By Renee Wilson
You aren’t getting a good night’s sleep and all fingers point to your preschooler. Whether it’s stall tactics that go on for an hour after tuck-in, a four-year-old mule who refuses to sleep in her own room, or a bandit in footie PJs that squeezes into your bed in the wee hours of the night, the end result for parents is the same: exhaustion.
“A preschooler that doesn’t sleep won’t outgrow it, but you can solve it,” says Jodi Mindell, author of Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep: The All-in-One Resource for Solving Sleep Problems in Kids and Teens (Da Capo Press).
Your daughter wakes up screaming and crying in the middle of the night. When you go into her room, it seems like she’s awake, but she remains inconsolable.
“With a nightmare, you can wake the child up and she can tell you what she’s dreaming. With a night terror, the child cannot be easily awoken and, in the morning, will not have any memory of the waking incident,” says Dr. Penny Corkum, child psychologist, Psychology Department, Dalhousie University in Halifax. Walk into her room quietly and just stand there, advises Mindell. If she responds to you, you know she’s awake. If she doesn’t even see you there, you know it’s likely a sleep terror. Handle it by literally doing nothing, which goes completely against our parenting instinct. “The more you try to comfort them, the worse it will get,” says Mindell.
Your son wakes up, and wakes you up with him, at least three times a night.
“Some kids will grab their blankie, rub it, roll over and go back to sleep. But some kids have a hard time with that. If you’re trying to deal with this, it’s really important that the child go to sleep in the environment that he’s going to wake up in,” advises Dr. Corkum. If there was a nightlight on when he fell asleep, for example, make sure the light is on when he wakes up. Snoring could also be the culprit, says Mindell. It may be a symptom of sleep apnea (a breathing problem during the night) and is usually related to enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Talk to your doctor to rule that out as a first step. Also take a look at the physical things in the room that might be disturbing him, such as a noisy air vent.
Your son will go to sleep in his own room but he ends up sneaking into your bed. Too exhausted, you let him stay.
If you really want to solve this, Mindell says, you’ve got to drag yourself out of bed in the middle of the night. Be consistent and tuck him back in his own bed each time. If you let him in every fourth night, it’s going to take you several months to solve it. And set up some kind of reward system for the child sleeping in his or her bed all night. It doesn’t have to be that he stays in his bed all night, but that he sleeps in his bed all night. If he comes out three times and you return him three times, he still gets a reward.
Your daughter just won’t fall asleep in her own bed.
Parents might be conflicted about co-sleeping because it is cuddly and cozy. “You really have to decide if this is a problem that you want to work on,” says Dr. Corkum. “If so, it will take some time and energy, but if you return your child to her bed consistently, ignoring all protests, it should work after a week or so.” Mindell agrees. “What you can do is lay down with your daughter in her bed to get her used to being in her own room while you’re still there. Start moving out gradually, going from bed to sitting in a chair to standing at the door, gradually over several weeks, until she is falling asleep on her own.”
Your son’s stall tactics at bedtime are maddening. Bedtime can go on for over an hour!
“Make a bedtime routine chart. You want to include every possible request including the last drink of water, the last trip to the potty,” says Mindell. “That way, you can defer to the chart.” Another idea is a bedtime pass. Give him a card that he can turn in for just one more thing. Once it’s been used, it’s gone. requests.
“I gave up on them sleeping in their own beds long ago. They sleep with us. Sometimes I lie in the dark staring at the ceiling in a kind of kid prison; one hugging me, one holding my hand and the third sleeping on top of me. Some nights though, it’s fun to have all that cuddling. It’ll be over before you know it.”
John Pavkovic, dad of Jakob, 6, and Zak and Ilija, 4, Toronto
“A consistent bedtime (7:30 p.m.) preceded by a bath, bottle, teeth brushing, pajamas, storytime and cuddles is what works for us. By the time we put Ella down, she expects it and understands what comes next.”
Susan Varallo, mom of Ella, 1, London, Ont.