Is your child not sleeping through the night anymore? Try these tips if your 4 year old wakes up every night crying. No more sleep regression!
I was at my wit’s end. My son began waking up multiple times a night for various reasons.
Sometimes he needed to use the potty or had nightmares. He’d say he was thirsty for water or claimed that his finger hurt. Other times, he’d walk into my room just to say goodnight… yet again.
Being woken up in the middle of the night can feel jarring to the parent who has grown used to eight hours of sleep. Except this time, you’re long past the infant stage and dealing with a 4 year old.
Thankfully, you can still do plenty to change her behavior and help her sleep through the night again. Take a look at these tips to see how:
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One of the best ways to stop your 4 year old from waking up at night is to talk about your expectations during the day. Long before she even climbs into bed, talk about what should happen at night.
For instance, go over the bedtime routine, from starting with a bath and ending with you turning off the lights and closing the door. Remind her that she’s safe at night and that you’ll only check in on her at set times.
Come up with a solution to her needs and wants, from using the potty before bed to saying goodnight just once. And let her know that any requests beyond those won’t be met, especially since you held up your end of the bargain and made sure she was settled before sleep.
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Equip your child with strategies
Now that your 4 year old has a sense of what to expect, give her a few strategies to cope when she finds herself awake in the middle of the night.
These strategies will depend on the reasons she tends to wake up. Let’s say she goes to your room because she doesn’t like to sleep alone. One strategy she can try is to hold onto a favorite stuffed animal as her companion for the night. Show her how to talk to and comfort her stuffy so she feels less alone.
Perhaps she wakes up saying she’s thirsty. She can place a cup of water by her bed before going to sleep. Then, she can ask herself if she can wait until the next morning to grab a drink.
By giving her ideas and strategies to try, she feels more empowered to make choices and follow through with them.
Encourage sleep-related pretend play
Kids can work through many fears and anxieties through open-ended pretend play. Your child can “act out” scenes that might be too scary for her to think about to help her cope when she’s in her room at night.
To encourage pretend play, use stuffed animals, dolls, figurines, or other toys and invite her to play. Have her put her toys to sleep, starting with the routine you usually do and ending with them lying on a pillow. Let her take the lead, and simply observe what she comes up with.
Play along with her, but allow her to call the shots, no matter how farfetched her ideas might be. They just might keep her calm and collected at night when she remembers how she played earlier in the day.
Give your child your full attention
Your child’s antics—from asking for more kisses to getting upset when you leave—can stem from her need to get her “fill” of you. If a typical day finds you saying, “In a minute” or “Can we do that later?” she might be needing more attention. And unfortunately, this can emerge in the middle of the night.
The solution? Give her your full attention throughout the day and around bedtime, especially if she has other siblings. Set aside as little as 10 minutes to truly be present and give her your attention.
You might talk about what she thinks she’ll dream about that night or what she was grateful for during the day (and why). Ask her what her favorite part of dinner was or what she looks forward to tomorrow. By giving her your full attention, she just might feel less inclined to ask for it in the middle of the night.
Change the time your child goes to bed
A simple change in your child’s sleep schedule can make a huge difference in whether he wakes up in the middle of the night.
The best place to start is to see when he’s currently sleeping. If he’s sleeping later in the night, say, at 9:30pm, move bedtime earlier to no later than 8:30pm. With a late bedtime, he might not be getting enough sleep, leading to cranky whining, unreasonable demands, and fitful rest.
But maybe he’s sleeping too early. Let’s say he needs to be awake by 6am, so you put him down for the night at 6:30pm. The trouble is, the early bedtime could be causing him to have too much sleep come the middle of the night. This makes it harder for him to fall back to sleep when he stirs.
In this case, push bedtime later to something like 7:30pm. Kids this age can use 10-12 hours of sleep a night, so it’s not unreasonable to sleep as late as 7:30pm or even 8pm with a 6am wake up.
Experiment with your child’s room
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Sometimes, the biggest successes can come from the smallest changes, starting with your child’s room. Here are a few changes to consider:
- Add a nightlight. Plugging one into a wall can ease any fears she may have of sleeping in complete darkness. But if you already have one, she might be afraid of the shadows it’s casting or even unable to sleep because that particular nightlight is too dark. Experiment with either adding, removing, or replacing a night light to see if that helps her sleep better.
- Close the door. Does she go to your room or roam the rest of the house while you’re asleep? Close the door to prevent her from getting out while you’re asleep.
- Weighted blanket. Some kids sleep better with a weighted blanket, which provides a nice, snug feeling to sleep underneath.
- Limit screen devices. Television, tablets, or phones should be limited for this age group, especially near bedtime.
Check in at set times
The more attention we give our kids, the more we reinforce that behavior, whether positive or negative. Part of helping your 4 year old sleep through the night is to change her expectations of what happens when she wakes up and cries.
Yes, check on her when she initially cries. But rather than going in each time she does, set your timer for 10- or 15-minute intervals and go into her room only then.
Let’s say she woke up at midnight. Go into her room and briefly let her know that it’s time to sleep. Keep your demeanor kind but calm and quiet. This isn’t the time to engage in conversation or stimulate the environment. Don’t wait for her to calm down, either. Instead, leave the room and set your timer for 12:15am.
Then, if she’s still awake when the timer goes off, check in on her, repeating your message about going to sleep. Be compassionate and consistent with your response, and she’ll learn that she has little choice but to fall asleep.
Come the next morning, praise her for a job well done (yup, even if she cried a lot). She’s learning a new way to fall asleep and is more likely to continue these new habits knowing she’s on the right track.
It’s never easy when your 4 year old wakes up every night. By taking a few steps, you can curb the behavior and get a good night’s sleep again.
Set expectations and equip her with coping strategies. Encourage sleep-related pretend play and give her your full attention during the day. Change when bedtime starts, experiment with her room, and check in at set intervals (not every time she cries for you).
Now you can both finally get a full night of sleep—without waking up to find her wanting to say goodnight yet again.
Get more tips:
- 16 Examples of a 4 Year Old Schedule
- How to Discipline a 4 Year Old When Nothing Seems to Work
- 7 Parenting Skills That Are Actually Helpful
- Stop Giving Your Child Empty Threats
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