The problem of getting your child to stay in bed once put to bed is worthy of examination. Initially, it seems this type of behavior problem has to do with nothing other than staying in bed. You tuck her into bed. You then turn out the light and leave the room. You are no longer available for direct supervision. Were you there, your child would stay in bed, in all probability. Since you have left, she experiments with the possibility she can misbehave while you are not there to observe. Similar situations develop as your child gets older. She is left with your baby-sitter and tests whether or not good behavior is necessary while you are not there to supervise. Your child plays at the neighbor’s house and the same problem may come up. As your preschooler becomes a grade schooler, she goes off to school and is involved in other activities away from home. Is good behavior necessary even if you are not there to directly supervise? Getting your toddler to stay in bed is the first step of a very complex learning process.
It is necessary for your toddler to learn to stay in bed when sent to bed, for there are lifelong implications of needing to mind when not directly supervised. The first step is to put your toddler in bed only when you really want her to stay there. If it does not matter, then do not insist she go to bed, for she very likely just gets up and comes back to where you are. Do not tell your children to do something if you do not mean it.
Let’s look at a typical situation. Your toddler becomes somewhat tired or you have decided it is bedtime. You send him to his room and tell him to lie down and nap. A few minutes later, he comes back to the room where you are or you discover he is on the floor playing with his toys. What to do? First, firmly tell him you told him to take a nap and you expect him to do so. Next, pick him up, put him in bed, and restate you want him to stay there. Repeat this two or three times, if necessary. Even if you repeat this several times, do not take it lightly and communicate clearly you are displeased and this is definitely not a game. Firm disapproval, obvious annoyance, and repeated insistence normally leads to his finally settling down and taking a nap.
“It is not worth the hassle,” you may say. And on any given occasion, this may be true. But the one occasion is not the issue. Your child must learn to mind and to behave reasonably well, whether you are present or not. Discipline is always for the sake of the future.
What about reports of misbehavior from baby-sitters, neighbors, teachers? Well, the old wisdom misbehaving away from home gets you into trouble when you get home still applies. This gives emphasis to the reality your children must behave reasonably and acceptably whether or not you are present. your rules and expectations go with them wherever they are.