I don't love using 'withhold or reward' strategies for toddler sleep challenges (I generally steer clear of them in parenting, too).
These strategies consist of withholding something your child wants until they perform the desired behavior or rewarding the desired behavior with a treat. Using these strategies usually sounds something like this: "If you don't stay in your bed, I am taking your (books, toy, movies, desert for the week) away" or "If you stay in your bed, I will take you for an ice cream treat tomorrow." The reason I don't generally like using these tactics is because they are manipulative, a form of bribery, and they teach our children to depend on rewards rather than to act from an internal sense of right and wrong or respect for others.
THAT SAID, there are tricks in this family of strategies that can be GREAT temporary aids for sleep challenges in children that have learned to reason with you (usually 3 and up). One of my favorites and the one I am currently using with my own son, who is 4, is the 5 Nights Cup.
- Take two small plastic cups
- Decorate one with a 0 and one with a 5 in colors, glitter, and/or stickers your child likes. I find it helpful to have them help, which gets them really involved in the 'project'.
- Put a pile of marbles in the 0 cup. Choose marbles that are NOT a choke hazard or monitor that they are only handled with your supervision.
- Move one marble to the 5 cup each morning that your child successfully stays in their room until the agreed upon time.
When you reach 5 nights, they (and you!) can celebrate with an appropriate treat. In our house we are using movies as the incentive activity or reward. My son really likes to go to our local library and pick out videos. When we started to consistently struggle with early mornings and simply explaining that he needed to stay in his room until 7 wasn't working, I decided it was time to use that special activity as leverage. When there are 5 marbles in the cup, we can go back to the library and pick out a movie. What can work really well is going to the library a few days before the 5 day mark and having the movie or book to look forward to. I recommend making the reward something reasonable or that you do together already (baking something delicious, swimming at a favorite pool, having a friend over to play), not something extravagant. That way, sleep is part of a healthy, balanced family life not a tool for special rewards.