Once the baby years are over, parents often think that the sleep woes are over, too. If your preschooler won't sleep through the night, you're not the only frustrated and under-slept parent to question the mystery.
Firstly, in understanding how to solve any sleep problems, it’s important to see if your child is getting enough sleep, bearing in mind that some need more sleep, and some need less. Here are general sleep guidelines:
|Age||Nighttime sleep||Daytime sleep||Average total sleep|
|2 years||10 to 12 hours||1 to 3 hours (1 nap)||11 to 14 hours|
|3 years||10 to 12 hours||1 to 3 hours (1 nap)||10 to 13 hours|
|4 years||10 to 13 hours||0 to 2.5 hours (1 or no nap)||10 to 13 hours|
Here are some ideas to solve three of the most common child sleep challenges:
“My child won’t go to sleep.”
According to parenting expert Dr. Sears, sleep is not a state you can force a child into. He says that when a child resists going to sleep, it’s unlikely that your child is being stubborn or disobedient. It’s most likely that your child just wants more time with you.
Here are some suggestions on creating a sleep-inducing environment:
- Begin the bedtime ritual earlier than usual, around 7pm, and avoid activities such as wrestling and exciting play after this time, which can over-excite them.
- Develop a consistent bedtime ritual, such as a warm bath with soothing smells, a back rub or a gentle story, and gradually dim the lights.
- Sit down next to your child as you read the story, then say goodnight and leave - staying might cause them to rely on you being there to fall and remain asleep.
For some more advice and tips on helping your child fall asleep, see Dr. Sears’ article on getting your preschooler to bed.
“My child won’t go to sleep alone.”
Separation anxiety lingers at this age, so your child might resist going to bed. One solution is to let your child make bedtime choices, such as what pyjamas to wear. Give them a comfort toy, leave the night light on, and if they still call for you, wait 10 minutes before going to settle them, then leave and repeat the process if necessary.
Don't scold or punish your child, but don't reward them by staying. They might be looking for attention, so put them back to bed and leave as soon as they’re lying down. Be calm and consistent – they’ll soon realise you won't give in.
“My child wakes up during the night and comes to our bed.”
If you’re looking to take back your bed, gradually come to the stage where you leave the room before your child falls asleep. This way they won’t need to have you around as a comfort in order to go back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night. For occasions where your child wakes up because of a nightmare, it might be easier to let your child co-sleep instead of waking up and getting them back to bed, but if you want to stop making it a nightly habit, then it’s worth persevering. Escort them back to their room, give a quick hug or kiss, and leave. You might have to repeat this again and again if necessary.
Offer incentives when your child does manage to sleep through in their own bed as a reward for getting through something difficult.
For more tips on helping your child to sleep through, read this article on dealing with late-night visits.