The other morning, the parent's of the three year old I watch most days awoke to a spooky scratching sound in their room. They couldn't place from whence the sound came but apparently it was as though some one had dropped them right into the middle of a thriller.

Once they were awake enough to get past the goosebumps and bristled neck hairs, they figured it was probably their three year old so (who wakes up very early and usually goes into their room and just wakes them up - something they've been working on for awhile now), but there have been a few instances when he has wandered down stairs and turned on the TV for himself, gone out in the garage to play, or even hung out in the back or front yards.

So, when he was not in his room the two parents started looking. They looked everywhere for him - including their garage and front and back lawns and it didn't take long before they were in an absolute panic to find him - until they heard laughter from their bedroom. He had crawled under their bed and was the culprit behind the scratching sounds as well as the panic to find the missing child.

I think this was the mother's last straw.

Things they have already done:

  • Put a bolt on all doors out of the child's reacy so he at least can't escape the house (he can work baby gates, the bolts and other locks, the garage door opener button . . . )
  • He has a digital clock that changes color to show him when he is allowed to get up vs. when he is supposed to stay in bed. They've talked to him about how everyone needs their sleep. Then they have given him time outs when he disobeys this rule (which have not worked at all).
  • Made sure he has access to water, the bathroom and books so if he is awake in the middle of the night and can't sleep he can take care of a few basics and have something quiet to do until he does fall back asleep.

The are considering putting a lock on the outside of the bedroom door and just locking him into his room at night. He uses a pull-up for sleeping and they would put a training potty in the room just in case.

Are there any other alternatives to try before going to this extreme?

  • I don't have any productive suggestions for you, but locking in the room just seems a bit scary to me -- what about the case of an emergency? beansa has, as you've pointed out, great suggestions. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 2:08

3 Answers 3


Oh, the joys of the night-waking toddler. My daughter was a terrible sleeper and woke at all kinds of random, crazy times. Rarely did she ever sleep for more than three hours at a time and she often woke us, wandered the house or turned on the tv by herself. She never went outside though, thankfully.

First, if they haven't already done so, I would recommend consulting with their family doctor. There are quite a few reasons why kids don't sleep well or long enough; some of them need to be addressed medically. Our doctor concluded that our daughter's insomnia was likely biological and related to adhd (which her dad also has). We didn't want to medicate her so we had to come up with some other strategies to get her to stay asleep longer.

Some things we tried with varying success were:

Eliminating her afternoon nap (this did actually help quite a bit after the initial adjustment).

We made a concerted effort to really wear her out: walking, running, swimming, bouncing on a trampoline. She had energy to burn so we burned it. This caused a noticeable improvement in her sleep.

We got her a bigger bed - she moves around a lot when asleep and was falling off the bed and waking up. Who knew?

Making sure she was dressed warmly enough for bed and that her room was warm but not stuffy helped eliminate the problem of her kicking off all her blankets (see above) and then getting cold.

Adjusting the lighting in our house to be brighter early in the day and dimmer in the evenings. We also started taking the reading lamp out of her room at bedtime and leaving her with a small night light. Seems that she would wake up, switch on the bright light and it would wake her up faster than a cup of coffee.

We started giving her a snack before bed. We also made sure she had access to food if she woke up hungry, string cheese & crackers or apple slices; something not too messy that she could get for herself.

Progressive relaxation exercises really helped and she still does them today at age 11; we also had some CD's that were guided visualizations for kids that would help her calm down and relax, this was most helpful during times when she was waking up from dreams or nightmares.

Eventually we got her to sleeping for 8 hours and then she would come into our room and get into our bed and sleep for an hour or so more. Still less than ideal, but so much better and no more night wandering or waking us up at an unholy early time.

  • Thanks. This one has tons of ideas what a thorough job you did with your own daughter! I'll pass these along. Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 13:55
  • I guess we had a lot of time to think about the issue & work on it...since we weren't sleeping ;)
    – beansa
    Commented Dec 7, 2013 at 3:27

That sounds like an absolute NIGHTMARE. If he's not a fan of loud noises, they could also add door alarms so that if he opens off-limits doors, the alarm goes off (doesn't have to be a full security system, and I know there are door alarm systems where you can turn the alert on and off).

I honestly don't believe a simple lock on the bedroom door for a child that age is a horrible thing. Our son is also a wanderer (he's 32 mths old) so to keep him where he needs to be and us from losing our minds with listening for him trying to break out of the house, we reversed the simple push-button doorknob on his door so that we lock it when he goes to bed. No effort is required to open it from our side (just pull the handle (it's a French door lever-style doorknob) and it unlocks). We also have an IP camera in the room that's out of his reach and allows us to see most of what goes on in there (can't see through the closet door but we can see if they're open or closed). The question in my mind comes down to "is he less safe wandering the house alone or locked in his room? Which will cause more immediate damage? Which will cause longer-term damage?"

At three he's not the most sound reasoner (my son woke up twice just last night and ripped his bed apart looking for his bear, and then flipped out when he couldn't find him and cried that "Bruin was gone!" The logic of "if it was there when I went to bed, and nothing left and the door is still closed, he's probably still in here" is still a bit beyond him). As he gets older his parents should have more luck explaining to him why we stay in our rooms at night when we should be sleeping, even when we are not.

Also, I see that timeouts aren't working. If they don't follow the 'crime' pretty quickly, they don't work for us either. What DOES work is giving his toys a time-out. If he acts up, the toy (usually a truck; those are his favorites) goes into our closet for a time-out. It has to be something he will miss, obviously, but we leave lovies off limits except for the really bad offenses (hitting his sister or running into the street or something huge like that gets Bruin a time-out in the closet).

  • 3
    Giving toys a time out sounds interesting! Haven't heard that one before. They've been asking if I knew of any other ideas and I have to say we are all at the end of our ideas but mom is a little reluctant to do the lock on the door if she can help it. Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 12:55
  • I completely understand. Even though it works great for us it's not a solution across the board. However, having the young'un roaming the house AND YARD unfettered is freaking ME out. When I think of all the stuff my son could get 'hold of.... <shudder>
    – Valkyrie
    Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 13:17
  • Oh. She's willing to do it at this point. She just hoped there was one last thing we hadn't tried :-) I'll share the toy time-out idea and get back to you on what they decide :-) Commented Dec 5, 2013 at 13:44

OMG They must be going insane. I can sympathise.

Putting a lock on the door sounds pretty extreme. Even considering it must mean they are at the end of their tethers. My only thoughts are..

Sounds like the toddler is turning this into a game rather than it being a sleep issue. Games are sometimes there to get attention so are they getting enough positive time with the parents during the day? (not making any judgements there, just exploring that there may be other non-sleep related issues)

Regarding stopping them from leaving the room is it just in the mornings or throughout the night? If they regularly get up early and wander then the mother will need to get up earlier. If they're getting up at 5 then set your alarm for 4:30 and camp outside their room. Even sleep on the floor. Then when they get up put them back into bed & repeat. Might take 5/20/100 times over 3/5/10 nights but eventually they'll get the idea that this is a game they wont win. I wouldn't recommend sleeping actually in their room as they could get used to that. Just in a position where it would be impossible for them to leave the room without waking you.

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