Switching bedtime routine in a 4-year-old

Margaux writes:

"My son is 4 and for the past year or maybe a bit more,
we've gotten into what I consider to be a bad habit, which is that I
have to lie with him while he falls asleep. It didn't used to be the
case, but as most habits go, I think one night he asked me to, I said
yes, and the rest is history.

Some nights I don't mind it; I work and he goes to daycare, so
it's nice to be able to have that time with him. However, some nights
all I want to do is be free of that room. I have a 1-year-old and do
freelance work after they're in bed, so some nights it's really a matter
of necessity.

I have asked daycare to stop allowing him to nap (he hasn't
napped at home in probably two years) so that he falls asleep easier,
but I really want him to be able to fall asleep on his own. I don't
think he's afraid. I just think it's a habit.

Wondering if anyone has had any success with any
particular method of this. He is very headstrong so whatever I decide to
do is probably not going to be easy."

First, I'd like to say to all of you with teeny tiny babies who are worried about getting into bad habits, especially bad sleep habits: Don't worry. There's ALWAYS time to get into a bad sleep habit.

Seriously, though, we make and break habits throughout our lives. Think about what time you go to bed yourself now, and how that was different ten years ago. And will (we hope) be different ten years from now. People bite their nails for years and then suddenly stop. A friend of mine ate tuna melts for lunch every single day for six weeks a few years ago, then stopped abruptly. Habits and breaking them are a normal part of the human experience.

Lots of parenting literature talks about bad habits like terrifying bogeymen that we have to do anything to avoid. I see them differently. There's a reason you developed that habit. It served you when you started it. The only thing that makes it "bad" now is that it's no longer serving you. So it's time to change it. And you can.

Four-year-olds seem so big, but are really still so little. So I'd do two things. I'd figure out what, exactly, he's getting from you lying down with him. Is it the extra time with you? Is he afraid of being alone in his room in the dark? Is he afraid he's missing something when he goes to sleep? If you can figure out exactly which need the lying down with him is filling, then you can figure out what else to substitute. (An extra ten minutes snuggling and reading together if he wants more time with you, or a new cool nightlight if he's afraid of the dark, or a silent house if he's afraid of missing something, etc.)

Once you've determined what he's getting out of the lying down, brainstorm WITH HIM about a new bedtime routine that will give him that same thing he wants, but without your having to lie there for an hour or however long it is. (And having lived the full-time job plus freelance work after bedtime lifestyle, I salute you, Margaux.) If you give him a stake in the deciding what the new routine is going to be, then it'll be something he's helped create and it won't feel like a punishment or like it's something you're forcing on him. When you talk about changing the routine, use the standard "big boys do X" language to get him on board with a change in general.

You said he's 4, so I don't know if he's closer to 4 or to 5. If he's closer to 4 the above plan should work well. If he's almost 5, this is a big dig-in-their-heels-to-be-a-baby-for-just-a-little-longer phase that lasts for a few months right around 4.75 years. If that's what he's in now, you'll have better luck making a change two weeks after he turns five. If you can hold on until then, the whole thing will be so much easier.

Did anyone else break the lying-down habit? I have memories of lying down with both of mine, but no memories of how we got out of it. So it was either too easy to remember or too traumatic to remember…

Who's got ideas for Margaux?


41 thoughts on “Switching bedtime routine in a 4-year-old”

  1. I don’t have a super-secret magic fix, but I would keep my older daughter company as she fell asleep from the time she moved into a big-girl bed at probably age 2 1/2 until she no longer needed me at age 5ish. It started as a way to keep her from making an escape and during parts of it, I was clearly an attractive nuisance and a way for her to keep from falling asleep. I will say that sometime after age 5 she dismissed me and no longer wants/needs company.My younger one is 5 now and I’m hoping to be dismissed again. She’s currently going through “napo-pause” and is frequently falling asleep on the sofa just before her bedtime, but when she goes to bed in her bed, she is starting to think about not wanting/needing company anymore.

  2. I have a 4 year old son who I also stay with while he falls asleep. Thankfully he gave up naps a long time ago so the process is usually pretty quick. But I have memories of laying there for an hour thinking my god, get me out of here! Since he falls asleep pretty quickly now, it doesn’t bother me to stay with him while he falls asleep. I work as well and he stays with my parents, so it’s nice to get some snuggle time while he’s still small enough to want to be snuggled. Hopefully eliminating the naps at day care will make things a lot easier for you. Good luck!

  3. Would just like to second Moxie’s advice about giving your son a say in the new routine. We had to simplify my daughters bedtime routine around that age and I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable 4 year olds can be if they have a say in the change, and a little notice that the change is coming.

  4. Ugh, we have a young 3 year old who has this same issue. He will NOT go to sleep on his own, and even worse it usually takes 1-2 hours of sitting with him most nights. We’ve been sitting with him for 3 years now and it’s getting way old, especially since I’m newly pregnant. We are at a total loss for how to get him to sleep on his own. (I’m hoping some of the ideas people mention here will help us too!) He doesn’t seem tired at bedtime, so we tried pushing it later but there was no change in how quickly he fell asleep. When he doesn’t nap he does go to sleep more quickly (though still with us there), but he doesn’t seem really ready for that either as he gets deliriously tired when he doesn’t nap.Sigh. Sorry, no advice but just wanted to commiserate for a bit!

  5. My 4 nearly 5 year old does the same thing. What we’ve worked out is I lay with him until 8:30 and then I sit in the hallway for a bit longer in case he wants a drink, gets scared, etc. I’ve found that if I do lay with him until he falls asleep (which sometimes happens because I fall asleep first), it leads to him waking up in the middle of the night, wanting/expecting me to still be there. But since I work, I think sometimes he just needs that extra time with me. Some days it’s very hard to give him that time, particularly when there are other things to be done. I’m pregnant right now so I have no idea how this is going to work in a month when the baby gets here. Other than, he will be home with me and maybe not needing that time and also not napping (he still naps at school even though I REALLY wish he wouldn’t).

  6. I would just like to put in a plug for good old-fashioned bribery here. Part of the incentive for your son could be a reward for transitioning successfully to a new bedtime routine. If you think about it you will get a reward for changing the routine so it could seem fair if he gets one too. Just a thought.

  7. I went through that at a younger age and luckily could sneak out. One day I just said no more and somehow after a tough night or two, we both got through it.I agree that they regress a bit before 5; mine wanted to watch “baby” shows only on tv at that time. Is it fear of K? I don’t know, but everyone does tell them how big they’re getting and for some I do think that causes them to feel a little scared.
    At that age I would tell him this is going to change, but because he is So Big, you will give him the choice of a reward if he can be good about it (and you have to define good–ie not fussing, not coming out to get you, staying in bed, etc.). Let him pick the reward, and work up to it by earning nights of good behavior. They do a thing like this in every K classroom, where they move a clothespin up and down a scale for behavior changes they want. Maybe he needs to pick a lovey to hold if he is sad you are not there. His choice is, will he behave and get the reward, or not. His choice is not to keep mom.
    I do know one mom who let it go until age 9 and finally had to say, I will do this 6 nights a week but not 7. She did crawl out after DD was asleep, though, not stay the night. We lost touch and I don’t know if she has resolved the issue further. This is just a cautionary tale because it IS time from the sound of your letter, and you don’t want to be having this chat with a 9. In the other mom’s case, there was guilt over an only child and mom working full time, so giving the time was a factor. I say 4 is not an easy age, but they are more malleable. Stopping the daycare nap is good, but K will help a lot–they really tire the kids out more and they want to sleep sooner especially when naps are never an option.
    Good luck!!!!

  8. Could you start with something uncomplicated, like simply limiting the amount of time you stay? Don’t stay with him until he falls asleep. Stay with him for X minutes, or as long as it takes him or you to do X (sing a certain number of songs, read X number of books, tell a story with the lights out, um…something like that?). I went from nursing my then-2-year-old to sleep, to laying with him until he fell asleep, to laying with him for 5 minutes, to laying with him and his older brother each for 5 minutes (when big brother caught on that little brother got snuggle time and he didn’t, haha), to not laying with anyone at all by gradually cutting back on the amount of time I stayed. The first two or three nights took some reminding to stay in bed, go to sleep. You might have to pop back in a time or two at first, until he re-learns to fall asleep without you.I like Moxie’s idea of engaging him in the process, though. “Mommy can stay for 10 minutes after we (finish the routine). What would you like to do for those 10 minutes?” Or whatever kind of language your boy responds to.

  9. Ahem. When my eldest was around 2.5-3.5 and my #2, who is now 3.5 needed someone to be there while they fell asleep. #2 claims she doesn’t want to be alone (she doesn’t ever want to be alone, not even while sitting on the potty). My husband usually sits at the end of the bed working on his laptop from 8-9:30pm (not that it usually takes her that long to fall asleep). My #1 is newly 6 yo, and while he would love it if someone sat with him, he can get himself to sleep alone (actually, he’s never really alone since he shares a room and bunk beds with #2–I just know that if #2 falls asleep very quickly and my husband leaves the room before 8:45, when he climbs into bed, he can go to sleep.)I know lots of people who have just cut off the sitting with until asleep routine for their children to some success (the parents sometimes then complain that their kids leave the bed numerous times after lights out). #3, at 12 mo seems to have more issues with separation now–I shudder to think that I’m in for 4 more years of sitting or lying in a darkened room…

  10. Same situation w/ my now 5yo girl; I work and she goes to daycare, so I value the extra minutes some nights and others I just want to get on with “kid-free time” before 9:00 pm — because usually I fall asleep in there with her which leaves me groggy and useless to get anything done.I have justified staying because if she “needs me,” she needs me, and I’m her mom, and I should be there for her. And when she’s older I think, maybe we’ll have our best talks before she goes to sleep, who knows. (Not that I plan on staying with her to fall asleep when she’s a teenager! Just building a habit of closeness at bedtime.)
    Anyway, we started a kisses-hugs routine that ends our time together. So, I lay down and stay for 3 songs (she listens to soft music on her CD player), then I get up, we do 12 kisses and 12 hugs (she made this up), and I tuck her in and leave.
    Sometimes. Other nights she gets up a few more times. Now that she’s turned 5 I’m trying to tell her she’s a Big Girl now, and reduce it down to 2 songs and eventually to 1 and to none. She seems receptive. And thx to Celeste above for mentioning Kindergarten. Hopeful it’ll help too, come August!

  11. I just want to share a word of caution about the “Big kids do X” statement.I’m sure this is not true for every kid, but mine has a fair amount of generalized anxiety during her disequilibrium seasons (the 6 months surrounding her birthdays), and we discovered this year that making even excited and encouraging statements about being a Big Kid (and also becoming a “double-big-sister” when we learned there’s a new sibling on the way) created a huge, huge burden of anxiety for her. She translated it as: “You’ll be completely grown up and responsible for yourself when you turn 6.”
    It has taken many months to undo that train of thought and the anxiety and depression it cast over all areas of her life.
    If this little boy is in disequilibrium right now (which, honestly, for us lasted basically from age 3.5-6.5), phrasing the justification of this transition to independent falling asleep as “You’re a big boy now” might actually backfire.
    That said, changing sleep habits can totally be done – and should if they are no longer serving the family well!
    What really helped us was a little iPod speaker dock with sleepytime songs on it, and even gentle stories. Sometimes it takes a little distraction to be able to let go of the day – one of my daughters is like that (incidentally, so is her daddy), and the other has been basically shoving me out the door since she was 2!

  12. We just did this a few months ago with my 5yr old. She had been asking for a loft bed for a bit so we told her she had to be able to go to sleep by herself for a certain number of nights before we would get one for her. At first I had to sit outside the door, but after a couple of weeks of that, she was fine. And once we got the new bed, I told her there wasn’t enough room in there for both of us (which is true), so she’s now completely ok with me leaving.Of course she wakes up at 2am and comes to our bed almost every night now, but that’s a different battle.

  13. I LOVE LOVE that a bad habit is something that served you well and is now no longer working. I think that is going to me my “most enlightening thought of the week.” I feel so much lighter all of a sudden.

  14. Bless you Moxie for your take on habits. Useful way to think for adult habits as well; but especially for small ones, and maybe especially for sleep. We, too, stay with our 3.5 year old until she falls asleep. And, as a working grad-student, I also need to work at night. I am able to share this with my husband (we take turns), which helps. Also, I’ve been shocked at how much quicker the whole process is when she doesn’t nap. Gave me a new perspective; maybe she’s not being stubborn, and I’m not being a bad parent, but rather she just isn’t ready to fall asleep. Much as I’d like to change things, I have the feeling that 3.5, at least for our girl, isn’t a good time to rock the boat. But I’m hoping that when she stops napping completely, it’ll at least take longer.So, no advice, except to not feel bad about it. It’s so easy to forget how changeable we all are, no?

  15. No advice here, I need help too. My 3 and 7 y.o. boys still want us– preferably me– to stay. The 7 y.o. falls asleep first, then me, then the 3 y.o. So my work doesn’t get finished. and I don’t see my hubby.The 3 y.o. really wants me to sleep with him the whole night. Not sure why. Don’t think he’s scared, but rather more possessive of me. Jealous of my spending time doing things without him?
    On the good news: we figured out that the 7 y.o. will stay in his bed all night if he’s sharing a room with someone, so the boys share a room.

  16. Thanks, everyone (this is Margaux). I should say my son is newly 4. He turned 4 two months ago. I should also mention that part of my desire to be rid of this habit is that he has a 21-month-old sister whose sleep is horrible, so a lot of days I feel like I work, take care of the kids, struggle to get her to bed, struggle to get him to bed, work some more, crash for a bit, and then start getting up with her. My husband is super helpful at bedtime and what not, but most nights, they both want mom, at bedtime and during the night, too. Sigh.Anyway, since I emailed Moxie, I’ve actually tried something that so far is working. We did a sticker chart and when he reaches a certain amount of stickers, he gets a toy that he has really been wanting. It’s really worked this week, so we’ll see. My husband thinks that he will get the required amount of stickers to get the toy, acquire the toy, and promptly go back to requesting that I lie with him. I’ve tried explaining to him that this is our new routine, and mom and dad are in the house and not going anywhere and if he needs something, he can come and get us. He seemed to accept that.
    It’s tough because as some other people have said, I feel like since I work, he does need that extra time with me, but on the other hand, I think we’re both ready for it to be done.
    @el-e-e: I totally fall asleep a lot of nights in there, and am also super groggy and useless for the rest of the night!
    Thanks, all, for your thoughts!

  17. Seconding Jessica S. on limiting the time. I started out snuggling my 4yo to sleep when she was just under 2 and had moved to a “big girl bed” (I mean, 20-month-old asking for snuggles, who can resist that??) As a WOHM I appreciated the extra time with her, but I had trouble after a while because there were other things I wanted to do after getting her to bed. So this evolved for us into a story in bed, followed by 10-minute snuggle with Mommy, after which she can play with her ladybug (one of those awesome Cloud B light-up critters that casts stars on the ceiling) until she falls asleep. If she has trouble letting me go I offer to sit in the next room for a while or sing her a song from downstairs; one of those is usually acceptable.

  18. I broke the lying-down-to-sleep habit with my daughter when she was around 3 1/2. I used to sing a lot of songs with her while we were lying down, so one night I said, “How about just two songs tonight?” And she said: “No three!” And I said, “OK.” And so from then on, we did three songs and I could leave. It was probably more complicated than that, perhaps it took a few nights to actually get her to let me leave. But, yes, at this age, get the child involved in some way. And if it’s important to you, stick with it – it may take a couple of weeks to change the habit, but kids can be really adaptable. Good luck!!!

  19. We have a just-turned 4 year old, who hates sleep in all its forms. We’ve had success with a bedtime chart, outlining the steps of getting pjs, brushing teeth, stories, snuggling and then sleep. I bring my phone in and set a (quiet)timer for a 5-minute “snuggle”. When the timer goes off, Mom’s done 🙂 Some nights, he whines quite a bit about it, and some nights he’s more accepting. Depends on how tired he is. He doesn’t nap at home, and rarely at daycare/preschool; when he does nap, it pushes bedtime back AT LEAST an hour. We have struggled with sleep his whole life– getting enough of it, and night-wakings (still!). What we’ve found is that there are stretches of good and stretches of awful. We just try to get through the awful as best we can!

  20. @Anonymous: I totally feel you. I had asked daycare to stop the napping unless he was really tired…and finally as of last week, I asked them to stop it completely because I could tell the days they let him sleep…bedtime was pushed SO far back. It was really frustrating. I’ve seen some improvements since I put a total stop to the napping.The timer is a great idea that I had forgotten about. I tried it a few months ago. Would set the timer on my iPhone and when it went off, I would either move off the bed and sit on the floor or leave (or attempt to leave) the room. It did seem to help in that it wasn’t ME saying time was up, but rather a timer. If that makes any sense.

  21. I’ve decided that at one year, we wish we’d stopped a bad habit at 6 months. At three years we wish we’d stopped it at one. At six years, we wish we’d stopped it when they were three. All I can say is, if they haven’t left home yet, it isn’t too late to break a bad habit. Yes, it can be miserable to make them sleep/make them eat/make them stop whining… but the alternative is to hope the bad habit goes away on its own before we wave goodbye to them as they leave for college. Get it over with.

  22. I have had good success with having my new 4 year-old go to sleep in my bed. He fights me tooth and nail in his bed and wants me to sleep with him. If I put him in my bed, I can give him a kiss and walk out no problem. Why is mystery.

  23. We’re going through this with our 3.5 yo right now. She was sick most of the fall, and we got into some bad habits. To set things right we tried explanations, night lights, slow dimmers, etc. It was still requiring 1.5+ hours of parent time in her room. Finally, we asked the pediatrician. She said tough love. So we explained to her that the doctor said sleep was very important, etc. so that now we were going to start a new healthy routine of going to bed. And then we gave her two choices: we’d either sit with her for four minutes(on the iphone timer) or for four songs (on the CD player). She can choose anew each night. The key is that these things have a clear end-point, and there’s no negotiating. After that, we remind her to stay her bed, kiss goodnight, and leave the room. She’ll crash the door once or twice (we do have to hold it), and then she usually goes back to her bed, covers herself, settles down, and is asleep with 15 minutes. YMMV, of course.

  24. I could have written SMCC’s post. I used to sing a million songs and tell this complicated story every night. I just kept working it down. I remember saying, “I’m not going to tell a story anymore. I’m too tired.” And she saying something like, “Tell a two word story.” And I said, “OK, I’ll tell a two sentence story.” And those were no fun, so eventually she didn’t care if I told it. I remember the weird feeling — a mix of guilt, sadness, and glee — when she let me leave her room without telling a story. Something similar happened with the songs. I said I’d sing one; she said sing two. Now I only “have” to sing one. Kindergarten does make a big difference indeed — in many ways!

  25. Margaux, we have the exact same situation with our 4 yo boy. I totally feel your pain for those nights when you just want to be out of the room already. I so often fall asleep, already being exhausted from the day. But then any chance of getting anything done before bed is pretty much nil.It goes in and out of waves for us. Usually it takes 20-30 minutes for him to fall asleep if he’s napped (most weekdays). 5 minutes if he hasn’t napped (most weekends). I’ve debated asking them to not let him sleep (it’s optional in his classroom…they can just sit or lie on their beds and look at books). But his teacher tells me the he usually passes out pretty quickly. And besides, if he doesn’t nap during the day, he usually falls asleep on our 30 minute commute home…which is way worse as he’s really cranky when I have to wake him up. I think he actually needs the sleep, but wow, I’ll be glad when he doesn’t nap anymore.
    @Moxie, Thank you SO much for bringing some perspective to the situation, but especially for mentioning the 4.75 thing. OMG. DS has been FREAKING out lately. Mostly at daycare, which was news to me until I had a parent/teacher meeting and his teacher mentioned his emotions were pretty intense for the last 2 weeks, how he was having trouble problem solving sharing issues, etc. At home he’d been fairly even keeled with the odd angry tantrum thrown in, which I figured was the usual 4yo shenanigans.
    BUT, BUT! Yesterday evening leaving daycare he had the meltdown of all meltdowns. Outside. In -10C weather. Eventually I had a meltdown…too tired after work, too cold outside, too worried that maybe something not so good was developing with DS. I just did not know what was up and tried to read Ames & Ilg for any hints. FWIW, I realised that 4.75 (or 56 months) is near double 27 months. DS totally had the 26/27 month freak out. Pretty much during our entire NYC vacation that summer. Freak out included insane amounts of BF and screaming instead of sleeping. Anyhow…
    I’ve been debating when to start weaning him off of needing me to fall asleep. But I know that it will take more energy during the transition phase, and I’m not sure I have it in me right now due to a lot of stuff going on at work.
    Hearing the 4.75 thing too makes me think that for sure we should leave this until the summer when he’ll be 5.
    For now I guess I’ll continue trying to train the dog to be my sit-in. I tried it in desperation one night when it took DS TWO hours to fall asleep. Eek. It was bringing back too many memories of when DS was younger and took forever to fall asleep. I got the dog to stay in his room (and DS was game to try it – dog instead of me), but the dog was all confused and couldn’t understand why I was leaving and she was staying. We even tried closing DS’ door, but she just lied in front of the door, where DS couldn’t see her, and DS eventually came out and said ‘I can’t see Daisy…she’s not staying in my room.’ Sigh. It seemed like such a perfect plan…

  26. I’m mostly commiserating here. We have to lie down with our bad sleeper, and it takes a toll on our marriage. I’m intrigued by the timer idea, which might work some day for us. Largely, I feel personally that I’m fighting my son’s particular biology (which I recognize as my own — so I understand it through the frustration) and temperament (strong willed!). I suppose my only tip is to keep in mind your child’s individuality when choosing something to try, because that’s the make-or-break consideration here.

  27. I hear and commiserate with all of you! (And LOVE what you have to say, Moxie, about Bad Habits. BLESS YOU.) Just one thing to add – when our 3 year old was having fits at my departure from the room (but not his father’s), I stopped at thought a lot about what was happening differently between his dad and me.I realized that I was getting really frustrated, lying there, thinking of my precious few hours to myself (new baby finally asleep, etc.) And so while I was lying with the 3 y.o., I wasn’t really *present*, if that makes sense. I think he could sense the tension in me, that I was essentially waiting to make a break for it as soon as he fell asleep. And so -being the hyper sensitive kid that he is – he was on tenterhooks the whole time himself, waiting for that dreaded moment.
    Whereas his dad lay there with him, read/sang/snuggled/etc., then, gently and firmly left, saying – this was key – “If you need me, you can call me.” And sometimes he did, and my husband would gently poke his head in the door again, once or twice.
    I think the difference was somehow in the lack of exasperation/frustration/tension – however subtle I thought I was being, I *was* really exasperated/frustrated/etc. I *needed* that time. But somehow when I thought about it some more, I came to feel myself in a different place. I could give him a set number of songs/stories (plus we did stars and small presents, oh heck yes), and then say those magic words – If you need me, you can call me – and walk out feeling calmer and more giving.
    Am too tired now to know if I’m making much sense but I guess my point is that acknowledging that he *could* ask for me/us somehow made him less inclined to need to do so. Especially because I no longer lay there counting the minutes (or falling completely asleep, only to ruin the rest of the evening/night’s sleep later).
    Aw, rereading those words makes me feel a little sad now. They grow so FAST. I already know how so very soon he’ll never want me to lie with him again.

  28. No words of wisdom as I am deep in this with 2 kids who require my presence to fall asleep. I am too tired to problem solve well; instead I bought a kindle and turn it to the lowest light setting and read trashy fiction while I sit in the prison of their bedrooms…..

  29. A quick comment from a mom of an older child:I’ve held on to snuggling at bedtime with my daughter (she’s 11) as I found that I hear all her anxieties and worries. It is a comfy, easy time for her to confide. Most importantly I view it as “our time” in that I am ready to discuss issues with quietness. I don’t stay long — just 10 minutes or — but it’s very precious. With our hectic lives, it’s wonderful to carve out this space.

  30. I tried bedtime “tickets” when my DD was about 3? and we were engaged in endless rounds of requests, questions, popping out of bed to ask me something, etc. to the point where I was angry/scolding to set an “end” to my bedtime involvement (I hated getting angry/irritated with her every night, and more subtle ways to disengage did not work).Anyway, DD decorated 7-8 tickets. Each bedtime she picked two. She could use them however she wanted, but after they were used, we were done. (You might need to set limits on what they can be used for, depending on your child.) She developed a highly ritualized routine, where she immediately used them to call me back for a question, and another round of hugs and kisses. Done! It was the most painless, collaborative solution, with tickets akin to the timer “telling” when the parent will leave vs. an interpersonal negotiation. It was concrete, she was in charge of how/when she used her 2 tickets, and she knew exactly what to expect. Maybe each ticket could be worth 5 minutes of snuggle time? Anyway, FWIW.

  31. My son started wanting to sleep with me around 3. He is not much of a snuggler – in fact, he does almost no snuggling, hugging, or kissing and he’s always been like that. So I figured he needed closeness but found other ways of getting it difficult, so I let him sleep with me. His dad is away for long stretches, and when he returns, my son sleeps on the floor by the bed. Sometimes if I want access to my bedroom before I go to bed, I put him to bed in the guest room and promise I’ll move him when I’m ready for bed. He’s been fine with all of these things – he just wants to have reassurance of the proximity. I figure it’s a stage and he’ll move out of it when he’s ready (or when we move to our new house). There have been other times (the 2 hour bedtime routine nightmare for example) when I’ve realized the problem is more like boundary-pushing, and I dealt with it in a different way. So ultimately, I agree with Moxie and the thing to do is figure out what it’s about and other ways to help meet the emotional need (if there is an emotional need rather than a habit). I simply cannot lie down with my children at night; it fills me with rage. I need them to go to bed so I can finish cleaning the kitchen and have 45 minutes to myself before I need to go to bed too.The little one went through a stretch where he wanted me to lie down with him, but we resolved that by switching up bedtime – that is, his dad put him to bed a couple of times in a row, and it didn’t seem to occur to him that he could demand me, so he didn’t and then got out of the habit.

  32. We have the same issue for our 5 year old son. It started a few years ago off and on. He was totally the baby that was fine with us putting him down in bed at night, awake, and putting himself to sleep. I think the conclusion we came to over time (and struggle) was that he needed the opportunity to process his day once his body was slowing down. We tried processing earlier and got very spotty responses and “I just want to play”. Some of it was that we worked and were not home but, honestly, since his dad has been home with them for the last six months, he still wants the time. So, he and his dad sit and talk about his “wins” for the day, tell jokes, process events of the day at least a couple of nights a week. When I’m with him, most of the time it’s just snuggling and helping him slow down. Many nights I get frustrated with the enormous amount of time this takes but I curb that frustration with a realization of how short this time is. Good luck!

  33. The spammers apparently haven’t given up yet.We stuck with full problem-solving rather than ‘because you’re getting bigger’. I needed to have some alone time at bedtime. I needed to be able to get work done without being too tired/groggy from falling asleep by accident. I have specific needs at that time. So does my child. Negotiate from there to a better resolution.
    With G, it was that I snuggled briefly, and then would come in 15 minutes later to check on him. I checked on him until he was consistently asleep in 15 minutes (average time for an adult is 12 minutes, so if you come in before then, it might mess it up again), and then asked him if it was okay if I didn’t check in since he was always asleep, he said no-I-still-want-you-to-check for a few more rounds, then it wasn’t important anymore. That was around 5.
    B was still in our bed at that age. He’s intensely evening bonded and was the reason that we now go to bed the same time the kids do. So… I get up early, and go to bed early, and there’s no more distinction between when they go to bed and when we do, unless I have to get on an evening call. This obviously won’t work for those who have evening work to accomplish with others, or who can’t adapt to morning hours (I am a natural night owl, so this is a huge difference from how I functioned before kids).
    The girls, likewise, though by the time they were 4 or 5 they were all in a joint room with a trundle for the parent. We’ve reduced it gradually over time, also – cutting down number of days per week (and which days), etc. Miss R wanted someone near her much longer than Miss M – M wanted Her Own Space around 3 years old, if I recall correctly. But I might not be recalling correctly. 🙂 It was early, though, compared to the others, or to global bed-sharing peak years (2-5 years old is the peak of bed-sharing globally, so it isn’t cultural on that age range, it is regardless of culture).

  34. I’ve always had to lay down with my daughter (almost 4). Now that she can articulate herself, she tells me that she’s lonely. I generally don’t mind because it is nice to snuggle, but on nights that it would take a while I would get rage-y. Although this doesn;t help with the need to work component, I found that my kindle saved me….I read under the covers (she doesn;t know) so I was able to do something I enjoyed as she fell asleep and didn;t feel like my evening was stolen.

  35. Oh, this is such a timely post for us! My 33-month-old is fighting sleep, and she’s been insisting that one of us (usually me) stay with her until she falls asleep.E has always been a rough sleeper (hard to get down, won’t stay down), but we got into a pretty good rhythm where I would read her a story, then she would get in bed and I would sing 2 songs. Initially she fussed at my leaving, but I found that asking “door open or closed?” redirected her and gave her some sense of power. Over time this sense of power faded for her, and our new norm became “one song from the door.” The song-from-the-door phase lasted for several months. More recently, however, she’s learned that she can thwart the whole process by refusing to let me sing.
    I work part-time and spend lots of time with her, and she gets my full attention for the whole bedtime ritual. She did have a strong fear-of-the-dark phase, but that seems to have eased up now that we have nightlights and flashlights available when she feels shaky. I think she just wants me around all the time.
    Well, I do have a suspicion that she doesn’t know *how* to fall asleep. You see, she didn’t start falling to sleep on her own regularly until after a year old, when we pushed the idea of a bottle at bedtime. (Yes, I eventually learned that I was supposed to be weaning her from the bottle, not pushing it, but she wasn’t taking any other transitional object, and I was desperate.) The most recent burst of mommy-stay-with-me has come along with her giving up of the bottle; I think she simply hasn’t learned how to fall asleep, at least at home. She does nap at daycare, and plaintively asks if she can sleep with her friends the rest of the time, so she might just feel comfy sleeping with other people around. (Seems reasonable to me.) Perhaps she doesn’t know how to fall asleep and is anxious about that. Tonight I reassured her that it takes Mommy a while to fall asleep, and it’s okay if she’s awake a while before falling asleep. I think we’ll revisit that topic sometime in the future.
    I think my E does a lot of processing at night, once she’s in bed (like her mom!), so there’s definitely an extinction burst that we have to get better at planning around, too.
    I’ve explained that I need to go make dinner, and she’s started saying “okay, come back when you’re done.” I was resisting that approach, but maybe I can counterpropose the method that worked for Hedra’s G and tell her that I will return every 15 minutes. Then again, she always wants the snuggles, and I can’t bear to engage in power struggles over and over and over. The tickets sound like a great idea for when she’s in the “mommy, I’m thirsty…I need a blanket…it’s too loud…” stalling state, but I worry that a ticket for snuggles will still lead to “stay!!!” So…I guess I have come back around to the timer idea? I’ve considered the timer, but it feels like it would seem rather arbitrary to a 3-year-old. I liked the 2-song limit because she knows how long the songs are. Has anybody tried this and found that their kid stressed the whole time? (This is the concern my husband raised when I, at my wits’ end, proposed a timer.)
    You know, typing this out, I’m reminded that I read about the bedtime brain-racing and how magnesium helps to quiet that. Perhaps I can talk with E’s pediatrician to see if this is something I could give her in small doses, if it turns out she’s as much of a bedtime worrier as I was growing up. Anybody tried this, or is it really just for adults?
    (sorry if this rambled and jumped around, this has just been a real hot button in our house lately. And I’m quite sleep deprived because sleep-with-me has been a middle-of-the-night issue recently, too.)

  36. My best advice is simply to try something — and be firm — and give it at least a week. In the beginning, it will probably be awful and worse than whatever you are doing now. But eventually, with kind consistency, it can get better. Much better! But you have to be willing to take a leap and be firm.

  37. Okay ya’ll. Here’s a nice story.Years ago, before I had kids, I read a story about a Dad who used to spend time each night with his kids before they fell asleep (all the way up until they left for college). He said it was a time he always treasured after they were up and grown. And a time when they would share with him some of their most profound concerns and thoughts and wishes and dreams.
    My just turned 7yr old DD and I still have this lay down routine. But, as Moxie says it works for us. I work out of the home and 4 days or so a week the sitter or my husband do her routine (teeth, hair, wash, books) and then hug her and kiss her and she’s off to sleep no problems.
    The nights I am home and I am able to do her routine, I read her the books and then I tell my own made up stories (friendly aliens from the planet of cheese popcorn, stories of stuffed animals coming to life, magical powers gifted to girls who become great warriors)or she tells me hers.
    Other nights She’ll tell me the most remarkable things about her day, her worries, her joys, her own inner life.
    The whole thing usually takes 30 to 45 minutes. Sometimes, I am overtired and fall asleep before she does. Sometimes, I sneak out.
    As a Mom, it often feels like whatever childcare issue we’re going through at the time will last FOREVER. But it doesn’t and it resolves and we all do our best.
    For now it is a special time and until she kicks me out, I’ll keep doing it. And be happy that I have a happy, sweet well adjusted child. With a general sense that she won’t need me three days a week when she’s in college – in quite the same way.
    I love this blog and here’s to all of you who try so hard to be great parents.

  38. I’ve moved from lying down with mine to staying in the room. I have an e-reader and usually read while I wait for them to fall asleep. The time varies (often tied to how long I allow sweet sleepy chatting) but at least I don’t fall asleep!

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