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Jack-In-The-Box Syndrome

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

What in the world is the "Jack-In-The-Box" Syndrome????  Well....if you have a child that constantly gets out of his or her bed after you have put them to bed for the have yourself a Jack-In-The-Box!

This usually happens once a child has transitioned into their big boy/girl bed.  

The huge event is filled with so much excitement for both child and parent, but this may also create new bedtime challenges.  The first night or so may go very smoothly and you might think to yourself "Wow!  That was a breeze! No fussing...sleeping though the decision ever! Then, your child starts to realize that they can get out of bed!  For some families this phenomena is short lived but for goes on for weeks or even longer. From your child's perspective this is the greatest thing that has happened.  They are now able to get out of their bed and see what is going on behind their bedroom door. Whether or not you are having a huge gathering downstairs without them, or simply trying to catch up on laundry, your child may be thinking they are "missing out" on something.  (If they only knew how much you would LOVE to be the one resting in bed right????)

Often parents unknowingly encourage the Jack-In-The-Box by not establishing the NEW bedtime rules for their child. Reading one more story, getting another drink of water, or any little attention given once they are in bed for night, can feed this behaviour of wanting to get out of bed.  They are seeking attention whether it be positive or negative and it becomes somewhat of a game for them.  Now, the incentive to keep getting out of bed has been created.

One thing to keep in mind is to allow your child to stay in their crib for as long as possible.  You want to make sure that they have the ability to comprehend the new bedtime rules and responsibilities that comes with having their new big kid bed. The recommended age is around 3 years old.  

Here are some tips to help with your little Jack-In-The-Box stay in bed:

 *  New Rules:

Along with a new bed, comes new rules which clearly need to be addressed. Have a family "meeting" to explain the new bedtime rules.  This means explaining to your child that even though they are able to get out of bed, once they say goodnight, they are to stay in bed until morning or until Mom or Dad comes in to get them. Giving your child boundaries helps them understand what is expected of them.

*   Bedtime:

You will want to reassess the time your child goes to bed.  Make sure that they are going to bed at the appropriate time for their age.  Putting your child to bed too early or too late this can interfere with how they will settle in for the night.  You will want to make bedtime around 4.5 - 5 hours after waking from the afternoon nap if they are still having one.

*    Routine:

Along with boundaries children thrive on routine.  Establishing a consistent bedtime routine will also help them know it is time for bed.  Just as you had a bedtime routine for your baby, toddlers still need a routine at night so keep it short and not let it linger on past 30 minutes to establish a concise routine for them to follow.

*    Incentives:

Sometimes your little one will challenge the boundaries that have been set up. (This comes part and parcel with being a toddler as we all know.)  If your child needs some incentive to stay in bed, try and find something that resonates with them personally.  Many families have great success with sticker charts that are set up so they can accumulate stickers for a special item or special place to go.  This enables your child to SEE their accomplishments and have something to look forward to each morning.

*    "SILENT RETURN" Approach:

So what happens if you have been consistent with all of the above suggestions and for some reason your child is STILL getting out of their bed at night?  The answer is simple....time to implement the "silent return" approach.

The SILENT RETURN is just that SILENT.  Once your child has made it out of their bed the first time, redirect your child back to their room with no conversation and limit the contact.  As I mentioned above this sometimes becomes a game for them and ANY attention that is given will give them more incentive to keep getting out of bed.  Even one word, one more kiss or a tuck in and cuddle can continue the game for them, so be sure to keep the contact to a bare minimum.  

This may take MANY tries, but stay consistent.  They will soon realize that getting out of bed is in not fun anymore because they are not getting the attention they are seeking.

Happy sleeping!


Parents from all over the world visit Babes & Beyond site to find solutions for their children’s sleep problems. - See more at:

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