5Year Old Keeps Waking up at Night with Excuses to Have Me Come into His Room.

Updated on June 30, 2009
K.F. asks from Marysville, WA
10 answers

I am looking for any advise on how stop my son from waking me up in the middle of the night.
After we got home from our vacation a month ago my son has been waking up EVERY night with some excuse to get me into his room and tuck him back in bed. He has a sore toe , itchy eyes, my heel hurts, etc... If I don't go in the wimpering starts and he will do that for about 10 min and then comes in crying. We have spoken to him about what he thinks the problem is and have addressed his concerns (a brighter night light, my teddy bear sleeping with him, reassured him we will be sleeping in our room all night long etc.)
I don't know what else to do. If anyone has ANY ideas I would love to hear them. I have also offered "treats" if he can stay in bed (getting up to go potty is OK) and even this isn't working. Thanks for your help!

2 moms found this helpful

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So What Happened?

Good morning everyone,
I would like to thank you all so very much for your insight and wisdom! I have changed a few things and for the last two nights he has only gotten up once, a big improvement, and he has put himself back to bed without any help. It isn't perfect yet but it is so much better than the last month. I would also like to thank you all for sharing your experience with me. Being a mother is one of the most rewarding jobs I have had but the issues that sometimes come up, can make me crazy, especially when I can't seem to fix it and it is always comforting to know that I am not alone.

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answers from Seattle on

Sit down with him and make a list of his most favorite list of things to do that he usually doesn't get to do. Then tell him if he sleeps through the night, ie doesn't wake you up, then he gets to do one of them with one of you, no twins involved. Eventually make it two nights, the three, making it longer and longer without his noticing it. etc.

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answers from Medford on

Hi K.,
I am a mother of 6 year old fraternal twin boys. I am also a therapist. You would think that I value feelings above all and would want to make sure that my childrens feelings are well taken care of. And of course I do. BUT I do think that sometimes the way we can send the message to our child, who might be anxious about many things that people have suggested, is to be firm with our boundaries. I think as in many things, respecting sleep is a form of reciprocity between parent and child and having our children learn that constant responding to their needs can really zap energy. That said, I usually respond and I say, what I have said since they were infants, "I know you are safe, that you can put yourself to sleep and that Papa and I are hear if you need us." That said, I also let them know that this constant calling out is an energy drain and is taking away from the sleep THEY need, it usually causes the other guys sleep to be disturbed. I let them know if this continues to happen, first it will start with an early to bed consequence for the following night. Since it is taking away from the sleep time they need and usually, late nights can equal early rising, not sleeping in. Then if it continues I let them know that certain other priveleges will be taken for the following day. I agree with folks about just not responding at all. Though, part of our mantra with them, I know you are safe....includes that we are here to take care of you. However, usually that firm note of a consequences stops the constancy. Also, if there is some anxiety and lying in bed and spinning our wheels,as we all know can be a time when that happens is causing this problem I would teach him the 3,2,1 exercise. It's simple, you can do it with him one night and then on following nights kindly suggest he do the 3,2,1 here it is: It is an simple exercise to interupt the circular thinking and bring his attention to the present moment. Think of 3 things that you see and say them to yourself, 3 things that you hear, again saying them to yourself, though when you teach it he will say them to you, and 3 things that he feels, sensations, the sheets against his skin...then you repeat the process just thinking of 2 things for each and then finally 1. You can explain that sometimes when we think about things taht might be upsetting us, doing this exercise gets our mind off of this and really focused on what's happening in our bodies in this very moment. You can also share that the real cool thing about learning this is that he can do it anytime, without you and without anybody really knowing.
Hope All This Helps,
A little about me: Out of work mom of 6 yo fraternal twin boys, married to a wonderful man.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I'm curious about what might have happened during your vacation that could have an affect on your son's patterns, regarding any of the following:

1. His general sense of security, which could have been altered by a hazard (or even a perceived danger) that occurred during your trip.

2. Changes in diet or surroundings that could have exposed him to additives/chemicals that are new to him. (I have a terrible time sleeping when I've had exposures to perfume, air "fresheners" or auto exhaust, to name but a few problem chemicals.)

3. Simply an upset in his usual schedule, maybe including a time zone change.

4. And finally, the approach of kindergarten, a new experience that might have your son feeling overexcited or anxious.

Figuring out possible causes could give you ideas about how to address the problem. I'm sure there are other factors that don't occur to me, but that might be useful to investigate.

His sense of security or fear of change would probably be the toughest one to sleuth out, especially since a small child would have a very different perspective on what's worrisome than an adult. You might try having him tell you stories about your trip, or draw pictures that he can explain to you, or act out a scene describing kindergarten as he understands it. Be alert to anything in the telling that reveals something that might have alarmed him. You might also ask his sister to share things that the little guy might have told her.

When I left my first marriage, my 8 yo daughter went through a (perfectly understandable) stage of clinginess that we addressed with extra snuggling and inventing giggly worst-case scenarios at bedtime. What would we do if we woke up in the night to find that a flock of wild parakeets had lifted the roof off our house? What if elephants outside the window trumpeting so loudly we couldn't sleep? What if we woke up and discovered we were floating around the room like a pink balloon? I'd be cautious doing this with a 5-year-old, though, if his imagination could turn funny scenarios into fears.

A fleeting thought occurs to me, based on my own childhood memories. If you are expressing exhilarated or eager feelings about the increased freedom you'll have when the kids start kindergarten, your son might experience that as a personal rejection on some subtle level. If it's there, he may need reassurance that you're always going to love him and be there for him. Just a thought, but possibly important.

You mention yoga. Have you considered asking your children to participate with you in a session before bedtime? There are probably even videos targeted to the younger set. It could become a calming and bonding routine for you all.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I was going crazy being woken up multiple times a night by my 4 year old. And then I discovered she has sleep apnea and when she gasps for air, it wakes her and that's when she comes to me. I see you've gotten a lot of suggestions already; I'd just like to suggest that maybe you check too to make sure that your son doesn't have sleep anpea - and then try some of those suggestions. Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

I think most kids get this idea at some time. I used to just kind of be mean. I would say, listen, I need some time to myself. I've been taking care of you all day. Now I'm tired and I would like to rest. You are perfectly fine. I want you to stay in your room and be quiet and I will see you in the morning. See, if you are mean, then they don't WANT to see you. This did not harm my daytime relationship at all. It's just setting boundaries and in order to do so it is a whole lot easier if you are just willing to have them be unhappy for a while.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree with Peg. He's anxious or frightened and uses itchy toe type reasons to be with you. Have you told him that you sympathize with his feelings whatever they are? He may not know what emotion he's feeling. You could tell him a story about another little boy who has the same difficulty as he does. Often, children will respond to stories about other kids when they're unable to express their own feelings. By listening to a story, your son may identify with the other boy. You could try telling the whole story and/or have your son finish the story. At some point ask him what would help the little boy in the story.

Both of my grandchildren go thru times when every little thing upsets them. I work on giving them more attention when they're not complaining and sort of "ho hum" the complaints. I sympatize, get a bandage, let them know I care about them in a brief, matter of fact way.

Mostly I'm with them in the day time or evening. They used to do this often during the night and still at times now. Their mother immediately puts them back to bed without responding to the complaint. She says, "you're OK. It's time to sleep, now."

If I were doing it, I'd also give them a hug but it's important
to spend as little time as possible with them. Instead focus on giving your son extra attention during the daytime, especially before bedtime.

Do you have a bedtime routine? Are you in the bathroom with him when he brushes his teeth? A warm bath and a story may help him relax and have something pleasant to focus on as he goes to sleep. I recommend spending around 30 minutes with both kids to include tucking them in, giving them hugs, answering questions about security issues if they initiate them.

My grandchildren like to have their bedroom door open and the hall light on. Their mother turns off the light and shuts their door when she goes to bed. They have a night light in their room, each their own stuffed animal to hold, and they take turns choosing what CD they want played once the "good nights" are over. This happens every night near the same time.

Before she tucks them in she asks if they've gone potty, had a drink of water etc. and sometimes reminded them that once they're in bed there is no getting "one more thing." All in a good natured, matter of fact tone of voice. "This is what we do."

Another idea about why he's waking up in the night is that he's had a bad dream. Perhaps he's had a dream that he can't remember but he feels anxious. So, during the day you could talk about dreams without asking him if he has bad dreams. Tell him about your dreams, good and bad ones. Say that sometimes you get scared when you have a dream. If he becomes part of the conversation you could gently ask him about his dreams.

I frequently don't remember my dreams and so I make up a story, appropriate for their age, around a dream I might have had.

I think the matter of fact and calm voice with as little time spent wirh during the night is important. He may have been anxious at first and now it's become routine.

Do your children have a chore chart on which they put stickers or make star marks when they've completed the chore. If so add sleep thru the night to the chart. Then he puts the sticker on the space when he does. Perhaps that will make it a routine.

I'm not in favor of bribing kids. It has backfired for me. My daughter would ask what she would get if she did such and such. I then started a routine of stamping in a small notebook. I bought a stamp of a package with a bow on it and she could stamp as many times as she wanted in the book any time she wanted to do so. I kept the book which insured that I was part of the stamping ceremony. This rewarded her and gave me an easy reminder to praise her and spend time with her when she was being good. All too often we are busy and end up mostly paying attention when our kids are acting out.

Is your bedroom close to his bedroom. You might try telling him to come to you if he's worried about something. Keep a stash of bandaids. When he comes in put on a bandaid for all complaints, give him a hug, tell him he's ok now and send him back to bed.

Remember that "this, too will pass." He's asking for more attention. Once he gets enough reassurance that he's OK he'll stop needing that time in the middle of the night. Reward daytime by giving him attention then. Down play night time when sleep is most important. It will take some time and patience to reverse this.

This message is way too long but I had a couple more ideas. Make being sure all of his body is OK before turning off the lights. Turn it into a giggly time. "now, does your eye itch" and playfully scratch about the eye. "how about this foot, is it OK?"

Another idea is to give him something to which he can talk when he wakes up. My granddaughter has always talked to her animals. Perhaps suggest to him that he tell your teddy bear that he's awake and his foot itches. Show him how the teddy bear can scratch his foot. Perhaps talk about the fact that teddy bear is always there and he can tell the bear anything and the bear will comfort him. Tell him that you'll check in with him and the teddy bear in the morning to see how the night went.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I had a similiar problem with my son for a while. The dr (who has 6 kids of his own) suggested that on days that he doesn't do it, you give him a token of some sort, he used poker chips, and when he accumulates a certain amount he gets a surprise. I went to the dollar store and stocked up on a few things I knew he would like and let him pick one when he got to that many tokens. And in reverse on days he woke me up for "stuff" he would get one taken away, they dont' tend to like that too much. I would remind him every night before bed about the rule of staying in bed and he could get a token. It worked after a little while and we also got it to work to get him to stay in his room until 7am each morning so taht he wasn't waking my husband up too early since he works swing shift. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I have no problem saying, "STAY IN YOUR ROOM! I am tired and grumpy and need my sleep." If the crying starts send him back to his room and tell him it is too early to be up, he is crying because he is tired and then close the door.
Sometimes we do not have to be our child's best friend, during the middle of the night I am NO ONE's friend (unless they are vomiting or something) and I want my sleep.
He is using all of these excuses because you are giving him the attention. You get out of bed, cuddle, reassure, give teddy bears, night lights, TREATS...what reason does he have to stay in bed? Sounds like some pretty good reasons to get OUT of bed.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

If he has a pillow, or a favorite toy, when he calls you the first time, you will respond but if he is crying 'wolf, you will set it outside the door and when he is ready to settle and sleep, he may get it for himself to sleep with. If he continues to call you, you will again set it outside the door and he may get it when he is then ready. Once it happens twice, his chances to get it for the night are done and then follow through moving it to a different space. Most children at his age may have a difficult time the first night but will understand that you are done making trips for him and he might want to keep his animal, or pillow for the night. Once you follow through successfully, let him know that two chances will no longer happen, he is down to one. As long as it is discussed ahead of time and with love, explaining how you need your sleep, they will usually become quite co-operative.

I've raised my family of five, have done foster care for 10 years, and enjoy my life with my 7 grandchildren. I.



answers from Portland on

My 3 year old was doing the same thing and I got two things that really seemed to help that.
I got her a twilight ladybug star projector. She is bananas for it and when she gets a little scared of the dark or bored in the middle of the night she will turn it on. She loves it and it has made a big difference. The other thing which has worked magically was a marpac 980a white noise conditioner. It just makes a white noise fan like sound and since I got it she has been sleeping so deep. I got one for my new baby who sleeps in my room and was pleasantly surprised to find that I sleep much better because I don't hear the trains running by in the night anymore YAY! Right after I had my second baby I had my parents watching my first kid and they liked the white noise so much (coming through the baby monitor) that they bought one and love it. I can't express how much better all of us sleep now! BTW my 3 month old is averaging 7-9 hours a night now straight sleep it is wonderful. (only bad thing is that it cost 50$ from Amazon) but it is worth every single cent!
The first thing I would try though is asking your son what is going on and if he feels like he needs some special time with you during the day or more nighttime routine stuff. He is old enough to express these needs if asked.

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