Help, my toddler is playing in bed! Tips for dealing with it

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 28, 2020

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After months of good sleep, your toddler can suddenly start playing in his bed instead of sleeping.

If you have a child who has never slept well, the idea that they might be playing in their crib is probably silly to you, but trust me, it happens.

Your bedtime routine has been consistent from the start:

  • book
  • songs
  • and then to bed
  • a tasty one shower with fun toys is also nice sometimes before bedtime and after dinner play

He always went to sleep quickly, but suddenly that changed, often in the run-up to his second birthday.

For example, “playing” can be nice chatter to loud singing of some of his favorite songs.

It sounds very cheerful so that's okay in itself, but they might not get very much sleep.

For children who

  • sleep well
  • can sleep independently
  • feel safe in their crib
  • and like to go there when it's sleep time

You will find that there will be times in your child's life when they are having a party in their crib.

Usually this seems to happen around nap time.

Many parents complain that they put their child to bed, but instead of falling asleep in a few minutes, as usual, their little one sometimes decides to have a party there for an hour or more, before finally falling asleep fall.

What can you do to make sleep time not playtime?

What should you do? He's playing there and he's supposed to be napping (or he should go to sleep at night if it happens then).

Should you punish him if he doesn't sleep? Should I stop putting him to bed around that time?

My advice is not to punish this type of behavior. It is usually a developmental phase that your child goes through.

It often happens around eighteen months to two years. At that stage, it has a lot to do with language acquisition.

They learn so much at such a fast pace that they need time to process it.

Most of the time, parents say their kids are just chatting, singing, or talking in bed.

That's part of the process of organizing all this new information. Try not to panic about it.

If your kid is there for an hour, an hour and a half, screaming and singing and having fun, yes, they weren't sleeping, but it was still a break.

  • You have a break.
  • They have a break.

It's still a rest because they are in a quiet, dark environment so they don't get over-stimulated and of course they don't run around in the crib, so it's also a nice physical rest.

If you are sure that your little one is not going to sleep, you can just call it a nap. Go in, get your child out and get on with your day.

If he's not sleeping, you may need to go to bed a little earlier in the evening to compensate, but try not to panic if you can't.

If you stick to your usual routine and rules around sleeping, playing in the crib usually disappears in a week or two, and then they go back to sleep well.

Developmentally, your child will need some time to play, talk and practice his or her new skills, and a quiet bed gives him the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Give it a week or two and see if it goes away on its own.

If not, you may need to look into adjusting the time by keeping your child awake a little longer (taking a nap later) or maybe playing an extra intensive game.

Maybe you have already tried a lot:

  • tried to put him to bed earlier, but he just plays longer
  • tried to exhaust him in the evening with long walks and games in the playground
  • tried to calm him down with books and play quietly.
  • tried to watch TV
  • and TV.
  • evening snack, maybe he was hungry
  • and no evening snacks
  • going into his room to try to calm him down, but that always has the opposite effect.

It's terribly cute, but you think about it anyway, the feeling that it's not good for its development.

Rest assured, you cannot leave a child

  • food,
  • to sleep
  • or defecate.

Unfortunately, your toddler is in complete control in these three areas.

You've probably already tried everything thrown around as advice in diagnosing a toddler's sleep problem.

Is playing in his bed bad?

But how big is a “problem” really?

According to the graphs I've seen, the “average” number of hours a two-year-old sleeps is between 10 and 13 hours.

And let's not forget that there is a lot of variation in what we consider “average”.

Technically, we adults should get at least eight hours, but we all know people who need more, as in nine or ten, or people who manage to fully recharge in four or five hours.

So also check how big the sleep crisis is.

More importantly, he does eventually fall asleep. And it's not like he's moaning in lonely, fear-ridden pain or frustration or anything.

He sings and chats to himself and is fine and content and completely safe in his bed.

So… let him go.

Do not enter or interrupt him with useless entreaties and exhortations to go to sleep.

If he also keeps you up at night with his chit-chat (or during your afternoon nap), buy earplugs so you can at least sleep through them.

He doesn't need you if it's always just playing so just let him do his quirky toddler thing and you can focus on the hours you need.

Older toddler plays in his bedroom

If your toddler is already a little older and can get out of bed, you might want to look at what toys are lying around in his bedroom.

For example, if the only toys or distractions in his room are books, don't worry.

There are worse things in the world than a child who insists on staying awake and looking at books for another hour or two.

The best thing to make a point of is that he should stay in his bed.

For example, he can get up to take a book from the bookshelf, but not dance, jump or turn around.

Later, up to age six often, there are also likely nights when you put him to bed and they fall asleep like a log in 5 minutes, and other nights where it takes him an extra hour or more to fall asleep.

Singing or reading books or telling stories in the meantime, and in the end everything seems to be in balance in terms of sleep time and sleep need.

It can be frustrating to see sleep deprivation affecting your child's mood.

Although at this age, it is very difficult to diagnose exactly why your cranky, irritable two-year-old is acting like ... well, a cranky, irritable two-year-old.

But trust me, you can't put him to sleep. I would seriously just let him work through whatever this is.

Stick to the routine and feel free to stop trying all kinds of experiments before and after bed.

But don't worry about it that much anyway.

If he was really genuinely tired, he would sleep. One day he would take a four-hour nap or something.

And if he had really, really trouble falling asleep, he'd probably sob frustrated in his crib instead of treating his stuffed animals to a rousing concert of classic nursery rhymes and cute stories.

Catch sleep

If it's ever an option to let him sleep in on the weekend, do it. If he actually has a lack of sleep, he can make up for part of the hours.

When toddlers are ready to drop the nap, many will still be happy to take a nap if one is offered.

After all, their bodies have a habit of sleeping at the same time every day.

However, the problems can then arise before going to sleep. Then going to bed suddenly becomes a hassle when they can't fall asleep until 21:00 PM.

If this pattern lasts for three to four weeks, consider dropping the nap and switching to some quiet time as a break (most kids drop naps around the age of 3).

But if crib play has only been going on for a few days or even a week, don't worry about it.

You cannot force your child to sleep, all you can do is give him or her the chance.

You don't have to get angry with your child. Remind yourself to give him plenty of opportunities to take a nice nap, go to bed on time, and get a perfect night's sleep.

You've given him all the skills he needs to be an excellent sleeper, and the rest is up to him.

  • If he wants to play for an hour before passing out, fine.
  • If he wants to play the whole nap, that's okay because he needs that time for his development.

Always something to do for the holidays or rainy day?

Play Choice now has the ultimate activity book collection, with over 60 pages of fun coloring pages and educational puzzles.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Speelkeuze.nl is a content marketer, father and loves trying out new toys. As a child he came into contact with everything related to games when his mother started the Tinnen Soldaat in Ede. Now he and his team create helpful blog articles to help loyal readers with fun play ideas.