Q&A: Getting Kids to Stay in Their Beds?

Q&A: Getting KIDS to STAY in Their BEDS // jessconnell.com

Q: How do you get your kids to stay in their beds? Mine are continuously coming out until 10:00 some (a lot of) nights. So the time between 8:30 (when they go to bed) and 10:00 (when they finally fall asleep) is spent herding them back to bed, getting them drinks, laying down with them, etc.

A: Do whatever you do for any other disobedience.

If they normally would lose a privilege, then do that. “If you come out, you will not be able to ______ tomorrow.” And then remind them… “if you come out, what will happen?” (they should say the consequence) “What about if it’s for water?” (they should repeat the consequence) “What about if it’s to go potty?” (they should repeat the consequence) etc.

Or if you spank, or if you have them lose a toy, or whatever… whatever you do for normal disobedience, you should do here. This is teaching your children that you mean what you say.

Right now, (and I don’t mean this harshly; it’s just the truth) you have trained them that you don’t mean for them to stay in bed. You say “go to bed” and they think that means, “go get in bed until you think of a reason that mom and dad will let you get away with getting out of bed.”

You need to retrain them, and yourselves, by saying what you mean and then seeing to it that they obey.  :)

Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. ~Proverbs 29:17

I know this may seem oversimplified, but it really is that simple. Pretty much all the time as parents, we are either teaching and reinforcing to our kids that we mean what we say, or we are teaching them that they can get around our instruction and authority if they come up with the right excuse. 

By the way, even last year, our then-4-year-old was still testing us on this about once a month. He would get his normal consequence, and eventually, he learned to stay in bed. Now, a year later, he only get out of bed if he has to go potty (which he sees to himself), or is legitimately sick (that happens about 2-3 times a year at most).

WHAT ABOUT FEAR?!

For genuine fear, at around age 3-4 we start helping them memorize two verses:

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you”

and

“When I am afraid I will trust in You.”

So when they begin waking up with legitimate fears, we give them a good snuggle, help them recite their verses, and pray for them as we tuck them into bed. This whole process takes 3-5 minutes, tops, and with each child happens about 3-5 times before we remind them– “you can say your verses and pray to God and He will help you.” We want to teach them how to deal with fear, coach them through it, and then transfer their dependence to God Himself, so this process does not drag on and on.

HOW LONG DOES THIS TAKE?

bedtimeI’m not saying we don’t ever have this come up… quite the opposite; each child tries it… and each time a child is ready to move to a big-boy bed, it’s time to start the training all over again.

Like almost every parenting issue, this is an ongoing training process, but training comes in jolts and spurts.

But I’ll tell you this- lest it sound like we’re always up and down dealing with this- for the VAST majority of evenings here in our home, we put the kids to bed and they stay in bed.

Doing the hard work on the front end of training makes for peace and quiet and restful times together as a couple in the evenings.

IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE: How do you see to it that your kids get in bed and stay in bed?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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13 Responses

  1. stephanie says:

    Yes! This is very much what we do. For naptime, I’ve had to sit outside a door to put back in bed and discipline to get q 2 year old to take a nap. After a couple of days they learn I really am going to stick to it and th go back to a good naptime routine and I can move on with my day. For night terrors, we try to encourage going to bes thinking on good things, good Bible stories, hymns etc. We have one child with horrible night terrors so we played hymns while he went to sleep and then he could restart the CD if he woke up with them ( I would have had trouble sleeping after his nightmares, they were horrible).

  2. Kimberly says:

    This is an area we are struggling with currently. It’s not so much that they get out of bed but that the two that share a room are constantly talking, tattling, asking for us to fix their blankets, etc. We continue to discipline in hopes it gets better but some nights it feel like it never will!

  3. Charisa says:

    This is totally what we do too. At bedtime we make sure everyone goes potty and has a drink, so we can know these needs have already been met. Then we treat disobedience at bedtime like any other form of disobedience and we discipline for it. We find that people are often so impressed that our kids actually stay in bed — I guess this isn’t the norm?

  4. Sarah says:

    I think this is often easier said than done. I have five children from 22 down to seven and two have struggled with sleep despite consequences and good bedtime routine. Both of these children will lie awake for hours. One of them is now old enough to read /study quietly without disturbing anyone else. We still struggle with the youngest and sleep. I beat myself up about this for years until I realised two things. One, my husband goes to bed very late and gets up very early. Four to five hours sleep isn’t unusual. The second thing was that my Mother in law assured us that my husband stayed in bed with the help of being tied in and having his bed screwed to the floor. We weren’t prepared to do this! So, yes discipline is important but do be merciful to insomniac children. They are also going to be the children who can’t sleep in the day. One of ours dropped her afternoon nap before she was one.

  5. Lisa says:

    I find this to be such an important topics for parents. Our two older boys (4 and almost 3) share a bedroom and a full size bed. We have been very strict with them on this (because selfishly, we are ready for them to go to bed and we need our alone time as a couple) and we definitely treat this as any other act of disobedience. We are very happy with how quickly our boys settle and go to sleep. I find a few things have helped – consistency to the same bed time and exact same routine as much as possible. Praying for them and with them (which I am sure most readers of this blog already do), but I always pray that as the Lord surrounds them with His angels to protect them, that He would “keep away any thing that would interrupt their sleep or their dreams or bring fear to them as they sleep”. I’m not pentecostal, but I have a healthy respect for spiritual warfare and Ephesians 6.

    We have gotten a lot of our sleep ideas from the book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby” by Weissbluth and have kind of drilled the 4 sleep rules into our sons’ minds.
    1. Stay in bed.
    2. Close your eyes.
    3. Stay very quiet.
    4. Go to sleep.
    Once they are in bed with lights out, either my husband or I will sit in there with them for about 1-2 minutes. If once we leave, they get rowdy or we hear them talking (often they are singing and I love that), we will usually wait 5-10 minutes because they often settle on their own. If they don’t then we go back in and they know that they may have a consequence for this. Maybe only once per year have we ever had to go back in a second time.

    Lastly (and this may be controversial), we actually “lock” the boys in their room. We have one of those child-proof door-handle knob-covers on the inside of their door, so they can not open their door on their own. We have a video monitor in there that is on throughout the night and during naptimes so that we can hear them and see them. We have found that without this, they were coming in and out of our room all night long- more out of habit than out of any actual true need. Once we put this on, they would call to us and we would go to them and gauge the need. We began to explain to them how to go back to sleep when they wake up. And as you shared, Jess, we teach them verses to combat any fears. We realized that they were just waking up and their immediate instinct was to come to us, instead of just rolling over and closing their eyes. Once we addressed this issue and walked them through it, we found they were able to roll over and go right back to sleep. Now we put them down at 7:30pm and there is not a peep or a cry all night long until 6am. I know all kids are different, but I think with perseverance, most kids can sleep very soundly all night long.

  6. Emily says:

    Good thoughts… especially about consequences for continuously coming out of the room at bedtime. That’s actually the “easy part” for me :) (since it’s clear that it’s an obedience issue)

    The problem we have — and have no idea if there is an answer— is the waking in the middle of the night wailing and crying, or in hysterics. I don’t really know that this is disobedience since he’s half-asleep. He is almost 4. It began gradually… saying his blanket fell off or something. I don’t think it is “night terrors” because he doesn’t really fit the description. He had slept really well since about the age of 2, and then all of a sudden (around 3.5) started waking up throughout the night wailing. Sometimes we would wait to see if he’d go back to sleep, but usually we’d check on him because it was kind of out-of-the-ordinary. I’d ask him if something hurts, or if he needs something, or if he’s afraid, and he’d be incoherent and continue crying. As time went on, if I even tried to leave the room he’d ramp up the crying, begging for me to lay down with him. This would all usually happen between 2 a.m.-5 a.m. .. up and down every 20 mins or so. The nightly crying then evolved into panicked RUNNING into our room screaming (which would nearly give me a heart attack!, and I actually have had a few legit panic attacks resulting.) He would ask to sleep in our bed, and we kept saying no and returning him to his room. (we don’t want to begin co-sleeping).
    Things we’ve tried:
    1) Locking OUR door and he’d stand outside, terrified screaming and banging on it.. waking up his brother in the next room.
    2) Putting a knob cover on his door (which threw him into another panic because he couldn’t get out).
    3) Role playing during the day (like what to do if he wakes up and his blanket is off, etc), recited “sleep rules” like Lisa posted above, offering rewards in the morning for staying in bed all night, leaving a nightlight on, music on, taught about being able to talk to God, etc.
    4) He has a consistent bedtime (8 or 8:30) and lots of daytime activity to “wear him out.”

    One night, my husband could tell I was losing it from being startled awake all night and let our son sleep on a mat in our room. The problem is now, every single night like clockwork, our son will wake up crying, then bring his blanket into our room and fall asleep on the mat. (He will sleep soundly all night). Because we were so desperate to sleep, we started allowing that and now we dont’ know what to do. … he now wakes crying sometime around 11 pm – 1 am. and comes into our room. There have been some nights , we wont’ even realize until the morning he has come into the room and is sleeping on the floor!

    Because he seems so afraid at the time, we didn’t think we should discipline him for waking up and crying, or coming to our room. We also weren’t sure if locking him in his room was the best idea, or locking him out of ours. He’d scream and bang on the door, and we were so tired of it all. I would get so frustrated and exhausted. I have even started sleeping in the living room most nights so I won’t be “startled” awake, .. otherwise I’d just lay there anticipating the sudden crying across the hall, and the rushing into our room.

    We don’t wish to be a bed-sharing family, so we desperately want him to be able to sleep well in his OWN bed. BUT it doesn’t feel like an obedience issue.. it’s kind of more like a habit(?), but we don’t know how to break it.

  7. Amber says:

    This post is a few months old but I’m hoping you’ll see this comment and maybe have some advice. Our 2.5 year old has always been an amazing sleeper. He started sleeping through the night at 5 weeks old and since then he goes to bed every night without a fuss and sleeps late every morning or plays in his room quietly until I wake up. Recently we moved to a new home and at first he slept fine. But the last few nights it’s a different story. He screams hysterically the minute we put him in bed and then gets up and bursts out of the room. We’ve tried walking him back to the room over and over again and he never stops coming out. We’ve tried spanking him for coming out but it doesn’t faze him at all. When we’ve tried putting a child proof knob cover on his door so he couldn’t come out he banged on the door as loud as he could. We can’t allow that since we live in a condo with shared walls and it will disturb our neighbors. Your suggestion to treat this like any other disobedience and give him the usual consequence sounds great, but it’s just not working. He is sooo hysterical that he doesn’t even seem to mind getting spanked, he just refuses to stay in bed no matter what. We’ve tried all sorts of comforting techniques, laying in the room with him, etc. Once he calms down and we try to leave the room he immediately gets hysterical again and gets out of bed. The only thing that has worked to get him to sleep is staying in the room for an hour until he falls asleep and then sneaking out of the room. But then he wakes up in the wee hours of the morning and it starts all over. What should I do when consequences aren’t working?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Some of how I would handle this would be colored (for me) by your other family dynamics. (i.e., do you have a new baby? older kids? Is he an only child? Any other constraints at night time?)

      Some things I would consider:
      * What’s happening with his daytime naps?
      * Does he obey you, well, in other areas/times, and this is unusual? Or is obedience more of a “sometimes he will, sometimes he won’t” situation? I would NOT recommend that sleep or eating be made into the primary battlefield for obedience with a child who does not already (more or less) consistently obey.
      * (Since you mentioned spanking) Do spankings at other times motivate him toward obedience? (i.e., are you sure you give effective spankings, but they’re just not working in this particular instance? or could it be that your spankings are ineffective?) Hebrews 12 is really helpful for me on this… “no discipline is pleasant, but painful”… so with our discipline, we want to make sure that what we’re doing is actually painful, and not just making the child angrier (which often happens when discipline is given but not actually painful enough). By that, I’m not saying, “spank him harder/more” — but what I am saying is that different kids have different pain thresholds and you need to watch the child in front of you and (whatever discipline method you use), mete out the right measure of discipline that is truly painful (test it exactly the same as you would do on him, on your leg first).
      * When you say you have tried all sorts of things… how long has this process been going on, and how long are you trying something before moving on to the next thing to try? For us, with certain of our children, lengthy seasons of consistently sticking with the same, identical, painful response, was what was needed. Sometimes we can be too quick to jump to a different “trial” solution, and all our kids learn is inconsistency. I’m not saying you’re doing that, necessarily; I do wonder if this is a possibility. You said “last few nights” which makes me think it’s possible you’re expecting this to be done too soon. It has taken, sometimes, nearly a week of consistent discipline on our parts to help a child get through a weird patch of sleep.

      OK, those are my first thoughts. Come back with your reply & I can help you think through additional angles and possible solutions.

      • Amber says:

        I’d say his obedience lately has been “sometimes he does/sometimes he doesn’t”. Are you saying that until we get his obedience in other areas under control we shouldn’t work on this? What do we do about sleep in the meantime? But I’m feeling like this might not be a discipline issue. He seems like he’s really scared/ upset about being left in his room alone to sleep, even though he’s always been fine before and was fine the first week and a half after we moved. That’s why we keep giving up on the spankings every night. My husband and I both just have this feeling that it’s not working/he’s not getting it and we feel bad continuing to spank him again and again and again when he’s so hysterical. He’s an only child. We have another on the way but I don’t think he has any understanding of that. His naps have been pretty normal. We usually do either a spank or time out for discipline. We tried time out for this but he seemed to like that time out at least meant he didn’t have to be in bed. I’d say our usual time outs and spanks are only somewhat effective at motivating obedience. He’s a kid who thinks it’s worth getting punished in order to do what he wants. But in this case he doesn’t seem to be acting defiant or angry, just really upset or even scared.

        • Jess Connell says:

          Yeah, I’d say unless he is consistently obedient in other areas/times, I wouldn’t use bedtime or mealtime as a focus for my efforts in teaching him to obey.

          Since you say you truly think it’s a fear issue, I would instruct him throughout the day… multiple times a day…. in this basic way:

          Through the day, 2 things (repeated 3-5 times a day, each):

          (1) The things I talked about in the article up there– helping him memorize and understand the two verses– “Do not be afraid for I (God) am with you.” (Who is with us when we’re scared? God! Who is with us all the time? God! Who is with us when we’re alone? God! etc.) “when I am afraid, I will trust in YOU (God!).” (When we feel afraid, what should we do? Pray and trust in God!)

          (2) “Mommy or Daddy will sit with you while you fall asleep at nighttime. If you wake up and we are not there, you are to lay there quietly. Never scream. Yes mama?” (wait for “yes mama”) “Now what are we going to do?” (see if he gets the basic idea, etc.)

          Then, at night time, I would go in, sit with him, with my hand on his back or holding his hand, and tell him, “you’re not to wiggle, talk, or open your eyes. Yes ma’am?” (yes ma’am) If he wiggles, talks, opens eyes, I’d correct him. (This is exactly what we do for naps with our 3 year old right now.)

          Then, you implement it. You sit with him, and keep reminding him.

          Each night, at bedtime, go over the verses together. Pray together and thank God for always protecting us and caring for us. Then remind him of the instructions. “Mama is going to sit by you until you fall asleep. Will I stay here all night? (no) What do you if you wake up and mama’s not here? (lay quiet, go to sleep).” This may take DAYS or WEEKS of repetition, but at 2.5, I think he can understand this basic idea.

          Keep at it and don’t give up.

          The other alternative I would consider is, for a time, to bring his mattress in to your bedroom (or the hallway/master closet/whatever NEAR your bedroom) so that he is closer, but do these same steps. I would NOT have him be in your bed, or indulge fears or engage in lengthy dialogue about what he’s afraid of. Just remind him of the truth (God loves us; He watches out for us; He tells us not to be afraid. Mommy and daddy love you and will be here. Etc.).

    • Lisa in NJ says:

      Hi Amber! I guess I signed up to receive updates, since I commented above some time ago. In addition to what Jess said… you said you moved into a new home recently. As I mentioned above, I believe in the reality of spiritual warfare. I believe our kids sometimes have bad dreams that can be very scary for them, and they are not of the Lord, but from the enemy. When my husband and I have moved into new apartments or homes, we together make it a practice of walking through that home and praying. The Bible teaches that demons are territorial. You probably don’t know who lived in your home before you did, or what they did in that space that was evil. So go through your home and declare that because you are Christians, your whole home belongs to the Lord Jesus. We would pray something like this:

      “Lord, this home is yours. If there are any evil spirits left behind in this house to harm us, we declare that you alone Lord Jesus are welcome here. Any other spirits here not of the Lord are commanded to leave in the name of Jesus. They are not welcome here again. Lord, we commit this room to you and ask you to cleanse it by the blood of Jesus. Protect our family physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Use this home for your Kingdom purposes, Lord. Amen!”

      It’s not a kind of hocus-pocus, it is simply recognizing and praying and asserting your authority as a Christian. And as believers, we don’t have to live in fear of the enemy. My husband and I went through our house and prayed just to say out loud what we believed. And we believe Jesus’ victory over the enemy stands forever over our family and over our home.

      Maybe that’s not what is going on with your son, but I would start with prayer and go from there. Blessings upon you and your family!

  8. Debbie Toney says:

    All very good comments. Wonderful instruction!

  1. May 4, 2016

    […] older your kids get, the more this should be an absolute “norm” in your home. Give a consequence for getting out of bed, and stick to it. There should be no getting around […]

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