When toddlers won’t stay in their room…

When toddlers won’t stay in their room…

This blog addresses what to do when toddlers won’t stay in their room at bedtime. Once a toddler can figure out how to leave their room it can be all on, and it’s not long before it can turn into a game of “catch me if you can”. From there on in, they leave their room repeatedly. Which to them is a whole lot of fun; but for you it’s the last thing you need after a long day.

Typically toddlers are known to push boundaries; it’s how they learn about the world as they balance their need for growing independence with their need for security. This testing can show up in a number of different ways, but one of the common toddler challenges around sleep is coming out of the bedroom repeatedly. This may happen at bedtime, where you’re spending an hour or more convincing your little one to stay in bed, but then they sleep all night. Or it can show up as frequent visits to your room throughout the night. If this is happening to you, rest assured you’re not the only one with a roving toddler – but it doesn’t have to go on forever. Here are five tips to help stop the game when your toddler won’t stay in their room.

Tip 1: the warning

Tip one is to give a warning; but just one warning.

The one warning, and only one warning, is the important part here. If you’re already giving a warning but it doesn’t work, look at how it’s happening. Often when I hear parents say they’re already doing this, they are, but it’s inconsistent. What I mean by that is that one night it’s correctly one warning, but the next night you might give five or six warnings, then it will be two warnings… and so on. And you also need to watch for the time you’re so over it you then give up on all warnings, before bringing a warning or three back again (that’s totally normal for tired parents by the way).

When there is inconsistency it can often leave a child wondering how many times they can push it tonight. If they can sometimes get away with it they will continue to push those boundaries and test you.

So, it’s important to adopt the only one warning rule. It really can make life a lot easier in the long-run and it does work to keep your toddler in their room. But just the warning itself isn’t enough. You then need to follow through…

Tip 2: the consequence

Tip two is all about the follow-through. If the warning is given and your toddler comes out to visit you again, you need to have a consequence. And it has to be an effective consequence; otherwise it’s just a big-old game.

Losing your temper is typically not an effective consequence (and we all know it makes you feel bad and brings up Mummy guilt). Negative attention is still attention, and toddlers will seek out your attention in any form they can get it. So getting angry, going red in the face and shouting will just perpetuate the game.

So not only do you need an effective consequence, you have to stay calm too (easy right!?). The right consequence will get your toddlers attention and make him take notice. But what can you use as a consequence? This can vary from child to child (and family to family), but one consequence that can work well is the “lock the door” consequence.

Before you panic – no, you’re not going to actually lock the door, because that would be unsafe. But your child doesn’t know that. And you’re not actually going to keep the door shut all that long either. Keep reading to see what I mean…

Tip 3: putting it together consistently

The trick to tips 1 and 2 is putting them together, consistently, so the same thing happens whenever your toddler leaves their room at bedtime. It can go something like this:

You have kisses and cuddles good night, tuck your toddler in and you leave his room, then five minutes later out pops your little toddler visitor.

You take him back to bed with one warning “If you come out again then I will lock the door”.

So then out he comes again. Toddlers are impulsive little things, and chances are he is going to test you to see if you mean what you say.

On this second visit you take him back to his bed and then leave the room and close the door all the way, and hold it closed for one or two minutes. It doesn’t need to be any longer than that. Chances are he won’t like it – which means it is a good consequence.

If he comes out again, then increase the time you hold the door closed by a minute or two. Toddlers tend not to like this behaviour, which is why I mention it. And that’s the trick with nipping another unwanted behaviour (repeatedly leaving the bedroom) in the bud. If he doesn’t want the door closed, and you are consistent with the warning and the consequence, he will learn to stay in his room, simply because he doesn’t like the consequence.

Now, as I said there are different consequences for different children, and it’s important that you find the consequence that sits well for you, and means something to your child. The consequence can start small, but if the unwanted behaviour continues, you can increase the length of time until its effective.

Tip 4: don’t talk too much

This is another common trap parents fall into with toddlers. Parents explain too much. Explaining leads to a whole lot of talk and this in turn can lead to toddler negotiations (they’re going to talk right back to you). Nip this in the bud because this is also attention. If you’ve giving a lot of attention to any of this, you’re encouraging your toddler to keep going; because toddlers love attention.

Tip 5: give it a few days

Tip five is to give it time. If the unwanted behaviour has been going on for a while, then chances are you need to be consistent with the warning and consequence for at least a few days before you see results.

Your child is smart, he knows what you said, you only have to give the warning once and follow through with an effective consequence consistently and he will get it. Yes, it will likely take a few days, and it may get a little worse before it gets better. But if you consistently follow through every single time, the repeated attempts to leave the bedroom will stop.


While a good consequence is an effective way to stop unwanted behaviour, it’s important that there is some positive parental attention going on in your child’s day as well. When working with toddlers I use a multi-dimensional approach, because it’s important to motivate good behaviour, not just parent using consequences. If there’s more going on at bedtime and you’d like a little one-on-one help with sleep, please book in a free initial call or contact me.

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