Subject: 4 year old sleep problem
Question: I am the mother of a 4 year old and 2 year old. My 4 year old was a preemie; she had GERD and slept in bed with me so I could monitor her. I never managed to get her out of my bed, and at age 4, she became too big and I couldn't sleep with her anymore. When my husband and I separated (6 months ago), I thought our move (back to my parents' house) would be a good time to introduce her to her own bed. At first it was troublesome but we were working on it. Then my husband moved to the neighborhood--and lets her sleep with him when she's at his house.
So now when I try to put her down in her own bed she becomes completely hysterical. I try to let her cry it out but the screaming really bothers my parents. She (and now her brother) wake up all night crying for mommy--I get no sleep. Bed time is a nightmare. Just for a break, I've decided to let them sleep at daddy's every night, but something will have to be done! A 4-year-old who can't go to bed by herself and stay in bed all night! There's anxiety about our divorce, but the bedtime thing is spiraling out of control. Any advice?
Answer: Dear Sarah:
Quite bluntly, this much change in a child's life is not time for a power struggle over bedtime routines. She is 4 years old and her world as she knows it is coming undone.
Her parents separated, then she was moved into her grandparents house, and she is expected to go into a strange bed every night. When you think about it isn't screaming the right response to all this change upon which she has no input and not choice in any of it.
She has slept with you since she was born and now under all this stress she is suppose just suppose to adapt.
I am wondering if you are expecting so much of this 4 year old because you are expecting so much of yourself? There are alot of changes going on in your life as well as theirs. You are now a single parent who ex has moved into the neighborhood. It sounds like it is an amicable separation and he is supportive of the children this is a real blessing.
Here is a suggestion Get back to bedtime routines. Read all the previous posting on bedtime routines. Routines are not the same as schedules. Your daughter is probably very sensitive to routines because she was a preemie. Interruption in her routines is probably causing her high anxiety levels and she lets it out over the sleeping arrangements when she become hysterical and puts her foot down.
Start by turning down the noise level in the environment a half and hour to forty five minutes before bedtime. Have some quiet time with her. Bathe, massage and some soothing music to go to sleep by. Maybe you could drag her mattress into your room and lie with her until she falls asleep. Establishing a nightly routine that you strictly adhere to could go a long way to lowering her anxiety and producing a long and quiet sleep.
Actually I do not have a problem with children sleeping with their parents as long as the child is the one who initiates it. I see it as a comforting ritual between parent and child and who better to comfort them than their own parent. Most children are not passed their fears of the dark and sleeping alone until they are much older. Our society has convinced us to cut off from our children at an earlier age than they are prepared for and look how well that is working for us.
I do believe in child led behavior modification. Children will start to push us away as they should. I haven't met any parents who have stated their teenager or college student has dragged them off to college so the could sleep with their parents. (Hope that is a comfort to you.)
I do believe children will cling tighter during a divorce, even regress in their behavior. If she didn't want to be closer to you I would be concerned about her attachment to her primary caregiver.
This maybe not what you wanted to hear however I sense a need for you to nurture yourself as well, deal with your own overwhelmed feelings in this time of change and upheaval and you will be better equipped to show her more compassion.
Hopefully you will both get more sleep with a new established bedtime routine.
M Kay Keller
QUESTION: As an addendum to my previous question, we do have a routine of dinner, play, bath, pyjamas, books, teeth, bed. With two kids, things take longer than I expect. Then all the calm "good" feelings of the bedtime routine are ruined when all the whining and screaming and "mommy don't leave me!" start. I noticed in your postings you like routines--I do have them! (husband doesn't...)
Good I am glad you have established the bedtime routines and possibly you could discuss with your husband the need for consistency in the routines from one house to another. Do add in the massage as massage has such an impact upon the body systems, i.e., nervous, sympathetic, immune systems and on and on. It also creates a sense of well being which it sounds like she is in dire need of right now.
It really does sound to me like this is more than just about going to bed. I think she is really undone by all the changes. Some children are just more sensitive and preemies are often more sensitive.
There are several good books out on the Highly sensitive child and the sensitive child. Parenting from the inside out and positive parenting by Jane Nelson are great paperback books.
Again, remember to nurture yourself as well because your family is dependent upon you for their emotional cues. The more loving and compassionate you are with your own grieving processes the more you will recognize their grief.
M Kay Keller
--------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thank you for your advice. one more question about routines--my husband was going to 2 AA meetings a night from 7-9:30. He cut back to 1 a night--7-8 pm--to be able to have the kids overnight. He picks them up at 815 pm. I do their bedtime routine here, but then he comes, they get excited, go to his house and go straight to bed with him. Is this okay? thanks again
Answer: Dear Sara:
It sounds like it is working for him so I wouldn't worry too much about it. Remember times are all about schedules and routines are more flexible. They are all about processes, e.g., what happens next.
Sounds like you have a great set up for you, your children and your family.
M Kay Keller