Anyone with kids knows that getting them to sleep is no easy feat. Luckily, there are people who specialize in these things, like Israeli sleep coach Batya Sherizen. Below she takes on a question from Kveller editor, Deborah Kolben. Do you have a sleep question for Batya? Send them into firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Sleep coach.”
My 4-year-old still wakes up and wants us to sleep in her bed every night. How do we get her to sleep on her own?
As parents, we obviously want to ensure that our children feel emotionally secure at all times. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves sacrificing that “security” at our own expense and sleep deprivation.
Your 4-year-old wants your presence to fall back asleep at night and she is developmentally at a place where she can understand cause and affect. Until now, she has learned that if she protests enough, Mommy and/or Daddy WILL come and sleep in her bed. Therefore, she has no reason to change her current behavior. In her eyes, she is getting what she wants!
So, in order to start seeing progress, I suggest doing the following:
1. Talk, Talk, Talk! Spend a whole day discussing how she is so big and going to stay in her bed all night BY HERSELF. You can purchase a night-light together, or something else for her room that will not only add to her own security, but make her feel more included in the decision as a whole.
2. Incentives! Buy some type of treat or something small that you don’t mind giving her daily for a few weeks (until her new habits are well entrenched). It can be M&Ms, a small candy, etc. Show it to her before bed and explain to her how she’s so big and is now going to be sleeping in her own room and in her own bed. And, for staying in her bed at night she’s going to get this special treat every morning! Wow, she’s so big! Make a big show about it all with clapping and dancing…it will make her feel very positive about remaining in her bed without you.
One note: because your toddler is so smart, it’s possible that after some time she will begin to expect a treat, even if she no longer needs it for motivation. If this happens you’ll have to begin weaning her from her treat by lessening the amount (or stopping completely), and upping the “Wow you’re so big” positivity praise. Although incentives are nice, most kids feel much better about themselves with your praise and attention. Call a grandparent in the morning, write a note for her teacher, do whatever you can to make sure she feels like a million dollars. She’ll soon forget about the treat and as your praise starts to phase out, her new habits will become part of normal life.
3. Be Loving, but Firm! In the middle of the night when she wakes up, place a chair in her room for you to sit on. Briefly reassure her, letting her know that you’re there, you’ll stay there, but you are not coming into her bed. Stay there with her until she falls asleep, and if/when she wakes up again, repeat the same process. As the nights progress, you can slowly move your chair further and further away from her until you are out of the room completely.
This whole process will take about 1-1.5 weeks and does require consistency on your part. But if you’re ready for it, you will have your own sleeping space back and a 4-year-old who feels so big and proud of herself, too!