Sleep Training a Four-Year-Old — Ask the Sleep Lady
A mom named Ally wrote to my Facebook page asking about sleep training a four-year-old. She asked:
My daughter is almost four years old and has been having a hard time lately falling asleep without our assistance. She needs us to hold her hand, snuggle or something that keeps us in the room.
My daughter doesn’t nap anymore. She wakes up between 7 and 8 a.m. and her bedtime is usually at 7:30 or 7:45. But she doesn’t fall asleep until 8:30 to 9:15. Should I try putting her to bed earlier? How can I teach her to fall asleep faster and on her own? –Ally
I’ll help Ally:
- Eliminate medical issues
- Find an appropriate bedtime
- Use a Sleep Manners Chart
- Learn The Shuffle for sleep training
How Long Has This Been Going On?
Ally, if I were doing a consultation with you, I would ask you if you have been lying down with her for some time. Often it starts when we transfer our toddlers from crib to bed. In order to keep them happy and in their bed we find ourselves, often inadvertently, lying down with them. Then we just fall asleep ourselves and sleep there the rest of the night.
I don’t know some of those details, but I would start here:
Get the Green Light From Your Doctor
Since she is four years old I want you to rule out underlying medical conditions.
Check here first:
Read: Starting Sleep Training? 10 Steps To Take BEFORE You Start:
Believe it or not, obstructive sleep apnea happens with children also. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are usually the cause. One of the many symptoms of sleep apnea is difficulty going to sleep at bedtime.
Also ask yourself:
- Does she snore?
- Mouth breathe?
- Is she a restless sleeper?
- Does she sweat when she sleeps?
Of course, if there’s any history of allergies or reflux — or a history of other medical issues — please share all of this with your doctor. Make sure you ask him or her to check her tonsils and adenoids as well.
Child won't sleep and you don't know where to start?
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Use a Sleep Manner Chart
Let’s say that none of those are the issue. Perhaps she got sick or you went on a trip and started sleeping with her and now you are stuck in your current situation that you want to change.
I would recommend you do the following:
- Have a family meeting.
- Create a sleep manner chart. (All of these things are outlined in my book Good Night Sleep Tight and/or the Workbook.)
- Tell her that you “talked to the Sleep Lady and she said that we were supposed to teach you how to put yourself to sleep when you were much younger. We are going to teach you how and we’re going to stay with you while you learn.”
- Every night and morning review this sleep manner chart with her.
Find the Right Bedtime
When you plan your first night of sleep coaching — to sleep coach and use the manner chart— you will need to make sure it’s an early enough bedtime. Since she is sleeping until 7 a.m. and is four years old, she could probably go to sleep closer to 8 p.m. However, watch her sleep cues because these will override the “sleep averages”. Watch for a time where she seems to have lower energy and hasn’t yet gotten a second wind.
Are you wondering about schedules and bedtimes?
Read: Sleep Schedules – Your Two-and-a-Half-Year to Five-Year-Old
Sleep Training a Four-Year-Old Begins with Sitting With Her
Have a soothing bedtime routine that you follow so that lights are out at that time and give final kisses goodnight.
Start first by sitting up next to her.
I have some rules in my book about what you can and can’t do when sitting next to her. Sit next to her offering physical and verbal reassurance until she is asleep.
Bedtime Battles? Look no further:
Read: Bedtime Routine for Toddlers — Soothing and Predictable
If She Wakes Up At Night
If she’s not currently waking during the night, I don’t want you to panic if she starts to wake during the night during this process. It’s not uncommon. After all, you’re really changing your habits that she has become accustomed to and sometimes things get worse before they get better.
If she comes out of her room bring her back to her room and say, “Remember, we have to lie quietly in our bed until our wakeup light comes on.” Sit in your position by her bed.
Using The Shuffle for Sleep Training a Four-Year-Old
A lot of parents of four-years-olds will say to me, “But, Kim! Then she’s going to be used to me sitting in the room with her.” You’re not going to stay there. You’ll do that for three nights, each time she wakes up and at bedtime. Then you will sit by the door for three nights. Next, you will sit in the hall with her in view. Following that, you will sit with her out of view. Finally you can do job checks — where you tell her you will check on her after she has done each of her jobs like brushing her teeth or putting on her pjs.
So, don’t worry. You are already in there and you want to be out of her room. I don’t want you to get stuck in there. All of this is outlined in my book, Good Night, Sleep Tight.
Good luck, Ally!