If you have a toddler who is 3 years + and battles with bedtime, likes to get out of their big bed and/or wakes calling for you all through the night, then the four R’s are probably for you!

The four R’s stand for…

  1. Rules
  2. Role play
  3. Rewards
  4. Returns (silent returns)

The four R’s work really well, especially when used together, to create a realistic expectation around sleep for both yourself and your child.

Rules or “manners:

Bedtime “rules” or “manners” should be kept very simple and easy to follow. Try to avoid words like “no” or “don’t” when creating the rules because it can become quite abstract and difficult for your child to understand. For example, when you say to your child “don’t call out” or “don’t get out of bed” they tend to ignore the word don’t and what they do hear is “call out” or “get out of bed”. Make the rules clear and concise such as “lay down”, “close your eyes”, “stay in your bed”. Let them come up with some rules of their own too, such as “mummy has to read me 2 stories every night” or “Daddy has to sing 2 songs to me”. By including your child in the rule making, you are engaging them and not simply dictating. Once the rules are set tell EVERYONE you cross paths with while your child is with you about them, in a really excited and positive way. E.g. facetime grandma and tell her all about the rules, get your child to also tell grandma about the new rules, tell your neighbour, tell the lady at the shop… tell everyone! Make a big, overexaggerated fuss! It is really important to show your child that you really believe in their ability to stay in bed. Say things like “I just know you are going to do such a wonderful job following the rules, you are so clever”.

Role play:

Unlike the other 3 R’s, role play can be effective from as young as 9months of age. Role play involves using a doll or teddy bear to demonstrate your expectations to your child, in a way that is tangible to them. To use role play, select a toy and create a little bed for it in your child’s room. I have seen people use things like baby dolls or teddies or even a Barbie. At bedtime, get your toddler to help you put their toy to bed. Be sure to run through the rules with Dolly or Teddy and remind them that you will be so proud of them if they stay in their bed all night. When morning comes make a huge fuss over the toy for staying in bed, maybe even give them a little prize like a sticker and say things like “You are so clever dolly, I knew you could do it”. If your child has not followed the rules, don’t make a huge deal over it, just say something like “I’m sad that you didn’t stay in your bed, so no sticker today” and then move on from it. Your child will soon know which reaction they would prefer.  


There is no need to go crazy buying elaborate rewards for this component, some small $2 toys and stickers is more than enough. You can create a really fun reward chart together and create a rule where if your child stays in their own bed all night, 5 times, they will get a special treat. Then for every time they follow the rules, they will get a sticker or stamp for their chart. The most creative thing I have seen so far was a lucky dip made by one of my volunteer clients. In her lucky dip she put some little surprise Shopkins, some Kinder Surprises, some little stickers and some little notes with things like “today we will go feed the ducks” or “today we will bake cookies together”. Then if her 4-year-old stayed in bed every night for 5 days in a row, she would take her to choose a new barbie doll.

*Only use rewards for a couple of weeks*

Returns (Silent Returns):

The use of returns is dependent on your chosen sleep training method. They can be used in conjunction with many sleep training methods. E.g. you will use controlled crying with a silent return after the wait period, or you will use gradual withdrawal with silent returns. This technique is particularly effective for children who get out of bed.

Each time your child gets out of bed, you return them straight back without engaging at all! No speaking, no telling them off, no “go to sleeps” NOTHING. The point is to remove all engagement therefor taking away what they are seeking by getting up which is your attention. Upon the first return you may like to remind your child of the rules but from then on silence. You may find that the first couple of nights can be rough (some children will need 50+ returns), your child may really carry on. The key is to be super strong and consistent. Don’t show your frustration, don’t swap out parents, don’t beg or shout. Just stick to the plan. Returns take a lot of patience and willpower to be effective. Before using returns you must first decide if this approach fits in with your own personal parenting style.

You may choose to use one or all four of the four R’s. To achieve the most success however, it is really important that your child is in an adequate, age appropriate routine. Please get in contact for more information on how Dream to Grow can help you and your toddler!