What to Do When They Won’t Stay in Bed

by | May 1, 2018 | Parenting, Parenting Advice, You Ask, Kendra Answers | 41 comments

It’s been an AGE since we dug something out of the old mailbag. Let’s take a peek, shall we?
The Question:

Hello Kendra, I know you are very busy but I have a few questions from something on your blog. You said the kids can’t get out of bed during nap, how do you enforce this? What age do your children stop taking naps? Is there a recommended consequence post for 3-4 year old boys? My son will not stay in bed not even at night.
Thanks, Heather 

The Answer:
Dear Heather,
My standard rule is that you have to take a nap until you start kindergarten. Frankie, who is my stinkerest kiddo, was required to lay down at naptime for an extra year, because I couldn’t trust him to be up and about when I was napping. Lulu, who is very chill, has been allowed to stay up during naptime for the past couple weeks, even though she’s only four. I determine when to let kids give up naps based pretty much completely on a child’s trustworthiness, rather than sleepiness.
You can’t die on every hill. Not every issue can be worth making a huge stink over. But you get to pick a few, and this one is probably the one toddler issue most important to me. Don’t want to eat food? No skin off my nose. Want to eat dirt? That’s your call. Want to wear a Tigger costume to the grocery store? No problemo. Get out of bed after I’ve put you down? Your world ends.
A three or four-year-old can understand rules and explanations and consequences and following through. So, that’s what we do.
I set the rules: No getting out of bed at naptime until three-zero-zero. No getting out of bed at night time until it is morning and light out.
I explain: You are a growing boy. It’s important for growing boys to get enough rest so their bodies can grow. It’s also important for you to have a rest in your bed, even if you can’t sleep. When you have a rest in the afternoon, it makes you a better-behaved little boy in the evening. You are happier. When you are happier, our family is happier. It’s important for you to stay in bed when you are supposed to stay in bed, because your sleeping time is when mom takes a nap, works on jobs around the house, etc. When you get out of bed, it means I can’t do those things. I can’t relax, if I don’t know you are where you are supposed to be, if I’m worried you might be causing mischief. When mom can’t rest, or can’t finish the things I need to do around the house, it makes me a frustrated mom. And frustrated moms are not as fun for little boys.
I set the consequences: I am putting you to bed now. You’ve gone potty. You’ve had a drink of water. You have your buddy/doll/blanket/whatever. You may not get out of bed until time/morning. If you stay in bed until you are allowed to get up, you’ll get a reward (a snack, a show, to play play dough, to go to the playground, I’d usually just have one reward). If you get up before you are allowed you will get a consequence (no treats, no screens, a spanking, I’d usually do multiple consequences).
Then I follow through: If I was trying to establish this behavior, I’d expect to give it my full attention for 3-10 days depending on where this particular kid falls on the chill-to-stinker continuum. I’d have the talk, reiterate the rules, then I’d put him down, close the door, and make sure to be where I’d see and hear immediately if he gets up. Then I’d give him the immediate consequence, a spanking, and I’d inform him that he’s lost treats and screens for the day (or the next day). As many times as he gets up, he gets the immediate consequence, a spanking, and gets put back in bed, with as little talk as possible. Then after he’s allowed to get up, I’d make a big deal of reminding him of the privileges he’s lost. “No, no shows today. Remember, you got out of bed before wake-up time? I’m sure you’ll do better tomorrow.” “No, we can’t stop for ice cream today. Because you got out of your bed after mommy put you to bed last night. I’m sure you’ll do better tonight.” The more reminders of lost privileges, the better.
If he did NOT get out of bed, there is great rejoicing and awarding of rewards, and reminders of what a very good and grown-up boy he has been.
A note on spankings, because I know people have very strong opinions on this:
If you don’t feel comfortable using spankings, that’s fine by me. We have been comfortable using them with our many kids, the oldest of whom is now nearly sixteen. We have seen only positive effects on the behavior of little kids, and no long-term negative effects of any kind. In our house, we use spankings on the hand for lesser offenses and spankings on the bottom for larger offenses. I use my hand, and not other objects. If I’m especially upset about something, I try to wait until I’ve calmed down to spank.
We use spankings only on kids under the age of reason (usually about 7), except in very extraordinary situations. What I like about a spanking is that it’s an immediate consequence, that doesn’t require time or equipment. Timeouts, chores, loss of privileges, are all excellent consequences, except none of that can be used in the moment when we are at the dinner table, or it’s 11pm and he’s out of bed again. What I want is for my child to to understand that he needs to match his behavior to my words. Chill kids care about your feelings. They don’t want you to be upset, and they don’t want you to be upset with them. That’s sometimes all the motivation they need. I have a couple chill kids who were maybe spanked once or twice, ever. It was for very grave offenses only, and it was very mortifying to them. I’m really careful with my words and my punishments with chill kids, who also tend to be more sensitive.
Stinker kids DO NOT care about what you say or what you feel. They don’t care if you are upset or upset with them. I want my sinker kids to learn that it is in their own best interest to do what I say, because that’s what motivates them. Physical punishment, undertaken in a calm, controlled manner, is a simple and effective way to get that point across. To my mind, it fits with God’s plan for us and our bodies. It’s not good for me to touch a hot stove, or eat a whole pie, so God made it physically uncomfortable for me to do those things. I try it, it hurts, so (hopefully) I learn my lesson and don’t do it again. Narrowly, not getting out of bed, and broadly, listening to what mom says, can be accomplished in the same way. Stinker kids, in my experience, are not particularly mortified by words or punishments. Their spirits are not going to be wounded. Often, they’ll act like they don’t care one bit about not only your feelings, but also the spanking and other punishments. But I’ve found that with my kids, that’s just a stinker kid scam. Not getting a spanking is better than getting a spanking. They know that. And all of my kids have eventually gotten with the program, believed that I meant what I said about staying in bed, and adjusted their behavior accordingly.
(For parents with a personal history of abuse or mental health issues, or anyone who isn’t capable of spanking in a calm, controlled way, physical punishment is probably not the best option. I know there are other parenting philosophies out there with alternate strategies. One of those would probably be a better fit in those circumstances.)
Having little kids who stay in bed makes ALL the difference for the physical and emotional well-being of our family. It means my kids are well-rested and I’m well-rested. It means I’m able to accomplish things I need to get done while kids are sleeping and so can be present for them when they are awake. It’s a goal worth effort and sacrifice to achieve, IMHO.
Good luck, mama! Let me know if this didn’t cover all your questions.
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Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.
If you’ve got a question, please send it along to helpdesk@catholicallyear.com. Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.
p.s. Happy May! This month we like to honor Mary by crowning her as the Queen of our Home, to make this even easier for you we have a May Crowning Cut and Glue Activity and a May Crowning Kit in the CAY Marketplace to get you started with your own May Crowning! 💙 👑


  1. Jen

    I was realllllly excited to see this post because my stinker kid will not stay in bed overnight. But he's 22 months. Got any suggestions for kids a little younger? My older 2 boys were not like this and we are at a loss! He's our most stubborn child…and I'm so tired.

    • Kendra

      We keep our kids in a crib until about two and a half, which is usually when I want the crib for the next baby. By that point my kids have all been able to respond to this method. It might work for you now.

    • kjesko

      Can he climb out of a crib or pack-and-play? Personally, I have kept my kids confined for bed once they weren't nursing at night until they figured out how to climb out and were old enough to understand the expectation and consequences of staying in bed at bedtime/naptime.

    • Jen

      He kept climbing out of the crib, even when we moved the mattress all the way to the floor. He's like a Houdini baby. So we took down the crib to prevent injuries…but he's still getting out of bed all of the time. He doesn't understand consequences or rewards yet, which is why we're at a loss. But maybe we need to just try this and see if it clicks!

    • C.

      My oldest was climbing out of her crib at just over 18 months. We basically emptied out her room of anything she could wreck or injure herself with, put a mattress on the floor, and put one of those door knob covers on the inside of her door. She was already an independent sleeper so she basically fell asleep in her bed or on her floor and that was good enough for us. My second daughter was out of her crib closer to 2 but was good with the door knob covers already so she's been trickier but we have basically done a combination of the OK to Wake clock, making sure she has no real needs that she can't meet herself (potty in her room, water bottle, etc.) and then just taking her back enough times in a row that she gives up because she knows it won't work. It's tough with the young ones– at least the ones that wouldn't stay in a crib!

    • Mama Needs Sweet Tea

      We are battling this with our 3rd now. She just turned 2, but was repeatedly climbing out of the crib so she's in a bed. It's difficult to keep her in bed. We didn't have this trouble with either of the others. It's a work in progress, and we're looking into ways to keep her in her room, if not bed. At least I'll know she's not wandering the house getting into mischief. This is a good reminder to devote a few days to being on top of it and applying consequences right away, EVERY time.

    • Jen

      We thought of putting the doorknob cover but our 3 boys share a room and he just screams bloody murder if he can't get out 🙁 I should try that clock though…I just wish he understood!

  2. kjesko

    "Don't want to eat food? No skin off my nose. Want to eat dirt? That's your call. Want to wear a Tigger costume to the grocery store? No problemo. Get out of bed after I've put you down? Your world ends." This is my exact parenting philosophy! I have lots of friends and family members who ask me how I get all my (5) kids to sleep and I'm like… because it's the only thing I care about! Bedtime/naptime is sacred!!

  3. Hannah Gokie

    This general method has worked for us, and even with younger kids by employing the best $30 I've ever spent parenting: the OK to Wake bedside clock (you can buy at Amazon or Target). Because it changes color from yellow to green when they're allowed to get up (whatever time you set!), it's understandable for even little little kids with a bit of repetition & enforcing. Our oldest is definitely a stinker child and it worked like a charm with her right at 2 yo.

    • Kendra

      Yes, good point! We don’t have one now, but we have used them in the past. And with my oldest, I used a real hourglass! (Up where he could see it but it was out of reach.)

    • silicasandra

      We've done something similar with a night light on a timer. It's a bit cheaper, and then you can use it for your Christmas tree, too!

  4. Jennifer

    We also love that clock and love our peaceful bedtimes/mornings. We don't have a large family (#4 is due any minute), but we found a lot of success without spanking using the No Cry Sleep Solution for Preschoolers and Toddlers (spoiler alert: there is still crying!). . . however it took longer than 3-10 days to see big results for our more spirited child.

  5. Amanda

    In this house, we have rest time…forever. Out of bed privileges depend on behavior. Yesterday my 8 year old had to sleep, and we were all better off.

    It’s “I have to go potty!” That gets me at night. I let them once or twice but dangit, I wanted them in bed!

    They lie in there and talk and play and listen to glory stories, but IN BED. I figure, building sibling relationships.

    I only have one chill child, of the oldest five, and it’s so bizarre. She’s so sad when reprimanded, and wants so much to do better. No yelling “I don’t care you took my favorite thing!” I have to make sure I give her enough attention because she just goes and plays quietly and doesn’t get in trouble. Good thing the new baby is a boy, he’s bound to remind me how toddlers can be.

  6. Jennifer S.

    Another option that has helped us for kids that are not interested in naps anymore is “quiet time” (it’s not about them being quiet so much as me getting some quiet/ a break). For our family that looks like the kids playing independently in the backyard for a couple hours. The website Power of Moms has some good info on this concept.

  7. Amy

    So bedtimes and mornings are definitely sacred around here and my kids have learned that. But I stopped doing naps for my 3yo when she was two and a half because though she napped well, she would then be awake until eleven at night! I don't mind some quiet playing in their room after they've been put to bed, but eleven is a bit much! And she would keep her older sister awake as well (which would leave her cranky and tired). Have you experienced that inability to sleep at nightnig your nappers at all? We still have to keep her awake in the car when we drive anywhere in the afternoon or she's up till midnight. So annoying!

  8. Lisa

    Almost all of my kids started sleeping during nap time for like 3-4 hours around 2 years old, and then they would be up at night SO late. I've always had to stop naps then, because I just cannot them falling asleep for that long, and waking them up before they're ready is disastrous. It's always a very sad day when the toddler stops napping. But the good news is that bedtime gets to be very early, sometimes as early as 6 or 6:30, if they've been playing hard outside a lot of the day.

    My most stinkerest child I could not spank. He had (still has) anger issues, and spankings just made him VERY angry. Which is not what I'm going for when I discipline my children. It was very tricky to find a good punishment (he seemed to need it much more often than my other kids), because he was so stubborn that wherever we put him time out was where he wanted to be, whatever toy/privilege we withheld he didn't want anyway. Those were trying times. Now that he's older (and age of reason) there are privileges he cares about, so taking them away is very sad for him. We have to be ruthless, which is hard for me, but especially with stinker kids just has to be done.

    • Alyssa Williams

      Same with my oldest!! He would get CRAZY angry and it just made everything awful. It wasn't good for any of us in the family and he was scared by his own feelings I could tell.

  9. Amanda Wells

    Kendra, thank you SO much for saying the hard truth…. that spanking is effective and appropriate at times. Definitely not for each situation but so many people are afraid to use that word on the internet and I know so many parents that would have happier, obedient children if they would trust God and use the tool that He gave us in the book of Proverbs. If anyone here wants a throroughly Biblical approach to spanking, I heartily recommend Shepherding A Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. It's an "evangelical" book (I'm new to the Catholic mom world) but I don't think any of you would disagree with any of it, theology-wise.

    • Kendra

      I guess I'd just argue here that, as a well-informed Catholic and mother of nine, I've come to different conclusions that Dr. Popcak. My life experience over sixteen years of parenting does not mesh with what he claims. I especially disagree with his take on "will." To allow my family to be dictated to by the whims of a child below the age of reason seems to me utterly ridiculous. In fact, I think that Catholic moral teaching tells us that as parents we are responsible for forming the will of our children to want right things. Not embracing their "will" as some sort of good in itself.

      I don't know Laura Berquist's views on spanking, but her views on obedience ring very true, and match up with my life experience: "For children, obedience takes the place of prudence; and that is why it is central to their training. By obedience children participate in the prudence of their parents." The whole article is excellent: Character Formation

      I certainly don't think there's any sort of Bible imperative to spank. I think parents are free to trust their guts and use the parenting techniques that work best with their own and their children's temperaments. But I do think that spanking is a tool that, rightly used, can help form children and create happier more peaceful homes.

    • Anna Palcic

      You certainly do have experience! Much more than I do as a mother of two, with my oldest only three. I have however, studied psychology and have a perhaps surprising amount of life experience relating to this for one so young. (I'm 26.)

      I think we have the same goal (raising good and holy kids), but different understandings of how to do that. I fundamentally disagree with the idea of training a child to obey. That works for dogs, not so much for humans. You may see the results you want in the short term, but I wonder how lasting those will be once you are no longer there to inforce rewards and punishments. It has been demonstrated again and again (in both lab settings and the real world) that using external rewards and punishments (coming from you) diminishes a child's internal decision making. They are simply too focused on what you are going to do in response to their actions to form their own decision making process well. They listen to your voice now. Who's voice will they listen to when they are 20? 45? Will they have a strong interoir voice and a good understanding of their own emotions? I hope so.

      This does not mean I don't discipline my children! I do! But I do it in a way that acknowledges their feelings and their perfectly valid point of view, and most importantly respects their bodily autonomy, individual will, and humanity. Doing this, actually enables the child to learn better, as the brain paths formed here are stronger and not waylaid by the physical and emotional pain involved with some other methods.

      I feel a bit like a voice crying out in the wilderness, but I do believe (hope) parenting will soon change to be more respectful of children. It used to be acceptable, and considered a good thing, to hit your wife if she stepped out of line. That has changed and women are considered deserving of the same respect due to men. Children are also deserving of respect. Not that they should be equal decision makers in the home, of course I don't let my three year old run my household! Nor do I suppress her will. I guide it, provide an example to her in my own behavior, and help her to first name, then understand, then control her emotions and desires. Janet Lansbury has great practical advice on how to do this for anyone who is interested.

      I don't expect to change your mind, but I'm passionate about this and wanted to provide my alternate veiw to you and your readers. Thank you for allowing me to do that.

    • Amanda Wells

      It is no more disrespectful of a young child to train her to obey than it is to train a six-year-old to ride a bike. Submitting to a legitimate authority is simply a skill that she will need for her entire life — how can she hold down a job if she doesn't have the humility to obey her boss in the workplace? Not to mention the fact that the Bible instructs children to obey their parents, and obedience training is simply helping the child to obey God, the ultimate authority.

      Just because some parents are harsh in their training methods and misapply the Bible's instructions in the use of the rod doesn't mean the whole concept is erroneous. That's like saying because there are some cruel husbands, no one should get married.

    • Ellen

      Anna, I agree worth what you're saying and have also found it to work with my kids. It's great that Kendra is saying we can disagree and still be good parents, and that she thinks through her approach. As a "chill" kid, I did not need any spankings yet my parents with good will doled out the same punishmemt for all of us. I was most struck by the idea that a respect for the dignity of reach life starts with the child. Only Christianity teaches this and I appreciate newer parenting philosophies that try to apply it even more

    • Tori

      Anna, just wanted to say that I absolutely agree with you and appreciate you sharing your perspective here. You're very well-spoken and while you may feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness, I'm finding many parents our age (I'm 27) are learning about respectful parenting from sources like Janet Lansbury and using it to guide their interactions with their children.

    • Re Au

      I parent with love and agree with some of Popcak but I think he missed the mark. I have a mostly chill kid but as a toddler she LOVED trucks and motor cycles and would try to go get them. On a busy road. No amount of other punishments worked. I swatted her diapered behind and did my full-on possessed beast "NEVER GO IN THE ROAD" rendition. It scared the ever living crud out of her. She needed gentle reminders from them on but was fine. I am not a "spanker" advocating parent, but I could not live with myself if she was injured. I HAD to do something that rocked her world. It's not my go-to and not for not life-or-death matters but I have no qualms about breaking it out for the kid who climbs up on the counter faster than a ninja and beelines for the hot stove, or the traffic lover or the bathtub monkey who has already learned natural consequences of a bad bump. I've found by 4 they are a bit better at accepting reason and discipline, but until then, I will scare them to keep them safe.

    • Melissa

      I agree with respectful parenting of kids. But I feel like there is also a bit of semantics going on in this debate – from Kendra’s explanation of obedience, she gives clear behavioral expectations based on developmental age, PROVIDES REASONS, and follows through – that’s not blind obedience like dog training, that’s discipline based on what discipline really means – teaching, and in this regard teaching your children to start to internalize good decision making and self-control. I think obedience maybe has become an unfashionable term, but teaching through explaining the reasons for behavioral expectations and then following through with positive or negative reinforcement based on the CHOICE your child makes, recognizes their own will and is very valuable and does help them learn to make decisions on their own, and trust the BETTER PART of their own judgment as you help them shape that judgment (rather than them relying on their naturally selfish gut instinct to form their behaviors).
      Whether spanking is a consequence you rely on is a separate debate (just for reference I fall in the camp of one commenter above, who has utilized a swat when I had a high spirited runner who loved running directly for moving cars and during toddlerhood I didn’t care if he was just acting out of fear, as long as he didn’t die!) but for lOnger term/regular discipline I feel like I can come up with something that teaches kids without trying to differentiate between hurting them/hitting them and what’s ok discipline – however I only have 2 kids to contend with (one 6 year old who sounds remarkably like Frankie and one easier going nearly 3 year old) and if I was going on many more I know I would end up adapting a method that is effective and not insanity-inducing for dealing with a larger brood, like Kendra has seemingly managed. But your disagreement doesn’t sound as fundamental as it seems – just uses different terminology.

    • Nicole Cox

      I read through this post and the comments and found both to be thought-provoking. I have the same thoughts as Kendra regarding Popcak's "philosophy" (I hesitate even to coin it as such, because I have a general distrust of modern parenting psychology. As far as the studies go, it just seems like they're measuring subjectivity. I too took many psychology courses and so much of it is different researchers'/people's opinions and theories, most of which conflict with each other, and many of which don't actually mesh with the past several millenia of recorded human history and philosophy. Popcak has some practical advice on marriage but his child-rearing advice hasn't been helpful for us).

      I also read and listened to a LOT of Janet Lansbury in my oldest child's 2-3 year range when I felt over my head. Some was helpful, like don't get emotionally involved and don't force potty training. The rest left me feeling like I was doing everything wrong and went against both my gut AND what I perceive to be Church teaching on parenting (see the article by Berquist, if only for the quotes she includes from CCC and papal encyclicals. It's quite clear what the Church teaches on obedience to authority, parents' and children's duties, etc).

      So, I took some of Lansbury's ideas and tips but pretty wholeheartedly reject her "philosophy". I DO want my toddlers to share with other people. I DO want to tell my preschoolers they can feel sad, but they also need to practice reining their emotions in for their own good and the common good of those around them. I DO want my toddlers/preschoolers to have a physical reminder that running into the street could kill them. I DO want my children to respond "Yes, Mom/Dad" when asked to do something, to ensure they understand what we're asking and to ensure we as parents stop nagging/asking/reminding. I see this as absolutely in-line with Church teaching on parental responsibility. Like Kendra, we do a fair amount of age-appropriate explaining and so there is not an idea of "blind obedience." We also tell the children old enough to begin understanding that they need to obey because it's the right thing to do, because God has given us to them as parents to love/care for them; not because "I said so!".

      Perhaps, then, the definition of obedience for modern pyschologists and parenting authors is very, very different than the one the Church gives us. Obedience is not something for animals and it isn't disrespectful. Each of us is called to obedience both to God and His Church and I would hardly say I feel like a dog for being called to free myself from my selfish and enslaving tendencies to sin and instead submit to the freeing guides (and yes, commands!) the Church gives. As domestic churches and the first schools of virtue for our children, we are merely bringing this concept to our children and (hopefully!) showing an image to them of the value and freedom obedience to God can bring. Anyone who peddles obedience as some kind of forceful, harsh, punitive practice isn't talking about obedience anymore, so it's probably worth re-examining what obedience *is*, as opposed to some really unfortunate associations it's gotten from terrible misuse by parents throughout the ages.

    • Kendra

      Thank you Nicole and Melissa! I do really think it mostly IS disagreement on what these terms mean, between US anyway. I think perhaps some parenting "experts" just have very different goals for the raising of children than I have.

  10. Mary R.

    You can't believe the HOWLING that my almost-4 year old does when she's required to be in bed, take a nap, be in her room for timeout, or any other time she's not happy. It's simply unbearable and makes disciplining or correcting her completely impossible. So… anyone have words of wisdom on this?

  11. Anna

    Thank you. This was great. Very helpful, even as applied to discipline in general.

  12. Ashley

    Hi Kendra, thanks for this. I love your parenting posts. I am similar to you in the fact that I really couldn't care less about certain things like my kids eating dirt or getting germs. However, my mother in law cares a LOT about things I do not care about, and when she's over at our house, she gets very upset when she sees my kids doing that and tells them to stop. It's actually very stressful (she usually screams when she sees them doing that stuff) but I want to be respectful (Plus, she raised my husband who is one of the best human beings I know so obviously she knows what she's doing). What would you do in this situation? Usually I tell them that they need to respect their grandma and do what she says. Or would you say this is a "at my house, we do things this way" sort of thing?

    • Kendra

      Grandparent relationships can be tricky. As long as the relationship is overall positive, I’d say handle it the way you’re doing. Especially as the kids get older, I tell them, “this is something that is important to your grandmother, so we’re going to do our best to do/not do it when she’s around.” Then you do you when she’s not. That’s how we handle it.

    • Mary R.

      I have this issue too, but it’s my own mom. and that’s exactly how I handle it. It works for us.

  13. Lua Nova

    What if the child needs to pee? Or is having a nichtmare? Or is feeling sick?
    Your rule seems muche too strict.

    • Kendra

      My little kids are in pull-ups and don’t need to get up, my big kids kids get up to go to the bathroom and then put themselves back to bed, we don’t have issues with nightmares, sick kids come to see us. We always deal with particular circumstances as they arrive. That’s allowed!

  14. Unknown

    If you take away shows/TV time as a consequence in this situation and for any other situations, how do you enforce it for the one violator but not the other kids?


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

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