M.F. asks from Monroe, CT on June 13, 2010
Sleep - Monroe,CT
I need some help with my four year old and his sleep issues. I will give you a little background. When he was a baby and would get up at night, we would bring him in our bed, as he got older he would fall asleep in our bed and then we would move him to his bed. Around two, I began sleeping in his "big boy" bed with him. I would lay with him to fall asleep, leave, and then return when he woke up at night and sleep the rest of the night with him. This became too much and we were both exhausted so he wound up back in our bed again. In May,2009, my mom babysat while we went away overnight, she put him to sleep in his bed and that is where he has been ever since. Now, here is my issue, I used to have to lay down with him in his bed after stories, wait until he fell asleep, and then sneak out. He would still get up at night so I was back to going in and sleeping with him. I finally reached my breaking point and read the "No Cry Sleep Solution" which suggested moving a chair farther away from the bed until you eventually wound up outside the door. I did this and now he can put himself to sleep after story with me outside the door and not in the bed. The problem is he is still getting up between 12:30am and 1:00am and screaming for me. He is waking up my two year old as well. I go in and he says he can't sleep by himself. I refuse to get back into bed with him so I have been sleeping on the floor in the hall so that when he gets up he can see me through the door and also I can answer him right way. I am exhausted and I don't know what else to do. Please HELP!
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A.C. answers from Houston on June 13, 2010
I understand that you are exhausted, but the best thing to do is be CONSISTENT. Stick to your guns and don't budge. When he wakes up, he knows you will be their in a flash to calm him down. The first week, I recommend that you give him a hug when he screams for you. That's it. Tell him he needs to sleep and walk out. Do not go back in there! Week 2, only go in if he needs to use the bathroom or has a nightmare. Wait outside his door and tell him you are going to sleep and good night. Week three, which will probably be the hardest for you and him, do not go in his room AT ALL. He will cry, scream, and make you crazy mad. This is where the consistency part comes in. Stick to your guns and do not go in there. He will learn very fast that his screaming will get him nowhere. He is 4 years old, not a newborn. He knows that you will come to him if you continue to allow this. My oldest did the same, and this worked for us. He is now sleeping through the night and we are finally getting sleep ourselves. Best of luck! :)
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M.P. answers from Portland on June 13, 2010
I agree with trying Allison C's plan. The two of you have developed a pattern over the years that is no longer working. Yes, he may be scared, as "Mommy" suggests and needs reassurance but, unwittingly, you have reinforced his fear by always responding for all these years. He hasn't learned how to soothe himself back to sleep because you've always done it for him. And......here is a subtle thing that is happening. Because you always respond he, at some level, feels that there must be a reason to feel fearful. If you were confident that he could handle waking up and being by himself he would be more confident in his ability to go back to sleep.
I suggest that you talk with him about why he wakes up, reassure him that you are always in your bedroom and you'll always protect him if fear is what is causing him to scream/cry. Your presence in the house is his protection. Sympathize with his fears whatever they are. Allow him to talk about whatever is causing him to wake up and scream for you. This may take some time because it's become a habit and he may no longer be consciously aware of why he does this.
There are books about sleeping. You can find them at the library. Ask the librarian. Or go to a book store. Read those together. They may suggest ways of getting back to sleep as well as other conditions. Problem solve together about ways he can get himself back to sleep or soothe himself when he's upset.
Some suggestions are to give him a flashlight. My adopted daughter came to me at the age of 7 with a plastic doll like toy that lit up when you squeezed it. This helped her when she was living in a children's home and was scared and felt alone. I've seen flashlights that are in the shape of animals. Perhaps he could have a radio or CD player that was set at a low sound level that he could turn on. Or a night light that is either left on all night or that he could turn on.
Another suggestion is to teach him a short prayer. I remember saying one that my mother had taught me to say to myself when I was a child and woke up scared. She did this by coming in to me or taking me back to bed and sitting with me while I talked about what had scared me. Then we would say the prayer together and she would leave. She did this gradually. I was probably 5 and our family life was insecure with not enough money and my parent's fighting. She started by sitting with me while I was in my own bed and listening to me until I ran down and fell asleep. Then she taught me the prayer and stayed with me while I said it. Then she would come in, remind me about the prayer, tuck me in again and leave. And then I was able say the prayer on my own and fall back asleep without calling for her. She told me that this was the goal; for me to be able to get back to sleep on my own. She was calm and patient. I don't remember how long it took.
You may think of other techniques to teach him to help him manage his sleep. What is important is that you give him the message and reassurance that he can manage his sleep on his own while you show him ways to do it.
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S.H. answers from New York on June 14, 2010
Great advice Marda! I went through a similar pattern with my son. The bed time routine took over our lives and did not help me in the middle of the night. I worked with it and developed a more independent routine with my son, then I stuck to my guns, it was about 10 bad days. (you might have to take out the little one for a few days.) but stick to your guns. It was a great lesson for me, remembering I was the parent, he needed me to take control, that gave him real security in the end and he has been sleeping independently since, and not even afraid of the dark. The reward for me was time in the evening with my husband, a good night sleep and a happy and strong mom for my kids during the day. That is worth one rough week.
M.. answers from Miami on June 13, 2010
You by his side makes him feel safe and loved.
Just keep trying.
Don't give up.
I do not agree with letting children cry it out. Just go and hug and kiss him
so that he will feel loved and tell him that M. needs to sleep in her own bed, and then tell him that you will not go anywhere you will be in your bed and that you will see him in the morning.