Wondering how to get your 4 year old to sleep alone? Check out tips to help them sleep without you in the room—no more sleep problems!
At some point, you’d hope that you could sleep in your bed while your 4 year old sleeps in his.
But instead, he can’t seem to sleep without you in the room. He says he’s afraid to sleep in his own bed so, of course, he ends up in yours. You’ve tried walking him back to his every time he steps out, but this dance can go on until 10pm, leaving everyone exhausted.
Even if he happens to fall asleep in his bed, he’s guaranteed to wake up in the middle of the night. This has become so predictable that you’ve even set up a mattress on the floor that he can sleep on. You know, as a “compromise” to not hopping into your bed.
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How to get your 4 year old to sleep alone
It’s never easy when your child can’t sleep alone.
Maybe this happened out of the blue or has been going on for years (his “room” is more like a storage room in your house!). Either way, you’re left wondering how much longer this can go. You can’t picture him sleeping in your room at 10 years old, yet this habit doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon.
What can you do to help him sleep alone? I’ll share the tips and tactics that have helped me deal with this situation. I’ve broken them down into three categories:
- Addressing your child’s feelings
- Creating the right environment
- Equipping him with confidence
Let’s dive in:
Addressing your child’s feelings
1. Validate how your child feels
“There’s a monster in the closet!”
It’s all too easy to laugh, brush aside, and even get irritated at our kids’ nighttime fears and complaints. After all, we know that monsters aren’t lurking in the closet, that they’re perfectly safe in the dark, and that we’ll see each other again in the morning.
But to young children, these emotions are real, as real as your own emotions are to you.
So, avoid waving your child’s feelings as no big deal, because to her, they are a big deal. Instead, validate how she feels. You might say, “It looks like you feel scared when the lights are off” or “You seem nervous when you’re alone in your room.”
This helps her feel heard and understood—that you’re on her side.
Free resource: As frustrating as her behavior may be, a lot of it can be prevented simply by seeing things from her perspective. In The Power of Empathy, you can learn how empathy is the secret key that makes a huge difference in how we interact with our kids.
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2. Don’t enable your child’s fears
That said, validating your child’s feelings doesn’t mean enabling unfounded fears. For instance, many parents concoct a “monster spray” that’s supposed to get rid of those scary guys in the closet or under the bed. Or we prolong saying good night as if we’re just as anxious that something terrible will happen.
Whether well-meaning (like the monster spray) or from our own feelings of guilt and anxiety, these behaviors can contribute to your child’s fears. Creating monster spray or checking under the bed for spooky shadows suggests that there’s even a chance that these threats are real.
Acknowledge his feelings (“It looks like you’re scared that there might be monsters…”) but don’t feed into them any more than necessary. Instead, treat it as a matter of fact and focus on what can help instead.
3. Talk about new changes you’ll make during the day
We all feel delirious when woken up in the middle of the night, yet this is when conversations happen with our kids about sleeping alone. We threaten to take away their toys, give in and let them sleep in our room, or get frustrated and yell at them to go back to sleep.
As you can imagine, neither of you is in your best frame of mind to talk, much less listen.
Instead, reserve your conversations for the daytime when you and your child are both coherent and in a better mood. Talk about how she feels, strategies she can try, and the new rules and expectations you plan to follow moving forward.
For instance, label how she feels (“You seem scared…”) so that she knows that this is normal. Then, share a time when you’ve felt scared as well so she doesn’t feel alone.
Follow that up with what she can do when she feels that way again (“You can hug your favorite toy…”). Then, talk about what she can expect to happen (“Mommy and daddy will check in on you, but we’re going to leave the room after kisses and saying goodnight…”).
Creating the right environment
4. Have a consistent bedtime routine
Giving your child a dependable bedtime is key to helping him sleep alone. Two factors are important here: consistency and repetition.
A bedtime routine happens over time, not built in a week. Consider this a long-term solution and not a quick fix. Yes, some nights you’ll need to be flexible, like when your older child has a choir recital or he’s feeling sick. But overall, try to stay as consistent with bedtime as possible.
Then, do the same activities at the same time every night. Maybe you brush teeth, give him a warm bath, use the potty, and change into pajamas. Make that your nightly ritual instead of switching the order of the activities around.
The more predictable your bedtime routine is, the less he might fight going to sleep. Everything feels automatic, which can ease his nighttime anxiety.
5. Remove stimulation close to bedtime
Help your child relax in time for sleep by removing stimulating activities and items close to bedtime.
For instance, if she’s allowed to use electronic devices, schedule it earlier in the day. Avoid watching intense television shows or movies at night, and limit roughhousing that could get her riled up. Keep outings and errands short and perhaps not so close to bedtime.
Instead, keep the mood calm and soothing by choosing simple activities. Read books, snuggle, share stories, or play simple board games. Dim the lights and keep the energy at a low level. Mimic the calm and relaxed mood you’d like her to have come bedtime.
6. Have a regular wake up time
Bedtime isn’t the only factor to consider with helping your child sleep alone. Having a regular wake up time can help add more predictability to his days. This can also set boundaries around when he should stay in his room (and when he can get out).
For instance, get him up for the day at 7am every morning, even if he had already been awake and fussy since 6am. Check in briefly to let him know that it’s still time to sleep and that you’ll get him up at 7am. He learns that, no matter what, he falls asleep for a certain number of hours at night.
Equipping your child with confidence
7. Give your child comfort items
You can imagine how difficult sleeping alone can be for your child, especially if she has been allowed to sleep in your company all this time. One way to ease the transition is by offering comfort items to turn to when she feels anxious or afraid.
You might give her a weighted blanket to feel cozy or a favorite toy or stuffed animal to hold. Perhaps you can leave a nightlight on in her room so she can see (or remove it if she’s afraid of the shadows it casts). Or you can help her feel secure by leaving the bedroom door slightly open with the hallway light on.
8. Leave your child alone during the transition to sleep
Have you tried sneaking away when your child was finally asleep, only to wake up to him crying or climbing into your bed? While it may seem like you’re offering comfort by staying in the room until he falls asleep, this only reinforces his beliefs that he can’t and shouldn’t sleep alone.
Instead, give him the confidence to know that he can sleep on his own. Make sure that he’s alone when he falls asleep instead of waiting until he’s knocked out to walk away. So yes, read him a bedtime story, but don’t let him fall asleep midway or nod off to sleep.
9. Check in at set intervals
Did your child cry out for you the minute you closed the door? Set a timer for about five minutes, at which point you can pop your head in and remind her that it’s still time to sleep. If she’s still crying 10 minutes after that, do the same, reiterating the same message, and again if she’s still fussy at 15 minutes.
The goal is to check in at set intervals, not every time she happens to cry. She eventually learns that she should and absolutely can sleep in her room.
What do you do if she gets out of bed and opens the door?
One strategy is to get a baby monitor so that you can preempt the behavior before it even starts. The second you see her make a move to get out of bed, speak into the monitor to remind her to stay in bed. You can also stand in front of her door so that you can bear the same message the second she opens it.
And if she wakes up in the middle of the night (or in the early morning before it’s time to wake up), repeat the same check-ins. Let her know that it’s still time to sleep, and check in at those set intervals until she settles down.
10. Praise your child the next day
Helping your 4 year old sleep alone is no easy task, and that first night was likely a blur of sleep deprivation. He may have cried, clung to the door, or woken up multiple times a night. Still, if you were consistent and didn’t let him out of his room, he achieved the goal of sleeping alone.
So, despite the challenges that happened at night, praise him the next morning for sleeping on his own. He was able to do what neither of you thought he could, with the promise of easier nights ahead.
You might say, “You did it—you slept on your own!” Or “It was different sleeping on your own, but guess what? You were able to do it!”
He now knows that, despite his past behavior, he actually can fall asleep without needing your company.
At some point, all kids should feel comfortable sleeping alone in their beds. Even if your 4 year old has been insisting that you keep him company, you can help him adjust to staying in his room all night.
Start by validating how he feels instead of brushing his fears aside. At the same time, don’t try to “trick” him into sleeping alone, either. Talk about how he feels and the changes you’re going to make during the day when you’re both calm and coherent.
Create the right environment with a solid bedtime routine and a consistent wake up time. Remove stimulating items and activities close to bedtime that might be preventing him from staying calm.
Give him comfort items to sleep with, and make sure he falls asleep on his own. Check in at set intervals, not when he cries or insists on going to your room. Lastly, don’t forget to praise him for all his hard work—yup, even if he spent a lot of the night fussing and crying.
You can get a good night’s sleep—especially with everyone sleeping in their own beds.
Get more tips:
- 7 Tips to Try When Your 4 Year Old Wakes Up Every Night
- 4 Year Old Waking Up Early All of a Sudden? Here’s What to Do
- 16 Examples of a 4 Year Old Schedule
- How to Make Bedtime Easier
- Top Children’s Books About Bedtime
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