Toddler Sleep Problems: My Preschooler Still Doesn’t Sleep Through the Night!

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  • March 20, 2012

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Would you like to have The Sleep Lady answer your toddler sleep problem here? If so submit your question in the Ask The Sleep Lady question box to the right. I will pick several a month to answer and post them here on the blog!

If you have any thoughts or advice for anyone who has posted on this blog, please feel free to click the “reply” link under their comment. Supporting each other makes parenting so much easier!

If you would rather read than watch my above video then here is the transcript of this week’s video:

Hi! Kim West, The Sleep Lady. And today, I’m going to answer Jeff’s email:

He wrote in saying, “My four-year-old is a great sleeper. Except at bedtime, we tell her stories and when she was little, we used to pat her bottom to sleep. But now, we do books and a story and sometimes, she asks me to pat her to sleep. And other times, I read the stories and we snuggle on these pillows on the floor and she falls asleep there and I transfer her to her bed. That seemed to be going okay but she would wake up in the middle of the night and she would come to our room and I would just let her into our bed because it was just easier and I was tired and I didn’t mind it that much.

But it became a problem for my wife who couldn’t sleep with her in the bed. So, we told her, “You know, honey, it’s time for you to sleep through the night in your bed” and she would do it most of the nights. But what ended up replacing it is she would come to our room and say, “I have to go potty.” Or, at least, I think, that’s what she wanted. And so I would bring her to the potty and she would indeed go potty and then I would bring her back to the bed and sometimes, I’d have to pat her and sometimes, she would ask for a story.

Now, she wakes up during the night, comes to my bed and looks at me and I don’t know whether she is scared or has to go potty and so, I’ll ask her if she has to go potty and she always says yes. How do I get out of this pattern?”

Jeff, I’m really glad that you asked me these questions because they’re really common and it shows you how quickly we can replace one toddler sleep problem with another, not that your daughter doesn’t have to go potty during the night, she may very well have to go potty during the night. But did you notice that you gave the idea of her going to potty. You didn’t say she said it. I call that leading the witness. It’s like saying, “Honey, did you have a bad dream?” and all of a sudden, they’re like “as a matter of fact, I did have a bad dream” or “as a matter of fact, I do have to go potty. Good idea, Dad!”

Here is where you should start, I would have a conversation with her and blame it on me. You could say, “Today, I spoke with The Sleep Lady and she said I was supposed to teach you how to put yourself to sleep in your big-girl bed without daddy lying down with you or telling you a story or patting your bottom to sleep. I probably should’ve done that when you were much younger, but that’s okay. I can teach you how to do it now and you’re going to feel so proud of yourself.”

I would create a sleep manner chart like I outline in my book “Good Night, Sleep Tight” where you put on it the following manners: cooperates at bedtime, lies quietly in bed, puts self to sleep without daddy telling me a story or mommy patting my back, put self back to sleep during the night without daddy telling me a story or patting my back or whatever it is that she typically wants you to do and then finally stays in bed all night long until my wake-up light comes on. She is at a great age for doing all of this. There are lots of products on the internet that you can find or you can even go buy an appliance timer and say, “We have to lie quietly in our bed until our wake-up light comes on” and show her what that looks like.

Now, in terms of the potty, we’re obviously not going to tell our child, “Sorry, you’re going to have to go pee in your bed” clearly. But if she really does say, “I have to go potty”, then, of course, help escort her to the potty. I have some parents who have their older child go to the potty by themself but that depends on their age. I’ve had other parents put a portable potty in the bedroom and say, “You can go potty right here.” Whatever you do, don’t make going to the potty a party or an engaging event. We don’t want to turn on all the lights, have a lot of elaborate hand washing and sanitizing and chatting and storytelling…make it boring! If anything, tell her, “I’ll go wait in your room while you go potty.” If she can’t go potty independently yet, escort her but turn your back and don’t talk with her once she is on the potty. Make it quick and simple and right to bed, okay? Those are important points about the potty.

Now about bedtime. I want you to start bedtime in her bed not on the pillows. I want you to sit up and not lay down in her bed or get into a struggle about patting her back. You can say “You know what, I can only pat your back for one minute and then daddy is going to sit here but there is no talking and I’ll stay until you’re asleep”, okay?

Again, you don’t want to replace one sleep crutch for another. Don’t start singing and humming because then that will be your new problem! It happens quickly! Move your chair away every three nights and every time she wakes up during the night and peddle paddles into your room, you stand up, take her hand, don’t lead the witness, walk her back to the room, and remind her that her wake-up light is not on, get her back into the bed and resume your Shuffle position.

It will take you about two weeks of consistency on your part to see sleep success! Lots of times, I find that it gets worse before it gets better. The first couple of nights are okay, maybe the third or the fourth night, it’s like our child says, “You know what, I don’t like this program. It seems to be sticking. How can we get back to the old program?” That’s really common and you just have to stay consistent through it and you will have a four-year-old who sleeps through the night and is really proud of herself.

So, good luck, Jeff!

Sleep Tight,

Kim

Video filmed by In Focus Studios

For more details and coaching on how to get your preschooler sleeping thru the night, check out my Gentle and Proven Solution to a Good Night’s Sleep for Your Whole Family? Click here now

Photography by tanya_little on Flickr

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One Comment

  • Wally3 says:

    Thank you.  My son has been waking since he turned 3 and decided that he no longer needed to wear diapers.  When he woke up I would assume he need to go and take him to the bathroom. He was waking 2 or 3 times a night.  I started just putting him straight back to bed.  He has been sleeping much better and makes it all the way through the night sometimes. It has been 2 weeks and had 2 set back once when I went out of ton and once when he got sick.  He is doing so much better and I feel much better. He has yet to have an accident and has only told me once he needed to go pee.