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We've recently put our 2 year old (27 month) daughter in a new bed without (cot) sides. At first she adapted wonderfully and didn't get up until morning. Of late however, things are getting slowly worse. Tonight, she immediately got straight back up so many times that it became a game for her.

My question isn't directed around the bed problem directly, but her appreciation of the severity of the matter/bad behaviour.

Me and mum took it in turns to put her back in bed, explaining that it was bedtime. Around the fifth time, mum even raised her voice a bit, but it made no difference whatsoever; the game continued.

Later still, around the tenth time, sadly I ran out of patience and shouted very loud, before standing over her until she got back into bed. This did break the behaviour cycle, and she went straight to sleep, but now I feel guilty that I lost control.

Generally our child behaves extremely well, so I don't believe this is a longer-standing issue. However, I'm curious to know from others with real experience to know how they have handled the same type of thing successfully please? I'd like our daughter to know when we're being serious.

My searches online turn up pages like "10 ways to make your kid behave", but the advice is just too general.

Answer (for our situation)

Willow Rex's doll game, and Adam Heeg's answer certainly got things going in the right direction. We went from putting her back 10 times per night, to around 3.

On one occasion our daughter got out of bed, and realising me and mum were both downstairs began banging her bedroom door wildly to get attention. She banged it hard enough to shut herself in her room, because she couldn't reach the handle enough to re-open the door. At that point, after walking around the room for a while, she put herself to bed, and has slept through ever since.

While I do not recommend locking a child in their room, I believe the realisation here was that there was no merit/gain in the current behaviour, which is what the accepted answer would have led to in the longer-term. Thank you to all though who contributed. Much appreciated.

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    Can you role play with a doll during play time? You get the dolly out of a doll bed during another activity to help your child understand your own frustration. You don't really have to explain it, you just show her. – WRX Jan 28 '17 at 20:07
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    I thought that was self-soothing? There's no crying here. Totally the opposite, and she won't stay still even to try! – EvilDr Jan 28 '17 at 20:08
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    This isn't a game to her; it's a phase in which she is discovering self-determination. If she's a strong-willed child, you'll have to be creative. If she's a complacent child, you'll have it easy. Most are between the extremes. Try rewards, for example for staying in bed for longer and longer times. Eventually she'll fall asleep while waiting. – anongoodnurse Jan 28 '17 at 20:42
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    Well the doll game was interesting. She got very angry at the doll getting out of bed (not knowing I did it), then last night only got up twice (as opposed to 10 times the previous night) – EvilDr Jan 30 '17 at 17:25
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    I glad it helped, or maybe helped. I guess you'll find out if it was coincidence or not! – WRX Jan 30 '17 at 22:11
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+100

I had this exact problem with 2 of my three children. I have experienced failure in dealing with this problem as well as success. In all honesty with no disrespect to other peoples opinions and experiences I had no success with any type of verbal communication with my children during the 'getting out of bed' phase of the night.

In the end I did the following routine:

1) Child get's out of bed
2) I pick the child up, walk her to her room and place her in bed
3) I attempt to walk back to where I was (bed or sit on couch waiting)
4) Child get's out of bed
5) I pick the child up, walk with her to her room and place her in bed.

repeat as necessary.

In my case I learned through trial and error to NEVER

1) Speak to the child
2) Get angry with the child or spank the child
3) Pause or wait in putting her back in bed once she knew I saw her
4) Respond or acknowledge in any way any of her yelling, hitting or crying

Because this is already a problem generally you'll have already explained the situation to the child. During the next day I explain what my expectations are for the next night. I also reaffirmed my love for her and did not speak cruely or mean to her. I simply stated the facts of what I expected from her and what I was going to do. I also told her I understood how hard it was to go to bed. At night time I never went over any of this again. I stayed quiet and simply put her back in bed over and over again for as long as it took.

This worked really good after the first couple nights and bedtimes became pretty darn good following! However, my stubborn child literally made me do this for close to 3 hours one night and over 2 hours 2 other nights. However she learned Dad and Mom don't give up!

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    No disrespect felt! I think this is as good a method as any I've heard. Each child and family is different. This may well be exactly the right way for the OP's situation. That's what I like about this format. The OP chooses what works for them. It doesn't need to work for me or anyone else -- just you and the OP. :) – WRX Feb 1 '17 at 22:08
  • Thank you both so much. I've updated the question with what actually worked for us, thanks to both your ideas for getting things moving in the right direction. :-) – EvilDr Feb 2 '17 at 11:22
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I do agree with anongoodnurse that your daughter has reached a developmental stage where she is becoming self-determined. All (or mostly all) children start to assert themselves. They have been living in a world with few choices and they are beginning to have opinions.

I highly recommend reading up on this subject. Link to author Barbara Coloroso In my classroom we always gave choices between two acceptable (to us) activities. "Do you want to do the activity here or there?" Or, "Do you want these counters (math manipulators) or those?" What were wanted the student to do, got done. The child felt that they had a choice. You can easily give choices as part of your everyday routines without much effort. "Your choice: Do you want the blue shirt or the red one?" "Do you want a cookie or a cracker?" "Would you like this game or that game?" Just make certain that you are okay with the choices and that your child hears the words: "This is your choice".

Even at two, a child can be asked to share what they think. "Do you like Elmo? Is he big or is he little? Where do you think Elmo sleeps?" This teaches the child that they are important to you and at a very basic level, how to make decisions and think about things and express themselves. If language is a problem, let your child point and use pictures for some things like emotions. "Which one shows the sad baby?" If they are pointing, you speak the sentence for them. "Oh you chose the picture of the sad baby. Good for you!"

So (long way around to the point ;)) I think that you show your daughter that she has choices some of the time and that some of the time the choice is still yours and Mum's to make. You say things over and over again to make the point. "This is your choice.", "This is my choice." Use praise when she makes a choice and praise when she accepts your choice.

I know you might find yourselves getting less sleep until she understands, but take turns and make sure that each parent does get time away from dealing with this. If you get mad, then by all means call on the other parent, but you want each other to succeed and you want each partner to sleep! So you put your child to sleep with the same words. "I/We love you. It's time for sleep." If she gets up, "This is my time to choose. I love you. It's time to sleep."

The idea that she can earn something she likes for staying in bed is good. "You can choose eggs or waffles if you stay in bed."

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    Spending a little time with the kid on a bedtime activity also helps a lot. We read to our little ones whatever book they pick, but they know that when the story ends it's time to sleep. Doing this also provides you with a little bonding time, which is always a nice thing to have. – T. Sar Feb 1 '17 at 11:12
  • @TSar I think a good bedtime/prepare for sleep routine is really important. The question wasn't raised, so I did not get into specifics. LINK to Parents Mag However, if your child calls for you, make up your own mind about the situation. Yes, if they call for you night after night, you have to stop it. However, if your child is sick or afraid, listen to your own good sense. Sometimes bad habits are formed after an illness, and you have to correct for those times. Advice must always be fit to your own circumstances. – WRX Feb 1 '17 at 16:57
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We never put our kids to bed or asked them to sleep. We always left it up to them. I realize that this is a rare behavior in Western cultures nowadays, so let me briefly explain what happened:

Since our children were never asked or expected to sleep or stay in bed at any given time, they developed no resistance against it whatsoever. They had a strong awareness of the needs of their bodies quite early in their lives, and usually acted accordingly (went to bed on their own). The amount of sleep that they got during a day seemed not less than kids whose parents paid strong attention to it. Their transition into sleep was usually (not to say always) smooth and without any hassle from our end. Most of the time they did not initially fall asleep in their own beds but on the couch next to us or so. Often they picked up their blankets from their beds first to use them on the couch, and we later carried them to their beds together with the blankets. If they got up at night and came to sleep in our bed, we'd let them, sometimes they also decided to fall asleep there from the start, which was typically the case when they went to bed together with us at the same time.

When they were babies, we usually carried them around on our backs when they were emotionally unstable or even obviously tired. They were not expected to fall asleep there, but they usually did because they couldn't move much.

Sleeping times of our kids were a little irregular, sometimes they'd sleep as early as 6 p.m., sometimes 10 p.m. or midnight, we soon had experience based on several things they experienced during the day, but we could never clearly predict it. There were usually naps throughout the day too.

We never had a problem with not being able to sleep in the mornings because our kids were up at times like 5 a.m. They usually got up in time for daycare after we woke them up, but sometimes they were still a little sleepy at first, but totally fine after about 10 minutes. I sometimes observed myself get a little tense when they wouldn't get up immediately, but that's maybe my personal issue.

When they grew a little older, they happily slept in their own beds always and stopped coming to us at night, except like when they were sick or so.

If somebody feels that their kids have to be in bed at a certain time for any reason and they're wondering how to achieve it, I think they should be aware of what it's probably like from the perspective of the child: They're not totally tired (otherwise they'd be sleeping anyway), there's usually some fuss about going to bed that makes them even more exhilarated, it's a wonderful game because parents always play along and are so funny when doing so, and it's the only choice that is given to them anyway, for instance because the room is left dark, the procedure alienates them from listening to their body, so in return they will have a harder time realizing when they are really tired if this is the case, and won't lie down on their own to sleep.

I don't really get why so many parents decide to do this, I see little sense in it, but I don't want to judge that it's wrong in any particular case. But yes, if you want your kid to do this thing that they can't possibly comprehend in the necessary depth at their age, it's natural that you have to use some kind of conditioning, that is usually rewards or punishments (classical conditioning doesn't seem to make sense here). Rewarding sleep is difficult from a practical point of view, but if you can do it, it'll be great. Punishing not to sleep is useless, how would we as adults deal with something like that after all? All you can reasonably do is reward staying in bed or punish not to stay in bed, and at the time avoiding the opposites, whereas attention can also be experienced as rewarding by the kid, especially if it's experienced as part of a game.

I think shouting at them or losing your temper may not be the best choice with regard to the aim of gentle conditioning (avoiding causing traumas), but if everything is already working perfectly after the first incident, and the child doesn't show any other signs of being traumatized (sudden change in character), I would not overrate it. Obviously your kid realized a boundary that you personally set there and this is often what is sufficient for them to respect it.

A general experience I made while observing quite a couple of other parents and families is that the only thing that makes kids sleep is they getting sleepy. That's the indispensable precondition. Anything that is arousing, like threatening, shouting, opening and closing doors, arguing, creating an emotionally tense situation, isolating the kid if they actually want to be with you, making the kid feel they have to do something they can't control by will (sleeping), showing irregular behavior in response to what they do (so they never experience a reliable and predictable situation and must always be prepared for everything) etc. is usually counterproductive, at least in the situation at hand. It may pay off later, but I wouldn't see it as guaranteed. In this respect I would personally be willing to ignore a lot, even playing in the room after I put them in bed. The message should be clear: After I put you in bed, I relax, and you can relax too, and I'm sure sooner or later you will. Good night, and sweet dreams, my sweety!

Many kids fall asleep much more easily when you read a story to them when they're already in bed. This is especially useful in settings where for organizational reasons children must sleep by a schedule (e.g. daycare), but it also works wonderfully at home for many kids. You have to read to them anyway, and doing it long enough while they're in bed already slightly sleepy will usually make them fall asleep soon after you leave the room or even while you're still reading. It'll relax you too and strengthen the bond with your kid. If the kid regularly experiences that stories make him/her fall asleep gently, this could also turn out to be one of these rewards for sleep I was mentioning earlier: Sleep gets associated with the positive emotions felt while being read a story to and then after a while sleep on its own is felt as a rewarding thing to be sought.

  • I had a student whose family could not get her to bed and as she had Down Syndrome and was very combative, they let her sleep when she wanted to -- and where. So I know this method can work. The problem from my own pov is that I wanted my students rested and well nourished and this student was often neither, She missed breakfast because she was too tired and late and was often cranky at school due to lack of rest/nourishment. So if this works in all aspects of your child's life -- then it sounds great. I agree with you about a tense situation making sleep impossible. We can't make them sleep. – WRX Feb 3 '17 at 19:40

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