Somebody Give Me the Magic Solution To Keep Kids in Bed for the Night


(Door Knob Opens)

“I need to go potty.”

(Back to Bed Tactics)

(Door Opens)

“My toe hurts.”

(Reluctant Back to Bed Tactics)

(Door Opens)

“I need a drink of water.”

Minutes Pass and I Think All Is FINALLY quiet for the night…

(Door Opens)

“I need my yellow dog.”

(Desperate Back to Bed Tactics)

(Door Opens)

“I need a drink.”

“There’s thunder in my room.”

I need something.”

I need a hug.”


(Minutes often turn into hours)

Yesterday I tweeted and FBed for ideas on how you keep your kid(s) in their bed. Some of them we’ve tried and others I’m willing to give a shot at.

Having Potty Trained Boys Has Wreaked Havoc On Our Bedtime Routine. We’ve tried SO MANY things and nothing is motivating 2 of our boys to stay in their beds at bedtime. Not even my teary pleas. Once they are asleep they stay in their beds, but our nights keep getting later and later. And we are getting weary.

The later their bedtimes get, the later we find ourselves going to bed – because we crave a little “down time”, and time to finish end of the day tasks.

We aren’t alone in this right?  I’m turning to you for a dose of encouragement, creative suggestions, and just your support. 

(I know in the grand scheme of things this has little value and it’s turned into more of a whine session than I intended.  Forgive me for that, and see me through this trying stage, could you please?)

I’ll compile a list of suggestions and maybe if we ALL put our brains together we can come up with the magic cure to keeping your kids in bed for the night. We’ll patent it, write books, go on tour, make T-shirts, make up a DVD series…

Think of all the frustration we’ll save parents for generations to come!


37 thoughts on "Somebody Give Me the Magic Solution To Keep Kids in Bed for the Night"

  1. Christina says:

    Your not gonna like my answer but our solution is time. My big kids dont get out of bed after they are sent to bed.

    My little ones well the twins can't get out of bed YET! But my 3 year old is why I am also camped out in my halway with my laptop corded to my non wifi modem. She will fall asleep at some point.

    I allow a potty trip but I don't allow more drinks, and as the I needs keep happening I am forced to take something in return, Oh you need that nope sorry but Mommy sure could use Monkey tonight! Tonight she fell asleep sans eveything but her blankey. When she does do a potty trip I don't talk to her and then quickly return her to bed without any words even if she is talking to me.

    It is getting better but it will take some time. We did have this down before potty training, and the subsuqent move from Big sister's room to twins and 3 year old sharring.

  2. Eos Mom says:

    I've not had this problem yet, but I remember reading this idea somewhere and filing it away for when I will inevitably need it. Give each boy one (or more) get-out-of-bed pass(es). Each time he gets out of bed, he has to turn in the pass until he's all out and he's not allowed to get out any more that night. (For example, you start by giving each boy two passes and then when they get the idea move down to one pass.) They should start to get the idea that they better hold on to that last card for emergencies (like a real need to pee) and not for all the other nonsense. Good luck, I hope you get lots of good ideas and find one that works for you!

  3. Jamie says:

    We have 2 and a half year old twins and a 4 year old who have the same issue right now! What works for us is:

    We put up a potty in their bedroom, sippys of water next to the beds, and then 2 saftey gates backwards so they can see out, but not get out. We still have their montiors in their room so we can hear any real needs. I don't feel the twins have enough self control to stay in their bedrooms right now but I don't like their door closed either.

    The 4 year old has a Ticket. If he gets out of bed for anything other than potty, he brings us the ticket. Once the ticket is used, he cannot get out again (except for potty). If he does, we remind him that her already used his ticket for the night and decline his "excuse". He usually uses the ticket within the first ten minutes-which is great because we are still putting bedtime things away and he feels like he has more control of his bedtime.

    My friend lets her kids read books in bed until they fall asleep. Hope this helps?

  4. Danielle says:

    an idea I got from STeeces Pieces – 1st offense, they lose their favorite toy. 2nd offense they lose their pillow 3rd offense they lose their blanket 4th offense they have to go sleep in a pod (their travel beds…) or a different room w/ no brotherly companions?

    Hope that helps! My kids have never had that problem… I don't know why.. they seem glued to their beds once it's lights out… must be a miracle! (:

  5. Heather says:

    I'm not sure how this would work with more than one kid in a room, but we ended up putting swing gates in our kids doorways. Our middle child actually spent many an early evening sleeping on the floor on front of the gate, but after determining that her nighttime antics were nothing but stall tactics, it became an issue of us not wanting her to have access to the whole house as a method of staying awake.

    Out oldest child was much more logical. We could give him 3 pennies for his nightstand and tell him he had to gce us one each time he got up. Whatever he had leftover the next morning went into his piggybank.

  6. Mamma Sol says:

    My girls aren't potty trained yet, but they are experts at stalling at bed time. We are in the process of reducing their nap time – from two hours slowly to one hour – and we are also getting up at the crack of dawn. All in order for them to be too sleepy to come up with "I need you to hold my hand while I choose with book to look in" and "I think I'm still hungry" and all the other shenanigans they are up to at night.

    And sometimes, say if they come out more than twice, we "complain it out". By that I mean that we are "deaf" to their pleas for five minutes at a time, much like cry it out but with less of the desperate wailing of babies. This sometimes requires the door to be locked or jammed in some way, so that they spend those five minutes in the bedroom rather than the living room… I don't like that part… But it sure is effective.

  7. Looks like you haven't slept all night!


    I had to put a gate on the doorway of my twins rooms so they would stay put. It was a hard week, full of crying and then falling asleep by the gate, but they eventually got it.:) Praying for you. I tend to be a little unpleasant when I dont get my sleep.:)

  9. Emily H says:

    I don't have any fabulous suggestions, but I just wanted to say hang in there!!! I'm sure it will get better, but I'm also sure it's very frustrating (and tiring!!) now! But your boys sure are adorable, even when they are using all those excuses! 🙂

    We need to meet up soon!

  10. Aimee says:

    Jen–we went through this when we moved my twins into their 'big girl beds.' The trick wasn't to get them to stay in their rooms, we wanted them to stay in bed. We convinced them it didn't matter if they weren't tired, they could read to their animals or something, but they had to be quiet (no screaming). The bedtime routine started earlier, we let them pick a book, an animal, any last requests? Teeth brushed–tiny drink of water each–then off to bed-nothing else until morning. If they made a lot of noise or got out of bed "their big kid" toys had to come out, since babies weren't allowed anything in their beds. We did a sticker chart for a while and if they got a sticker in the morning for being good at bedime, 10 or something meant a special adventure with mommy or daddy or grandma ALONE. Good luck!

  11. The Leonard Four says:

    i have found that positive reinforcement has worked really well with my girls during nap/bedtime. have you tried a "stayed in my bed like a big boy" sticker chart? maybe start small with 5 days and a small reward too – like a trip to the grocery store to pick out some candy for a special dessert OR a trip to the ice cream shop! 🙂 hope this helps!

  12. Nicole says:

    I never had this problem but my sister had her kids always appearing at the door even aged ten!
    I do not really know why…
    But I can just think of what I was told about them wanting a contact with you what ever..; sweet or cross…
    So the best way is: not a word, try to avoid eye contact, make of this moment something they will not enjoy, very neutral.
    Make it very clear before you turn of rhe light then you get into the, how can I explain, no "feelings" no"words" a kind of robot..
    I did that with the daughter who was wetting her bed. I changed her without a word, even showered her etc… keeping completely neutral, mouth closed…
    It worked!!
    If you don't understand I can try again an explanation!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Stop communicating with them when they get out of bed. They are looking for your attention and for you to engage with them, and when they realize that getting out of bed won't get your attention, they will stop. Go potty and get one last drink, then into bed and that's it. First time out of bed, say, "It's bedtime". The next time they get out, walk them back and say nothing. Keep walking them back and saying nothing until they stay in bed. The first night of this might be tough (and you'll have to be strong enough to ignore their pleas, but it's for their own good). After a few days they will know that getting out of bed isn't getting your attention, and will stay in bed. Good luck.

  14. We used two ideas. First it was tickets (we used the big toungue depressors from the doc – you can decorate them fun so they don't like to give them up as easily). We gave them two tickets to use for anything they wanted. After that it was toys taken away – then door closed for a few min. They could trade them in for a prize in the morning if they had any left over.
    Next was a bedtime train. Each night they went to bed well a new train car would appear on their wall after they were asleep. We just drew a new one on paper each night. They loved waking up to see a new train car – it took awhile – the train was pretty long but eventually they didn't need it anymore.
    To everything there is a season 🙂

  15. Anonymous says:

    For our almost four year old triplets it seemed that the stage you are at they were also needing less sleep. I felt like the need for less sleep contributed to the difficulty of going to bed. They just had more energy to get out. So I started experimenting with skipping naps so they would be good and tired for bed time. At the moment with all the exhausting summer activities we are taking naps again and going to bed later. But we still go to bed at a reasonable time, 8:30. And then if they are quiet and stay in bed they can have the light on and read books until 9:00. But as soon as they get out of bed or start playing the lights go out and they have to stay in bed. Anyone that gets out of bed (this may seem mean but it works) has to sleep in a pac-n-play in our room. Then when we go to bed we move them back.
    Good luck.
    Stacey McCastlain

  16. Hestermania! says:

    we've had the same problem with our 3 1/2 year old since she started climbing out of her crib. she used to go to sleep at 7:30 EVERY NIGHT (just like her little brother still does – he doesn't climb out yet!), but now it's more like 9:30 or 10 before the excuses are over and she's finally asleep. instead of fighting her all evening, we've finally started letting her stay up with us later. she's a great evening companion, but just like you said, my husband and i need our quiet, unwind evening time – especially since we were so used to having it for so many years! looking forward to all the suggestions you get – maybe something will work for us, too!

  17. Blair says:

    I am glad I am not the only one who used the "take away toy" tactic. And it really works! We used it on our oldest (age 4). The only thing we didn’t take a toy away for was bathroom trips, BUT she had to actually go. If she claimed to need to potty and nothing came out, then a toy was taken. I kept the toys hidden from her until she had 3 nights in a row where she didn't come out of her room. Took her a while to catch on, but once she had about 10 toys missing, she started staying in her room.

    Now, if I could just figure out how to end her middle of the night trips where she climbs into our bed!

  18. Alexia says:

    There is alot of success with the stop communicating idea the Annonymous posted and the passes.

    However, with four boys, the stop communicating could wear you out quick.

    Here's what I did when I worked in the preschool room at a daycare: I got everyone in their beds, turned the lights out and turned on classical music (that stuff is boring for little ones LOL) then I would sit down and just wait for someone to get off of their mat (I would normally bring a book in a something). Every time a kid got off the mat I would just walk over, put them back on their mat and go sit back down. Never said a word. After about ten minutes of me returning them to their cots, they'd fall asleep out of sheer boredom and I would be free to do other stuff with no interruptions!

    It's kind of a modified version of the no communicating method above. But I found that actually being in the room kept them from chattering and keeping themselves up longer. And I didn't get worked up about running back and forth 50 million times.

  19. Anonymous says:

    If you can, I say split them up and put two in one room and the other two in another room. Do not necessarily put the two identicals in the same room. Give them their last drink around 1/2 hr before bed then no more. Make sure that you have your normal cool down with a story and remind them that after when its time for bed that they will not be allowed to get anything else or come out of bed. I agree with the taking away of a favorite toy or pillow. You might want to also take away something the next day if they did not do good the night before. If they try to barter for you to take away a different thing, then you know that you are taking away the right thing. Good luck

  20. Emily says:

    You are SO not alone! We have a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old. The 3 year old is very strong-willed and curious, so once she was out of the crib, all bets were off! After many nights of her not going to sleep for at least an hour past her bedtime, we realized that she just wasn't tired. SO not what we wanted to do, but we started decreasing her naps and transitioning her to "rest time" instead. I was sure she would nap until she was 5 (and she would, if we let her). On days when she does nap, it takes her hours to go to sleep. On days that she "rests", she is out in less than 3 minutes :o) Just our experience…hope it helps!

  21. Anonymous says:

    I have a 3 1/2 year old as well and I finally decided a couple of weeks ago that I am taking bedtime back..meaning when she gets in bed she stays in bed no matter what. I lay out my expectations every night. I tell her she is to give hugs and kisses, potty, and get whatever she needs before bed and if she doesn't do this and she gets up she will get a spanking for choosing not to listen and obey before bed. It is working! And I'm free by 8:30 to have downtime with hubby.

  22. carter says:

    The best idea I've heard has been a friend who puts her son's nightlight on a timer and he isn't allowed to get out of bed until the light turns off. peace.

  23. HoundDogMom says:

    QuatroMama, I currently don't have toddlers and it has been 29 years since my son was little. So, I don't have any good suggestions for you but thought I would offer a "funny" idea for you. DUCT TAPE. 🙂 Just kidding. 🙂 I have seen on that Nanny show where she just keeps marching them back in there without giving them anything. But I liked the idea of taking away a favorite thing. Sherri

  24. Amanda says:

    When my oldest was three and went to his big boy room and bed, I did a sticker chart. If he stayed in his room/bed the night before he got to put a sticker on his chart. If he got 3 in a row, he got an ice cream cone (or something like that), then it went to 5 days in a row, 10 days, then if he did it for 30 days in a row he got a real big special treat (an outing with mommy alone, an ice cream 'date', something like that). It worked like a charm for him and we haven't needed a chart since that first one! Good luck! I know it's tiring…you NEED that down time at night.

  25. Sara says:

    This has nothing to do with keeping the kids in bed although I will just say that you will get through it, it won't be long and this too will pass. (We have a 12,11,7,5 and 1 year old and a full term baby in heaven)

    You are doing great… just keep persevering!

    But I do want to say to get back to the keeping it real rewinds… I love them. I understand the difficulty in writing about certain things, our 5th child was stillborn. As hard as it is to go there sometimes, or think through the details of all we went through… it encourages me all the more to see what the Lord hasbrought us through… I know you are encouraging others too:)


  26. I didn't read all the suggestions but I saw you got some really GOOD ones. I love the taking something in exchange for an "I want" or "I need". I can tell you what we had to do with our special needs son. His body clock switched to teenager mode when he was around 18 months old. Meaning he would stay awake in his crib until midnight, 1am… at the age of 3 we were exhausted because of course he was constantly out of bed wanting something. We took him to the Sleep Institute to make sure something wasn't wrong. Nothing was. But the specialist there said his brainwave activity was the same as a 16 year old in that he didn't settle in and get tired enough to sleep until around midnight or later, then stayed in sleep mode until late morning.

    We had to retrain him for sleep and it was not fun. We had to keep him UP (dressed, up and active) until 11pm, and wake him up at 6 am. We couldn't allow him to nap. THIS was hard because he would just crash and then we couldn't wake him up; he slept too deeply. It took several months. We began with 11-6, then went down to 10-6, worked it down to 10-7, then 9-7. That was okay for a while. He's 9 now and still tends to stay awake late but will go to bed and usually stay there if he goes between 9-9:30. He alternates between awful early mornings (5am? Ugh) and late sleeping. He'll sleep until 10 if left to himself.

    Someone else said TIME and that is what you need. And patience. And like someone else said, we didn't speak to him after bedtime. He was allowed to go to the bathroom, but no liquids, no snacks, no asking questions or showing us things or anything else. If he showed up in our room at 2am, I would immediately take him straight back to his bed without talking. It just takes time.

  27. mom2one says:

    My child wouldn't wake us up but would go to the couch so we told him if he stayed in his bed all night we would give him a nickel,I realize this would get expensive with quads but maybe a special treat or something,we don't even give our son the nickel now,right now he has a book that he calls his stay in bed all night book. I hope you find something that works and no you are not alone in this.

  28. Kaylee says:

    We are firm and simply do not allow our kids out of bed once they are tucked in. We leave small sippy cups of water at their bedside and make sure they are taken to the toilet right before bed.
    Try being firm, and not entertaining the 'excuses' and you will see they will stay in bed as they should. Develop good habits early and they will become routine.
    Good luck!

  29. Anonymous says:

    Skip their daytime naps.
    Do more active stuff with them during day instead of keeping them cooped up in house.

  30. FireMom says:

    Our youngest son is newly potty trained so he has the "I HAVE TO PEE" excuse 3498596 times in a row. The only things that have worked are:

    1. Talk about something fun tomorrow. "LB, remember, we're going to the ____ tomorrow and so you need to stay in bed so you have energy and we'll have fun tomorrow!"

    2. Exhaust the snot out of them. LOL. It sounds obvious but on the days that we're outside until snack/bath/bedtime, running them around the yard with full intent of creating tired boys, they don't get up. This was not a workable idea in the winter but now that it's warm again, oh, we're doing it. And it works on the days that we can do it!

    Best of luck finding what works for you. But remember, you're really not alone. We've all dealt with this at one time or another. I hope you settle into a normal bedtime routine again soon!

  31. I don't know that I have any advice for you – just wanted to say that we went through something similar with my 4-year-old a couple of years ago. She simply would not stay in her bed. We ended up putting a baby gate up in her doorway to at least keep her in her room, and for months she would sleep on the floor just inside her doorway, right by the gate. She'd set up her own little 'bed' right there and everything. We finally just had to take the gate away but it was a long time before she would consistently stay in her bed all night.

    What made the difference for her – was in January when she turned four. I told her very specifically and firmly that "4-year-olds sleep in their own beds all night" and she believed me. She still will sneak into our bed once in a while – but it's only once in a while now.

    Good luck – and I hope you can find something that works with your boys!!

  32. Mamma Sol says:

    I was wondering whether you are following the "No time for Flashcards" Summer Reading Challenge?

    I decided to give it a go, and it would be fun to hear what books you prefer to read to Henry and Isaac and Brooks and Clark 🙂

    I am new to that blog, you may not be, but here is the link if you are interested:

    I wrote a post about my own reading, sadly in Norwegian, but with pictures, and book titles in English 🙂 If you want, take a look:

  33. Anonymous says:

    I've ALWAYS thought you should write a book!!!! This might be the perfect way to go about it =) you have the BEST writing skills and photography!! You would SERIOUSLY make a killn' if you wrote one!! I'd buy one for sure!!Awww YES you've GOT to write one!! Sioby

  34. Rick says:

    The Sleep Fairy has always visited our house. My kids were tiny (my oldest three were about 4, 3, and 2) and not going to bed at night. I realized that they always slept better when they were waiting for Santa Clause or the Leprechauns… and came up with the idea for the Sleep Fairy. It worked like a charm!

    The Sleep Fairy is a delightful little creature with the magic ability to keep small children in their beds at night. She visited us frequently when our older children were smaller.

    Every night I'd remind the kids that the Sleep Fairy was waiting to come visit them. If they went right to sleep, they would wake up to a reward left by the Sleep Fairy. Sometimes she left a small toy or a book to share or even a piece of candy for each child. If she was unprepared, she would leave a note entitling the kids to a park trip or a library visit or an extra dessert. The kids never knew exactly what she would leave and this always motivated them to stay in bed at night. Ultimately, the Sleep Fairy was the only "bedtime tactic" that had long-lasting results.

    Before long, the kids knew what was expected of them at bedtime and they were in the habit of going to sleep at night without talking and playing. Once the kids were well-trained and good habits had been fully established at bedtime, the Sleep Fairy started visiting less often. But she'd come back whenever the kids needed a refesher course in how to behave at bedtime. (Remember: bribing is offering a treat in order to STOP a bad behavior that is occuring right then. Rewarding- much different- is offering a treat in order to encourage and motivate good behavior.)

    We recently had cousins (ages 5, 3, and 1) stay with us for a week. The first night, the kids were bouncing every where and playing for hours after bedtime. Then the Sleep Fairy visited us and for the rest of the week, all 9 kids went to sleep immediately each night without any talking or playing or noise.

    I highly recommend a few visits from the Sleep Fairy! She can really help in the process of establishing good bedtime habits! Good luck!!

    Melissa 🙂

  35. Lindsay says:

    We had a horrible time with jack. It finally came down to tough love….for him and I. I put a gate up on his room and then just let him cry at it. he wasn't a climber so he didn't climb over it and it really honestly kept me out of there too because at 2am I don't want to climb over a gate and i'd probably fall anyway. eventually they know that you won't come and get them and either crawl back in their bed or fall asleep on the floor next to the gate. With 4 in 1 room might be a little bit more challenging. i allow 1 potty break and no drinks after its quiet time.

    probably not much help but thought i'd share what we did.

  36. Jessica says:

    Get a "treasure chest" AND FILL with toys and treats from Dollar store. The kids can help you decorate it with stickers on outside..we used a rubbermaid container shaped like a treasure chest.
    The boys who stay in bed all night can choose a surprise from treasure chest in the morning. "peer" pressure will work on them and they will not want to miss out on selecting a surprise for themselves the next morning. Good luck!

    PS I would love for you to do a post about packing/traveling with multiples..pretty please! You seem soooo organized with the packing, so please..details !!!!

  37. I just scanned through all the suggestions. You have great readers!

    I have always used the "walk them directly back to bed with no conversation" at this age. It has taken some time, but if you are firm and consistent, they will get the message that they aren't getting your attention by getting out of bed.

    One other little thing that works for me during that process is talking about it during the day. Your boys are big enough to understand if you discuss it during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Encourage them with how proud Mommy and Daddy will be when they stay in bed…. then we will be able to do X, Y, or Z. I'm sure with multiples, you could make it a little competitive with, "Brooks stayed in bed last night! We are so proud of you buddy! Here's a treat for being such a big boy."

    Men are competitive from birth.

    Good luck and I can't wait to read the complete list.

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