Sleep Training: Older Kids


A few weeks ago, we discussed the basics of sleep training your baby but what do you do if your four year old who had been sleeping all of a sudden decides to start a new behavior which leads to no sleep for both of you? I spoke with one of our experts about this because I was at my whit’s end and here is what I learned, implemented and what worked.


By Becky Horace


There ain’t no rest for the wicked

My son is four years old. We did sleep training when he was a baby; it was a hard couple of nights but we all slept. Lately with a full day of school and therapy, at the end of the day my son would be so tired he would quite literally pass out within 10 to 15 minutes of hitting the pillow and stay asleep from 6/6:30pm to 6/6:30am. It was awesome. I had it made! That left me all night to hang out with my husband, go on a date or really watch an ENTIRE MOVIE!

Then we hit a needy phase, which we are still in. “Mom I need you! Lay here with me!” I caved; of course I will lay here with you. I didn’t mind really because these days will soon be over and he will be saying “mom get out of my room!!!” Lying down with him turned our quick 10 minute falling asleep time to 30-45 minute bedtime battle. Once we had our book time and lights were out this would be the script he would rehearse every single night; “Mom, read me another book.” “No babe it’s bed time.” “BUT I WANT ANOTHER!” I would lay there and ignore the mini tantrum telling myself to remain calm. “Mom, sing me a song.” “Ok… 1 song.” He would choose but that was never enough and he would whine for more. Five songs later, we would run through all the things he is scared of in his room which changed daily. “Mom, don’t leave me stay here! I am so scared!” I would reassure him that there was nothing to be scared of but that didn’t really work. I could  have used some help but I couldn’t get his dad to help with bedtime because my son only wanted mom.

I knew this bad habit would need to break soon with a new baby on the way in just a few short months but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Then all hell broke loose. Not only did we battle every evening with the crying and whining my son started waking up every 2 hours, coming to my room, and crying to sleep in my bed or have me come sleep in his. At first, I figured this was a growth spurt, then I chalked it up to bad dreams but then I started to see a pattern form. I would walk him back quietly to his room, tuck him in and lay down with him in the hopes he would fall back to sleep. Sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t. I felt like I already had a newborn who was up every couple of hours. I started to realize both of us had terrible, cranky attitudes come morning time and I simply couldn’t take anymore sleepless nights.

Ask and you shall receive

I couldn’t take anymore. I was mean. I was cranky. I was also extremely pregnant and hormonal and needed help. I didn’t want to bother his child psychologist but I finally asked Ali for advice on how to change this behavior. He gave me some tips and I wanted to share with you what I did implement and what worked for us.

  1. Talk to him. Ali suggested talking to my son as an adult about the situation. As a mom, I see a little boy and I probably do not give him as much credit as he deserves when it comes to believing he can understand that I am exhausted. We sat together for an afternoon snack; I proceeded to explain to him that I can’t continue to wake up all night long because I am pregnant and so tired. If he wanted an awake and happy mommy to play with he would have to let me sleep. He agreed.
  2. Mommy is with you! Ali also suggested that if he is scared to put a picture of the family in the bed. In the middle of the night, if he has a bad dream and wakes up scared he can roll over and see mommy and daddy are right there with him.
  3. Later bedtime. Ali suggested 12 hours was a lot of sleep for my little man since he was waking up all night long so we decided to bump back bedtime by an hour.
  4. Reward chart. We had been implementing the reward “star” chart system so this was just an added bonus when I could tell him the first night that if he just stayed in bed I would give him 10 stars!

Mission Accomplished

Obviously every child is different and you can take these little sleep training tips and use them and hope for the best but there is never a guarantee. Luckily for me; after the talk, a picture in the bed, a later bedtime routine by an hour and the bribe of extra stars for staying in bed IT WORKED! In addition to Ali’s suggestions, I decided I would also try not to even sit on my son’s bed so he could see I would not lay down with him anymore. I brought in a chair from another room and explained this was mommy’s new seat where we will read books before bed. That idea was met with whining but come bedtime he didn’t seem to mind.

Bedtime came, we read a book in the chair, he hopped up and put his book back on the shelf and turned off the lights and I tucked him in and after 3 minutes I snuck out! IT WORKED! I was skeptical about the entire night going well too and ended up staying awake until midnight worrying that he would wake up any second but it never happened.

I am happy to report mission accomplished! Mommy is well rested. The four year old is well rested. Well we are all going to be well rested until the newborn arrives….

photo by Firesmile CC BY NCND 2.0

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