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4-Year-Old Will Not Sleep Alone

​​Question:

My son is 4, and we ​are really struggling with him not sleeping all night in his bed without one of us falling asleep in bed with him. Is he too old to break this habit? I am just about at the end of my rope.

Answer:

You can break the habit of your son needing someone to go to bed with him, but you have to be prepared for a bit of a struggle initially. You must be committed to staying the course and being consistent as you work through the process.

First, it is important to establish a bedtime routine and stick to it. Once you have established it, you must be consistent with the routine from start to finish. For example, create a list of bedtime activities. These could include bath, putting on pajamas, story time, kissing goodnight, saying prayers, a nighttime drink of water and cuddling for a short time before lights out.

Let your son know what the routine is going to be. Make sure the routine fits in with the allotted time you have in your schedule. This schedule has to be followed every night, even if there is a babysitter in the home. Also, make sure the room is set up the same way each night. You may want to consider using a night light, a favorite stuffed animal, soft music or any other item that makes him feel comfortable.

Your son will likely test you for the first few nights. Stay calm as you go through the routine. Again, you need to deal with him consistently each time he becomes upset or gets out of bed. When he gets out of bed or cries, let him know that it is time to go to bed, that mommy and daddy love him, and that you’ll see him in the morning. Do not engage in too much conversation. You may have to repeat this a number of times until he knows you are not going to lay in bed with him until he falls asleep.

Be sure he understands what the expectations are before you start this new routine. In fact, you may want to make a chart outlining some simple bedtime rules. Each morning after a successful bedtime, put a sticker on the chart (let him pick out the stickers). If his good bedtime behavior becomes an every-night occurrence, then not only give him a sticker, but also give him a reward of some sort.

Rewards do not have to be expensive. In fact, some families use a “joy jar,” from which the child can choose from a variety of rewards, including time with an adult, a trip to the library or choice of favorite meal. Have him help write down rewards of his choosing on slips paper and put them in a jar. Then have him draw a reward from the jar when he deserves it. It may take time to see behavioral changes, but with consistency his sleep issue should be resolved.

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