Crying It Out with a Four Year Old

Updated on July 25, 2012
K.S. asks from Hampton, VA
21 answers

My daughter is four and WILL NOT sleep through the night. I'm a single mom and not all that interested in working on it right now. It's become a pretty big argument with me and my boyfriend - which is really sort of irrelevant. I recognize the importance of a) teaching her how to soothe herself and b) getting at least one full night sleep every once in a while. But I'm just not sure I have the wherewithall by myself to let her cry it out. A 4yo has a different understanding than a baby and I don't want to create bigger issues (with abandonment and such) by doing the wrong thing at night.
Someone please help! I am at the end of my rope tonight! I've got to get some sleep but I can't let her come into my bed. When really that's all I wanna do...snuggle her!

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So What Happened?

The boyfriend doesn't live with me and almost never sleeps over. (If he does, it's on the couch downstairs. Maybe twice or three times in a year.) It's more about me trying to teach my daughter the skills she needs to be happy later in life. If she doesn't learn to self-soothe now, when will she? I am okay with the way things are now, and I know she sleeps in the bed with her dad when they visit him. So I'm really challenged with this whole issue.

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answers from Chicago on

Have you explained to her that you are super tired and that you need her to be a big girl and stay in her bed? She's 4, so she should understand this. There should be no CIO, just her trying to sleep without her mommy.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Two things that worked for us:

We have sleep overs in my daughter's room Friday night one week and have her sleep in my room Friday night the next week. It was based on a reward system. If she slept in her bed all week, we would have a sleep over at the end of the week and have popcorn and a movie.

When I was still pregnant with her, the only thing that calmed her down in the womb was when I had the weather channel on. I can't explain it, I just know it worked and still does.

It's all trial and error.

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answers from San Diego on

Why not snuggle?

Boyfriend aside, why not?

Are you getting a good night sleep when she's in your bed? Is she?

I have my five and a half year old in my bed, no plans for change and I love it. Time is flying and there is no way she will be in my bed forever. She's growing and changing and breaking away from me in saddening and fantastic ways.... going to enjoy the snuggle time as long as I can: )

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I'm going through the same thing with my 3.5YO and my husband right now. I can get my son to fall asleep in his own bed but when he wakes in the night he comes in to snuggle. FINE with me, I love it. The issue really is DH's -- claims it's a space issue (not enough room on the bed) but in reality he's jealous. His issue. So I continue to let my son come in at night and just deal with the comments and irritation from DH. One day he will start sleeping through the night -- we all do. I would encourage you to do what you're comfortable with and what YOU want to do as a parent. If you both sleep better together, then do it. Don't let anyone make you feel guilty or like you're not doing it right. If it feels right to you and your daughter, it's right for your family.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

I'm not sure where this idea of "self-soothing" came from. It's a complete myth. It's not that your daughter doesn't know how to self-soothe. She knows how to fall asleep, and she knows how to fall back to sleep in the middle of the night. She can do this, but she doesn't want to. She wants to be held. She wants to feel close to her mommy. There's nothing wrong with that.

You're not doing anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with your daughter sleeping in your bed. Sleeping with you helps her to feel safe and secure, even in the middle of the night where lamps and clothes hanging look lime monsters and the boogieman and her imagination is working overtime. It won't be long before she decides for herself that big girls sleep in their own bed and she no longer wants to sleep with you.

When you let your daughter sleep with you, you are letting her know that Mommy loves her and Mommy is always there for her. You are teaching her wonderful things.

You guys are doing just fine!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Toss the boyfriend out of your bed and out of your house. Go snuggle with your four year old in her bed until she's sleeping. Your child comes first.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Why can't your four year old come into your bed? You want to snuggle her, and she wants to snuggle you. She is needing nurturing form you. There's a reason that she's crying during the night, and crying it out doesn't address the reasons.

I'm also a single mom and know how hard it can be to get some good sleep. If your daughter can't come to your bed because your boyfriend is in it, send him home. (At the very least, take yourself into her bed and sleep with her). Your daughter should rank higher than your boyfriend, and your boyfriend should not be making the parenting decisions for your daughter. Your #1 responsibility is to her, not him.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I am going to suggest Melatonin for you. My son had to start using it at a very young age as well. Now 2.5yrs later he no longer needs it. Go to the Vitamine Shoppe and get liquid melatonin. Start bed time routine with it in about 1oz of juice (we watered it down) then read stories and be relaxed for 30ish min. It will work. You are best starting out being in the room while she falls asleep to know if she has the right amt in her system. I bet you her body has difficulty understanding when to produce melatonin and does not do it properly like my son. I wish you well, any questions PM me - your body is SUPPOSED to make this stuff anyway.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

i don't know how close this bf and you are but you are right - it's not his issue. unless you are living together and engaged to be married he has no say so. (if you are living together, that's a whole other can of worms. but if so, yes, i think he kind of gets a say. you invited this person into your life. it's only fair that he have an opinion on the living situation he is now a part of. and i happen to agree with him, although i know you're not asking for that. you're asking for help.)

if you had come here asking "should i kick her out of my bed" i can see the validity of the below responses. you didn't. so here's my advice (from someone who does not want children crashing my bed, either. i need my sleep too, and like you, with kids in my bed, i don't get it. this is about mama's sanity.)

you said yourself, she is four, she has complete understanding of the situation. she's perfectly capable of sleeping alone, she has been taught that she doesn't have to. when you're ready you will find the strength. it's just like anything else we do as parents - we have to put our foot down, and no, they don't like it. she will put up a fight but it is to be expected. you just have to find the strength to outlast her and be the parent, which is our job. saying "no" is a part of that job. or should be if we're doing it right. there's no help other than to face it head on and fix it. but you already know that mama. it won't be an overnight fix. it wasn't an overnight circumstance that created this. if she's been getting away with it for four years- what makes you think you'll push a magic button and tonight (or tomorrow) you'll get a great night's sleep? it will take time and work and patience on your part. remember she's only doing as she's learned from you. you created the monster. it's not fair to get frustrated at her for being upset that the rules are changing.

i'd suggest having a "grown up" talk with her. explain the changing situation in terms she can understand and lay out your expectations of her. (during the day, before bedtime) then when bedtime comes follow through and remind her of your talk. for things to change you have to stand up and be firm. good luck mama. don't underestimate her. she will do great. have a little faith in her and let her see how proud you are of her.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Follow your heart!! My son wakes up most nights at about 2 or 3 am and asks me to come to his bed. We do have a sticker/reward chart when he stays in his bed all night and we do not punish him for waking up. When he comes to our room get me I go to his room and spend the rest of the morning there. They are only little once and she is coming to get you because she wants to be with you. I would make some rules that you are comfortable with (like she has to fall asleep in her bed) but then be flexible with what she needs.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

Well, I don't believe in full-on CIO, so you may want to stop reading my response right now. But when my son was a toddler, what I did was this:

If he just fussed or mumbled, I let him "fuss it out." If he was clearly awake and calling my name, I went in but I didn't do a full-on snuggle. I just said, "Oh, your blanket fell off. Here it is." And I went straight back to my room. Within a year (and yeah, it did take a while), he was just finding his blanket and snuggling himself back to sleep.

In other words, you can still go to her, but if you offer her great big buckets of snuggly comfort every time, that's what she'll expect every time. Bring comfort in smaller doses, and she'll ratchet her expectations down.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Hi, K.:

You have some issues here:
Boyfirend and you argue about something?
You worry whether you are a good mom.
Want the child to self-soothe.
Child sleeps with her father when she visits him.
You want to sleep with your child but afraiid to.

Have you thought about taking some parenting classes to
understand parenting dynamics.

Good luck.



answers from Washington DC on

One idea is to get a sleeping bag (and adult one is OK if you have one), put it on a thin mat on the floor on her room, and pretend for all the world that you want to sleep in it -- make a big deal about how special it is. Then tell your daughter before bedtime that if she is having trouble sleeping in her bed that she is allowed to sleep in the sleeping bag. When she comes into your bed at night, let her cuddle for 5 minutes, but then tell her that she needs to sleep in her bed or she can have the special privilege of sleeping in the sleeping bag if she likes, but that you need your space so you can get good sleep. Good sleep = happy mommy. I tell my girls that I think about them too much when they are in the bed with me and so I can't sleep (this is actually true for me). Walk her back to her room, give her an extra hug, and say good night. Soon she will not need to visit you at night, I bet. I've used the sleeping bag idea to help with an occasional difficult night and it seems to work.



answers from Houston on

My kids were and are the same way. My children never really slept well through the night ,from the very beginning. They ended up in our bed. honestly it never really became anissue until after we had our second child. The really wasnt enough space for everyone to sleep comfortably. My dd is 8 now and sleeps through the night in her own bed!!! My ds is 4 and sleeps most of the night in his own bed. It wasnt easy to get to this point, but its been worth it. The only thingI can suggest is try having a relaxing bedtime routine, with a story and leave the door open and the hall light on. In the beginning I would sit in the room with them til they fell alseep. I dont really know what the exact right answer is,I just didwhat worked my family, and my kids, and in the end thats what you have to do, what best for you and yours. Good luck!



answers from Austin on

I feel for you. I think sleep deprivation is the hardest part of being a parent. You have to get her to sleep in her own bed. Like you said, the boyfriend has nothing to do with it. I am very against extinction CIO where you just let them cry and never respond to them. The Ferber method is actually quite compassionate. I highly recommend reading the original book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. The gist of it is that you take your daughter back to bed every time she gets up, comfort her, and then go back to your own bed. If she cries, you let her cry for a set period of time, maybe 5 minutes (you decide what's appropriate). Then you go back in and comfort her, but leave and go back to your own bed. Repeat for as long as it takes. It typically takes 3 nights. No, it's not fun, and you're not getting sleep, but you're not getting sleep now. And this way you're showing her that you are there for her, but that she absolutely must sleep in her own bed. The book covers many more details if you have other questions/concerns. Best of luck.



answers from San Francisco on

I just answered this question to another mom a few posts later with a 2-1/2 year old. My response to you is the same as my response to her.

You know, one thing that is also really good for a child, even better than getting lots of nurturing, is learning that other people have needs too and that it's not all about her. At 4, she is old enough to understand that mommy needs sleep. You won't create issues by teaching her to care about the needs of others.



answers from Norfolk on

Those last two answers were quite helpful. I don't pick her up. I hug her and tell her Mommy's here and tell her to lay back down and cover her up. I give her a kiss, sing her a lullaby if she seems unusually distressed. Then pat her on the butt and tell her good night.
She SHOULD be old enough to understand Mommy needs to sleep too. I've mentioned that but I haven't emphasized it, so that will become part of my strategy. Someone said to me that maybe she even thinks I NEED her to get me up. Sounds ludicrous maybe, but I'm willing to consider that. So she and I will have a talk today and discuss it.
But with all this said and whatever progress I MIGHT have made last night, there's a terrible storm scheduled to come through at bedtime and they're allowed to sleep in my room if it's storming. Ya win some ya lose some...



answers from New York on

It is unclear - can you sleep when she's in your bed? Are you doing this because you think it is a good idea, or just because your boyfriend is selling it as a good idea?

If you can sleep when she's with you, and everybody in your actual household is OK with the sleeping arrangement - tell your boyfriend to butt out, and do what you want.

If you are actually trying to get her to sleep in her own bed for your own purposes, the advice/story below may help:

Sell it. Talk about big girl things, do a reward system for a bit, go positive. And be flexible. I find with my daughter if she feels like she's in charge she's much more cooperative. If she ends up back with you once or twice a week, no big deal, and it will gradually fade.

Start by getting her to go to sleep in her bed, then offer to resettle her in her bed if she wakes up. My daughter finally (at sometime after three) started to really sleep most of most nights in her own bed. She always (or 98% of the time) starts in her bed. She then cycles, some weeks she'll spend the entire night in her bed, some weeks end up in our bed almost every time. Our reaction differs depending on how we feel and how busy she is (nothing like the third kick to the head to get someone picked up and moved to their own space!)

She's always proud to tell people what a big girl she is and how she slept in her bed the whole night (this is especially amusing when she wakes up in OUR bed and proceeds to inform us of this fact). Every month the number of nights in our bed seems to go down at least some, and the number of nights in her bed goes up. So we're heading in the right direction, with no crying it out.



answers from Muncie on

Is she stalling going to bed or waking up from sleep? Is it bad dreams? Bathroom? If she is waking up you can handle these situations differently, but the moved back to her bed should be as quick as possible. As for stalling going to bed, she is old enough to be told to go back to bed and lay down.

Try to get her to tell you why she's awake, it will help you decide how to handle the situation. If it's a potty break then a quick trip to the potty, give her a kiss on the head and tuck her back in bed. If it's a bad dream, sit up and cuddle for a few moments, put on a short kids show (15 mins or so, to help clear the scary images from her mind) then a kiss and tuck her back in bed again.

Good luck.



answers from Washington DC on

This book has been a Godsend for me:
It promotes using behavior charts to shape desired behaviors (such as bedtime, etc.). I had used behavior charts with my son before with little success, but this book has a unique approach that really worked for us. What I love is that this method is adaptable to any behavior you are trying to shape, and any age. My son has been using this system for a year now, and, while things are not perfect ALL of the time, he is really doing great and the behavior issues we had before are milder, fewer, and more infrequent...and he continues to improve.

Best of luck to you.



answers from San Francisco on

You're right, a four year old does have a different understanding than a baby. A 4 YO is old enough to understand that you are not abandoning her, but you are helping her to become a big girl.

You said yourself that you are not really interested in dealing with this issue right now. If that's how you feel, then I don't see the question. Just keep doing what you're doing.

When you're ready to deal with it, ask for advice then!

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