Is your little one having sleep issues that are causing your entire family to lose sleep? Does he resist going to bed at the appointed hour—8:00 pm—or does he wake up in the middle of the night for several hours? When he wakes up, does he refuse to go back to bed? Does he have problems relaxing? Does he sometimes kick or scream in defiance? When it comes to sleep disruptions, it’s important to remember what you can and can’t control. Your child is in charge of actually falling asleep. You are in charge of creating a cozy environment conducive to sleep, a schedule for bedtime, and a routine for any nighttime wakings.
To fix what’s within your control, first create a consistent plan for addressing any nighttime waking—a plan that encourages your son to develop strategies to fall back asleep. Give him three things to do before calling you for help. One might be to sing a favorite song to his stuffed friends. One might be to think of a great activity you recently did together. And one might be to count backwards from 10 (or some variation of counting numbers).
Also, make your child feel empowered by asking him to comfort his stuffed friends when he wakes up, since they probably woke up too. Maybe he can whisper his thoughts or dreams to them. The idea is that if you want to remove yourself as his soothing mechanism, you have to replace it with something else. A favorite blanket or toy, a nightshirt from your drawer, a photo of you, or a stuffed friend needs to serve as a new comfort object.
When you go in, remind him of all the strategies he has for falling back asleep. Tell him that YOU will check on HIM in five minutes. In that way, he knows you are going to come back and make sure he’s okay. Most sleep plans advocate an increase in time and a decrease in attention between visits. Make sure he knows you’re there, but that you aren’t going to give him anything of interest in the middle of the night. You’ll check on him, but he has to be in charge of falling asleep. You can’t sleep for him. Remind him that he is a strong and capable kid and that he, too, will learn to sleep through the night very soon. Your consistency, neutral response, and supportive strategies should make a difference.