Calling out and getting out of bed are two common child and toddler sleep issues. A nightly routine - and a bit of persistence on your part - can help cut down on these bedtime challenges.
Why children call out and get up
From around nine months, children can begin to develop separation anxiety, so they might want to keep you with them at bedtime. Calling out and getting up can be a way of keeping you around at bedtime.
Spending a little more time together with you before lights out might help children whose bedtime issues are caused by separation or other kinds of anxiety. Most children with sleep and settling issues are likely to benefit from the bedtime strategies described below.
If bedtime struggles suddenly appear following a significant change or loss in your child’s life, it might be a sign your child is experiencing some stress or anxiety. In this instance, you need to work on relieving the stress in your child’s life.
It might be helpful to speak to a professional if your child seems very afraid or anxious about night-time or separating from you.
Setting up a bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is the most important part of helping young children go to bed and settle. A basic routine involves:
- doing the same soothing things each night before bed
- avoiding loud or boisterous play before bedtime
- avoiding screen-based activity - watching TV, playing computer games or using tablets and other handheld devices.
Think about timing
When you start your bedtime routine is important.
If your child is taking a long time to fall asleep, you might be putting your child to bed too early. Try making bedtime later so that your child is sleepier going into bed. This way you increase your chance of success in helping your child settle for sleep.
Once your child is falling asleep regularly at a later time, you can bring it forward slowly. Move your child’s bedtime forward by 5-10 minutes each week until you get to the bedtime you want.
Do a quick check before lights out
Before turning out the light, check that your child has done all the things that might cause calling out later. Has your child had a drink? Been to the toilet? Brushed teeth?
Turn on a night-light if this makes your child feel more comfortable.
Remind your child of what you expect
Before you leave the bedroom, you can say that you want your child to stay quietly in bed – for example, “It’s time to rest quietly in bed”. Explain that you won’t be answering if your child calls out.
Next you can say “Goodnight” or “I love you, sleep tight” (or whatever you usually say when your child goes to bed). And then walk out of the bedroom.
If your child calls out
Do not respond
This is hard, but it’s important to ignore all further requests for attention.
Your child might come up with all sorts of reasons you should come in. But if you want this technique to work, you’ll have to stay firm and not respond to requests for things they don’t need, like an extra drink of water, an extra bedtime story, an extra kiss, straightening blankets or tucking in.
Did you know?
If you respond because your child gets louder or more demanding, your child will learn that protesting long enough and loudly enough will get your attention. In future, your child will be more likely to keep protesting until you come.
Try a “Free Pass”
A strategy that might work with children over three years is the “Free Pass”:
- At bedtime, give your child a pass that’s good for one acceptable request, such as a drink of water or a kiss from mom or dad.
- Agree with your child that after the pass is used, your child must give it to you. You won’t respond to any more requests or calling out.
If your child gets out of bed
- Say once, “Dominique, do not come out again. Please stay in your bed”.
- Return your child immediately, gently and calmly to bed. Don’t talk, make eye contact or reprimand your child in any way. Do this as many times as it takes until your child stays in bed.
- It might take many returns before your child stays in bed. If you use this option, you’ll have to be very patient and persistent.
The next morning
Praise your child for being quiet
If your child goes to sleep without calling out, make a point of giving praise or rewards the next morning for staying quietly in bed. You might consider celebrating with a special breakfast surprise or a phone call to a special person.
If your child is three or older, you could try a reward chart to encourage the bedtime behaviour you want.
Don’t mention it if there was calling out
Try to start the next day in a positive way even if your child called out the night before.
Tip: If you’re concerned about your child’s sleep for any reason, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor or public health nurse.
© Raising Children Network Limited, reproduced with permission.
Resources & Links:
Health Link BC: Sleep: Helping Your Children - and Yourself - Sleep Well