giving your child both.