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The Best Ways to Help Your Jack-in-the-Box Sleeper Stay in Bed

“Goodnight,” you whisper. “I love you.”

Then it’s five quiet steps to your daughter’s bedroom door and six more to the living room.

You collapse on the couch and take a deep breath.

Another day down. It’s time to relax.

And then you hear her.

Her feet hit the ground by her bed and take the same five steps to the door only at a much faster pace.

The door swings open.

“BUT I DON’T WANT TO GO TO BED!”

The Problem with Jack-in-the-Box Sleepers

I’m not the only one who remembers those classic Jack-in-the-Box toys, am I?

You wind and wind until, POP. The clown pops out and then you replace him back in his box.

Wind. Pop. Replace.

You’ve got a jack-in-the-box sleeper on your hands if your bedtime routine includes a similar pattern of kid out of bed and kid back in bed over and over and over again.

We had one of these sleepers. It was not unusual for us to spend over an hour trying to get our oldest to stay in her bed. We found this to be especially problematic for a variety of reasons:

  1. By the time she actually did fall asleep, she was missing her bedtime by at least an hour.
  2. She was testing the limits of what she could get away with, and in those moments when we couldn’t get her to stay in her bed, it felt like she was winning.
  3. We were ready for a break at the end of our day, so our patience was far thinner than usual.

But here we are on the other side.

And because we tried, very literally, all the things, I have a some tips that will help you teach your own jack-in-the-box sleeper to stay in bed.

Stay-in-Bed Tip #1:
Know Your Child

This, I think, is the one of the most important roots of any parenting issue, but when it comes to jack-in-the-box sleepers, you’re going to want to figure out two things.

First, what is the function of his behavior?

In other words, why does he keep getting out of bed?

It’s likely one of two reasons:

  1. Avoidance. Is he afraid to go to sleep or worried he’s going to be missing out on something while he’s in bed?
  2. Attention seeking. Is he creating a scene to get some one-on-one time with you? Is there an outside factor that has taken away some of the  attention he normally gets? (i.e. a new baby or a new job)?

It’s important that you get the heart to the function of the behavior because a child who’s afraid needs a much different response than a child who is feeling overlooked.

But how do I figure out the function of his behavior?!

Good question.

You pay attention.

Ask questions. Talk throughout the day. Observe his behavior during the hour leading up to bedtime. What does he want?

  • If it’s an issue of fear or avoidance, talk through those worries throughout the day. Put plans in place to help him feel more comfortable in his bed. With our daughter, leaving her door open a crack was a small change that made a big difference.
  • If it’s an attention issue, figure out exactly what they’re looking for or what they need and then make a point to give them that attention at some other time throughout the day. I realized that my daughter had no one-on-one time with me except at bedtime, so I rearranged our schedule a little, so I could meet that need earlier.

In addition to knowing the reason why he won’t stay in bed, you’re also going to need to know what kind of corrective techniques work best for him (this book was super helpful for me as I have thought through this with my own kids).

  • Does he respond well to incentives? Consequences? Loss of privilege?
  • Does positive, verbal reinforcement help you teach him to change behaviors?
  • What triggers negative behaviors (think through those temper tantrums you see during the day)?
  • When is he most responsive to conversations about how his behavior needs to change?

You won’t see changes in your jack-in-the-box sleeper unless you first take the time to get to the heart of the issue as well as understand how he’ll best respond to correction.

Stay-in-Bed Tip #2:
Put Consistent Bedtime Routines in Place

One of the best things you can do to help your child stay in bed at bedtime happens well before bedtime.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), establishing a bedtime routine with your child will ensure she gets adequate sleep each night. Additionally, it will help cue your child that bedtime is coming. Start winding down before you officially need them “wound down.”

The AAP recommends a simple Brush, Book, Bed approach:

  • Once she’s in her pajamas, help her brush her teeth.
  • Read a favorite book or two. (Keep this number consistent and you will avoid unnecessary power struggles each night.)
  • Go to bed at a regular time every night.

Your routine, of course, might look a little different because the needs of your kids are different. Maybe your routine involves some lavender lotion, a seahorse that sings lullabies, or a snuggle together in your rocking chair.

One thing it shouldn’t include? Technology. The AAP suggests you turn off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime.

Whatever your routine includes, the key is consistency.

Make sure your jack-in-the-box sleeper knows that you do bedtime the same way every. single. night.

This will help you in the long run

Stay-in-Bed Tip #3:
Dig into Your Toolkit

You’ve put all the preemptive measures in place. You know your child and have worked to put consistent bedtime routines in place each night.

And yet, you still might have a kid who just won’t stay in bed.

So, take what you know about your child and what kinds of correction they respond best to.

And dig into your toolkit of options to help you correct this behavior.

A Bedtime Pass

Kid are smart and learn pretty fast that one of the ways they can stay out of bed is by asking for all the stuff available to them.

  • I need a drink!
  • I have to go to the bathroom!
  • My pajamas are too itchy!
  • My blanket isn’t cold enough!

Enter the Bedtime Pass. Your kid gets one free out. And if they squander their bedtime pass on something they didn’t really need? Tough luck.

This option comes with its own book, but if you’re like me you could just use the construction paper and laminating sheets you keep around the house for special occasions. 😉

Positive Reinforcement

Maybe your child would be motivated to stay in bed if you put some preemptive reinforcements in place.

Sticker charts work well in this instance. What would motivate your child to stay in bed for three days straight?

A trip for some special frozen yogurt? A toy from the dollar store? A special Trolls sponsored dance party in the living room?

Once you start to see progress, here, extend your length of days until, eventually, you have helped form a habit and you can remove the reinforcement altogether.

Make Use of a Consequence

Would your child respond better in this instance if a loss of something was at stake?

  • Maybe the open door is contingent upon your child remaining in bed.
  • Maybe the morning show is only watched if your child shows you she can stay in bed the night before.
  • Maybe the water bottle in bed with her is taken away if she makes a choice to get out of bed.

If consequences are an effective tool for your child in this case, just make sure they cater to their specific needs and make sense. For example, don’t take away a security blanket as a consequence if that is also a means by which she is soothed and calmed.

The Silent Treatment

If your child is attention-seeking, all he wants is for you to engage with him when he gets out of bed over and over again.

So don’t.

  • Meet him at the door.
  • Silently walk him back to bed.
  • Leave.
  • Repeat.

You won’t see results immediately, but hopefully your child will realize that getting out of bed isn’t getting him anything he actually wants and will just stay in bed instead.

Each Jack-in-the-Box is Different and Unique

Every kid is different. Even if they share similar sleep habits.

We finally started to see changes in our own jack-in-the-box sleeper once we put together a nice blend of the silent treatment and some natural consequences. The other options in my toolkit proved ineffective with her.

Don’t be discouraged if someone else sees results with their sleep issues faster than you or finds success with a strategy that is doing nothing to help your own child.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve trudged this road and can attest to it. But if these sleeping struggles persist, don’t worry. Amy and Heather have got your back.

Your Jack-in-the-Box Sleeper CAN Stay in Bed

Let’s revisit that initial scene, shall we?

“Goodnight,” you whisper. “I love you.”

“I don’t want to go to bed,” she whispers back.

“I know. But you know we do this the same way every night. Your body needs rest and so does mom’s. I love you.”

Then it’s five quiet steps to her bedroom door and six more to the living room.

You collapse on the couch and take a deep breath.

Another day down. It’s time to relax.

For real this time.

Have you found success in helping your child stay in bed each night? What strategies have worked for you?

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