Waking at Night: Preschool=Aged Kids
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Waking at Night: Preschool=Aged Kids
Our nearly four year old has gone from a 12-hour a night sleeper
to a kid who gets hysterical at bedtime, getting up between 12-20
times in the first 90 minutes, screaming like a banshee each
time. He wants attention, or his blanket moved, or a piece of
clothing put away, or to just be talked to again. Then he's up
2-6 times after 11pm and before 6am, each time yelling and crying
and demanding our presence. All of this was preceded by my
absence for 12 days, and then returning with his 15 month old
sister (newly adopted) that he had heard about since her birth
but was clearly not ready for.
We have tried rewards (stickers, videos, special times with mama,
trips, ''name your price''), punishment (taking away of toys, tv
time, stuffed animals in bed, the blanket, closing the door a few
inches at a time until it's nearly closed)...all to no avail. It
is not until we are fried and losing it and he is hysterical that
he finally gives up and passes out. We got over the sibling
issues and anger at mama a few weeks ago, and he has great days
with lots of time with me - though he is being told ''no'' more
often than before, thanks to grabbing/pushing/knocking
down/stealing toys from his sister on a fairly regular but normal
We are at our wits end, having read the bibles on healthy sleep
for kids and having every technique backfire. Any advice welcome
- other than making a chart with stars. We are far past stars,
though we'd like to given them to ourselves on each night for
resisting the urge to break things.
Sleepless, Exhausted and Frustrated
You might want to consider ''giving up'' for a month or two, and
having one of you sleep in his room. Then when he settles down,
and returns to sleeping through the night, you can go back to
working on getting him to sleep alone. We have had various
family health crises, and each one brought on a regression
around sleep, and needing parents more at night. But after
things more or less returned to normal, we were able to coax our
child back into sleeping alone.
This is the ''logical consequence'' I came up with for having kids
get out of bed at night. Nighttime is for sleeping and if you
wake up and wake me up at night then we all need naps during the
If he already takes a nap during the day, tell him that you and
he are so tired from waking up in the night that you both need an
extra nap (in the morning). Then put him in bed in his room for
an hour nap and you go to your room for a ''nap''.
If his sister takes a nap and he doesn't its even better. Tell
him when you put her down for a nap how you'd love to have some
time with him now while she naps, but you can't because you are
both so tired from waking up in the middle of the night. Tuck
him in for his ''nap'' and you go to your room for your ''nap''. He
doesn't have to sleep, but he can't come out of his room---though
you can ignore it if he does as long as you stay in your room.
Put a clock in his room and tell him he has to nap from when the
first number says 1 until it says 2, or whatever time it is (or
you can change the time).
This has worked wonders for me and for friends who have tried it
and I like that having to have a nap is a natural consequence of
waking up at night, and yet quite odious to most 4 year olds.
We don't have a new sibling in the picture (Congratulations!) but you
may be dealing
with typical 4-year-old power issues (check the archives). We recently
had a similar
bedtime problem (and mealtime, and getting-out-the-door time, and
my-way time, etc.). I tried sticker charts, making a picture schedule,
timer, letting the kid stay up, screaming at her--all the ways I could
think of over
the course of many weeks. Then I saw in the archives that 4-year-olds
manufacture and naturally gravitate toward power struggles and I found a
that has worked so far: declaring martial law. Around necessary things
bedtime, bathtime, going to school/work there are no choices, no delays
mommy's way only. It felt mean at first, but I'm the grown-up and have
to see that these things just need to be done. Then I realized it
wasn't any meaner
than not letting her touch fire or do anything else completely
child doesn't like it. She cries, she gets mad, she says ''I don't like
you'' or worse.
Oh well. It's time to go to bed. It takes a lot of energy to be
authoritarian on these
issues. It would be easier if she would reasonably read 2 stories then
stay in bed like
Caillou, but that isn't the way it is for us. Parenting is hard work.
It is a phase I
hear they grow out of when they are five. Good luck!
in the trenches with you
Our son was getting up periodically, and we were able to put
the kibosh on it by 1)making sure everything was in order prior
to bedtime (ie. he goes pee, checks to make sure he has water,
has 2 books to read in bed), 2) I tell him I will check on him
later to make sure he has his covers on, 3) if he gets up, we
immediately walk him back with limited-to-no conversation and a
warning: if he gets up again, no TV or no computer the next
day. We had to enforce it a few times, but for the most part,
he responded well.
It's so hard to guess what the one thing will be that each
child will respond to. Cleary there are alot of factors at play
in your situation that we didn't have to contend with. Other
things to consider might be a slight change in the bedtime
ritual, ie. can he ''help'' put the baby to bed (ie. get her
blanket ready or some small gesture), can you or your husband
spend more time in his room at night? some change of his choice
might make him feel better; his world has been changed
irrevocably by the addition of this new sibling, so he might
enjoy the opportunity to exert some control over his own
schedule (which is basically what he's doing now, just not in a
Also, if he is still napping, you might want to consider
shortening naptime; that might be giving him the fuel he needs
at nighttime to fight sleep off.
Wow, you really sound exhausted and frustrated and overwhelmed. My
guess is that
your son is feeling pretty much the same way. What a huge change in his
life, to go
from being an only child to being the big brother of a
get-into-his-space toddler! It
sounds to me like your son is still very much trying to process the
arrival of his
sister and that is what his sleepless nights are all about. Where is
the little sister
during all of this? Is she asleep? If so, your son might be - smartly
- seeking time
when he can be all alone with you again. Conversely, if she is awake,
he might be
insane with jealousy to think that she has private time with you (or to
she might!) when he is asleep. Sleep is a separation of sorts, and he
terrified by the idea of another separation from you. Does the new baby
you or sleep in your room with you? Perhaps, for awhile, your son could
same. Even if the sister is not in a room with you, perhaps your son
more if he were in the same bed or at least same room (matress on the
you. Perhaps your son is still very jealous and angry, but unable, for
reason, to express this. His own developing love for his new sister
could in and of
itself get in the way of his feeling okay about being jealous and angry
about her as
well. Such ambivalent feelings can be stressful for a young child. He
more opportunities - maybe months of them - to read about, talk about,
about baby sisters. Does he engage in role play with baby dolls? Does
he have a
baby doll? If not, he might benefit from having one - his own baby to
care of and get angry at.
Perhaps you've tried all of these things, perhaps not. Keep on loving
and keep on
trucking, and this too shall pass.
Teacher of four-year-olds
This will sound harsh but it really isn't if you think about it.
When my son was 2 he wouldn't go to bed at night so we actually
locked him in his room. He protested loudly for a few nights but
finally got tired and went to sleep. It was hard but it worked.
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