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Keeping Your Toddler From Leaving The Room

Getting your child to sleep through the night is a life changing event at least it certainly was for me.

When your baby is waking every hour or two and you are also being awoken by their cries, it is not just an inconvenience. The sleep deprivation is beyond exhausting. In the depths of sleep deprivation, I was miserable, irritable and unable to focus. My mental health really suffered and as a family, we all were unhappy as well as tired.

When I took the step to sleep train my son, he learned learned to sleep 10-12 hours a night without any help from me, and got into a predictable nap time routine. It genuinely felt like a miracle.

Roll forward when we wasn't a baby anymore and he had learned to walk and talk, and more importantly, to test some boundaries, and started leaving the bedroom in the night, I was apprehensive to say the least.

Having your toddler leave their room may not sound too serious but if it happens frequently then it can be just as exhausting as when they were a newborn. Toddlers can be also very persistent when they are trying to get their way.

The factor that makes this situation harder than sleep training a baby is that your Little Darling, by this age, has probably learned a few negotiation skills. This is not a negative thing as I am not saying they are malicious or sly but it is human nature. Humans test boundaries and actions to see if they get us what we are looking for, and when we find something that works, we tend to use it repeatedly.

This means if asking for a glass of water gets mummy to come back into the room, or asking to use the toilet helps to satisfy your curiosity about what’s going on outside of your room after bedtime, you are very likely to use the same approach each and every time.

It can be a comforting fact to keep in your mind when you are having to walk your child back to their room for the 10th time since bedtime. Shouting is just going to upset everyone, and giving in to their demands will encourage more of the same behaviours, how do we get a child to stay in their room without the situation escalating to a battle?

Consequences...... Consequences are the key.

I will start here by saying that it is important to always give one warning before implementing the consequence for the undesired behaviour.

If your child leaves their bedroom then ask them why they are not in bed. If the answer is not that they do not feel well then you can calmy but very firmly let them know that it is bedtime and they are not allowed out of their bed until morning. You will then walk them back to bed, say night and let them know their will be a consequence if they leave their room one more time.

If the warning works then great but more than likely, it won't and they will test the boundary.

When they leave their room again with all sorts of excuses, they need a drink, they need a wee, they need a cuddle, they are hungry or they need to tell you something.. this is now the time to implement that consequence.

I know you are now thinking 'What is the consequence?'. I have a lot of parents say they know they need to instill boundaries and discipline but they do not want to upset their child.

I am totally empathetic to this reasoning but the whole point of a consequence is that it is something in which the child does not want to happen again. It will not dissuade unwanted behaviour if it was not.

I recently spoke to a mum who punished her toddler by putting him in “Time-out” for five minutes. However, time out was actually spent on mummy's knee as she rubbed his back and sang to him. This will never stop a child from repeating undesirable behaviour!

They key here is to find a balance between something that your Little Darling doesn’t mind and something that really makes them go into a head spin. We are not looking to traumatise them but we are looking for the consequence to be enough to dissuade the behavior.

Each child is different and the consequences that work do vary for every child. However, there is one simple but effective consequence that seems to work for almost every child...


Yes, that simple thing REALLY works. Close the bedroom door.

Having the bedroom door fully closed is something that they seem to dislike very much. The great thing is that you don't need to do it for very long. I would recommend a minute for the first offence and then I would add 30 seconds each time they leave the room.

As I mentioned, this will be a consequence which your child will not like and honestly, that is the point. If they get upset, then you will have to carry on. If your child tries to open the door, you will need to hold it shut. If they go into meltdown, then let them but the very last thing which you do is give in. If you do give in then all you have taught them is that if they pitch a fit, they will get their own way. That is going to make this situation a lot worse.

If your child already sleeps with the door closed and it does not bother them, you can try taking away their teddy, blanket and use the same technique time wise as closing the door. The first offence it is a minute and 30 seconds are added for each other occasion where they leave their room.

Now we have covered night time, what about the morning?

We have all had an early morning visit from our children and to be honest, for the most part, we can not blame them as they usually just do not know that it is not time to get up yet.

This is where I absolutely love OK-To-Wake clocks. They will shine a soft light that is one color through the night, and another when it’s time to get up. A note here would be to avoid blue lights at all costs as it simulates sunlight, which can stimulate cortisol production and make it hard to get back to sleep.

These are just a few options and they may not work with every child. You absolutely have to stick to your guns once you’ve given the warning.

Be patient, be calm, but be firm and predictable. Once they realise that you are not giving in, you’ll be free to break out the snacks and Netflix!


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