We want to convert our son's cot into a bed this weekend (starting Friday evening). We think it's time to transition because he often tries to climb out (but fails yet), and during daytime playing he manages to climb in by leaning a pillow against the outside of the cot - but he cannot climb out again because the mattress is very low.

Our biggest problem is that our son is very likely to NOT stay in his bed because he is extremely energetic (compared to other toddlers we know) despite our best efforts to have a calming bedtime routine. We've tried earlier to take out the removable spokes from the cot but had to put them back in because he wouldn't stay in his cot. This time, we're considering to put up a gate in his room's door just to keep his freedom limited, but that might not be the best solution.

What is the best way to train staying in bed, when there are no bars to keep him in bed?

We're hoping that he will stay in bed once he does fall asleep, although he moves a lot in his sleep so some nights he'll probably end up on the play mattress in front of the bed (less than 15cm lower, so no safety risk). Our focus now is on getting him to stay in the bed for long enough to fall asleep in the first place.

(There's only one earlier question along the same lines, but not as specific as I hope this one is.)

This really hasn't gone so well yet. He never gets out of bed during the night, but falling asleep alone is a big problem -- he requires one of us to be present in his room until he sleeps. Even though we provide no interaction, just presence, it's still problematic for us because it usually takes 30 minutes and often more, up to an hour. This is not a good use of our very limited evening time.

We have just started a new attempt, following HedgeMage's advice here ("put him to bed again without interaction, and again, again"), but without much luck so far. It takes him more than an hour of this to exhaust himself to the point of sleep. My wife is not convinced of this method, but I'm advocating that we do this for a week before giving up.

I hope to be able to post a success story soon, but stay tuned...


4 Answers 4


We just upgraded our toddler from a crib to a toddler bed, and we were concerned for the same reasons. There are a few toys and lots of books in her room, and we weren't sure how she would do.

I guess we got lucky because she didn't have any problem staying in bed as she was falling asleep. However, she usually wakes up 30-60 minutes before we get her out of her room for the day. When she was in the crib, she had no choice but to stay in bed. But with the toddler bed, she was free to get up, move around, and play with anything accessible when she woke up in the morning.

Here is how we handled it.

  1. We gated the room. You said this might not be the best solution, but I see no problem with it. The gate is not there for punishment, you are simply trying to help him understand that his room is where he is supposed to be when it's time to sleep.
  2. We put the toys in the closet. We did not want toys to be the reason our toddler got out of bed, so we moved the toy bin to the closet during the night. In fact, that has become its permanent place--we pull it out as needed during the day, and put it back when we're done.
  3. We left the books out. Our daughter loves books, so we considered putting them in the closet at night as well. In the end, however, we decided not to. If our daughter is going to be awake in her room for an hour before we get her, we figure that books aren't a problem at all. Now when we come to get her out of her room for the day, we typically find her on her bed with 3 or 4 books.

As I mentioned, we haven't had many problems getting our toddler to stay in bed when she's falling asleep. If this is a concern for your toddler, one potential solution is stories and/or songs alongside his bed to calm him down after he's tucked in.

If after your best efforts he is still not staying in bed, I wouldn't worry about it too much. In the short term, his exhaustion will eventually overpower his stubbornness. In the long term, if you are consistent with the bedtime routine he will eventually learn to stay in bed.

  • +1, very clear and straightforward. How long did you keep the room gated? Our challenges start with he fact that he doesn't stay tucked-in in the first place no matter how tired he is. Also, I'm worried that we'll be exhausted long before he is. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 14:33
  • @TorbenGB We keep it gated from the time we put her down until the time we get her out of bed. The rest of the house is mostly child-proof, but we don't think she's quite ready for 30-60 minutes of unsupervised activity through the whole house. We may not use the gate when that changes. Re: your other points, have you noticed any activities you do during the day that help him calm down? Sounds like a very energetic young man! Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 14:39
  • Oh yes he's extremely energetic, judging by other toddlers we know. We have a solid bedtime routine that involves as much calm-down stuff as we can think of, like clearing his toys away himself, and often a bath. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 14:44
  • My first son turned 2 today. We're moving to a new place in a few weeks and we're planning on transitioning he and his 6-month old sister to the same room. First both in their cribs, but soon we'll get him into a toddler bed and I have many the same fears and concerns I see here. Thanks for the clear advice, I'll probably have a few more questions myself as time goes on. Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 14:53
  • 1
    This is basically what we did for our daughter. (We didn't put the toys away as it wasn't a problem most nights). The gated room (with door open/ajar) let her remain connected to the house/family and call to us easily, but also enforced the idea of sleep time different than play time (no gate during play time). As for staying in bed, we just went through a period of putting her back in bed repeatedly until she got the idea. There are still some nights when she won't stay in bed, but most nights there's no problem. Commented Aug 3, 2011 at 14:29

Sorry to not accept either of the two given answers, but they don't really match what turned out to work for us. What did work was HedgeMage's answer to "When should I transition a 2 year old toddler from the cot to a bed?"

We did not gate the room, we did not fill the bed with toys. We kept putting him back to bed.

  • good news on him finally getting settled
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 10:46
  • Glad to hear that it worked for you.
    – afrazier
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 15:01

I got a bunch of help from this post, but also drew info from other sources (and the unplannable), so after writing up our solution for a friend in our building, I thought I'd share it here. (I'm only using male pronouns because my oldest is a boy, and genderless writing is harder to read.)

Here's what worked for us:

  1. Ideally, you have a fairly consistent routine. If you can make it more identical each day (3 books, kisses, aquaphor, bed, or whatever) do it - you want him trained to go to bed after doing A, B, C.)
  2. Figure out what your toddler bed solution is. If it's possible to convert his current crib to one (some come with a kit, or have one you can buy), definitely do that. The less change the better, so converting the current crib is ideal.
  3. Figure out roughly when you can do it in the future, and avoid any big changes around the same time - moving, rearranging other stuff in his room if you don't need to, new siblings, etc.
  4. Whatever the solution is, start building it up a while before you try to switch. We talked to Griff about how big boys who could be responsible and stay in bed get to use "big boy beds". We did this way before we told him he was ready, and then kept talking about him being ready pretty soon, and asking if HE thought he was almost ready, etc., so it was an idea he wanted before it was a scary change.
  5. Make sure the buildup routine includes the fact that it's for big boys who can stay in their bed all night - they can still call if they need help, but they shouldn't get out of bed.
  6. Make sure you're REALLY comfortable with your childproofing in his room - you should assume he'll be in there with no supervision and you won't wake up from the monitor until AFTER he finds trouble. (Weird tip - open all the drawers in any dresser to see if climbing them will tip it.)
  7. Get a gate for the door to the room (so you don't have to make the whole house "unsupervised-level-childproof") The cheap kind like this is lightweight, and fits any door and works well, although it won't win any design awards.
  8. When it's time to actually do it, hopefully he's pumped up. If you CAN'T convert his crib, I'd suggest having him help pick the bed (even if you only give him 2 choices or whatever) and actually bring him to the store.
  9. When you install the bed or kit, I'd have him there - again, you want no shock that his crib is gone/changed, and kids that age love to help
  10. Keep reminding him that you're proud he's a big boy who can have this bed, and that big boys stay in bed - they can call you if they need you.
  11. If possible, plan to leave the door to his room open and a light on outside somewhere. Make the door his choice - ask if he wants the door open or shut (he'll pick open in almost all cases). This lets him feel a bit in charge, and helps with the fact that kids this age often also have nightmares.
  12. We told Grif about the gate, and said it let us leave the door open for him.
  13. Remind him again NOT to get out of bed, but to call you if he needs you. Be prepared to go in if he calls, but not take him out of bed unless something serious has happened.
  14. If he does get out of bed in the night once you start, walk him back to back to bed, and the first time, remind him that he has to stay in bed until morning (when it's light out).
  15. After the first time, try to minimize even that much discussion - any engagement wakes him up more and encourages the activity by associating it with interaction.
  16. May God have mercy on your soul.

We used two mechanisms:

  • First, the controlled crying, as HedgeMage suggested. We had varying results with this - we had much higher success with our second and third children than the first, but for all three it was certainly hard for us. All the guidance we had was that the child wouldn't mind, but we found it very stressful.

  • Of much greater utility - the full size beds we bought were cot beds; set up so initially they have side rails which can be removed when the child gets bigger. Because these were full size beds we wanted to fill the extra space so added a lot of toys, and we found they would often play with a couple of favourite toys for a short while then put themselves back to sleep.

I think it just seemed like a friendly space for them once we had their toys in.

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