Does the Silent Return Really Work?

If your toddler or pre-schooler is like most, she probably dreams of cuddling with you in bed all. night. long. If you’re like many parents, you may prefer not to spend the night with a wriggling banshee who somehow takes up three-quarters of the bed and inevitably ends up sticking a foot in your face.

Once kids have transitioned out of their cribs, it’s inevitable that one day they’ll realize they can get out of their beds whenever they damn well please. For some, this manifests at bedtime: a toddler refusing to stay in bed after lights out, instead preferring to hang with you while you try to watch The Great British Bake-Off. Others prefer to make their way stealthily into your bed in the middle of the night when you’re too tired to even realize what’s going on.

Unless you want your children bedsharing (which is cool if that’s your bag!), this phase of life is extremely frustrating and, quite frankly, sucks.

How do we keep our kids in their beds? We use a strategy called the silent return.

On the surface, it’s simple: every time your child gets out of bed and leaves his or her room, you silently return her back to bed and leave the room. You don’t use this time to explain to them that they need to sleep–you stay silent. You don’t get angry that this is the 30th times they’ve gotten out of bed–you remain zen and get out of dodge as soon as you can.

Even though the strategy is simple, any parent who has done it will tell you it doesn’t feel simple when you’re in the midst of it. I’ve had so many parents tell me they’ve tried it and it didn’t work: do I know of another magical solution that will be easier?

Here’s what I tell them: the silent return works. But you have to do it each and every time your child leaves his room, no matter if it’s 7pm or 2am; whether or not it’s 3 returns or 50. Usually the first few nights are the worst because your child will think it’s a game. It’s not uncommon for parents to do a TON of returns at first… but then slowly they’ll need to do increasingly less and, eventually, none.

It’s equally critical to implement the strategy consistently for at least a week. It’ll take time for your little one to lose interest in his newfound freedom, but it will happen. It may feel like the longest week of your life but keep your eye on the prize: a child who will stay in bed (and an adult bed that’s alllll yoooooours).


This was originally published in the Bonne Nuit Baby newsletter. Want monthly sleep tips? Sign up here.