Effective Strategies for Parents: Helping Your 4-Year-Old Go to Sleep Without a Struggle
As the youngest of three siblings, Ebony's sleep routine stood out within the family. Juggling a busy schedule, her mother, Rachel, found that Ebony often had to take her naps on the go – in the car seat, pram at daycare, or cradled in Rachel's arms at home.
Despite these frequent, short naps due to their on-the-move lifestyle, everyone, including Ebony, adapted to the unique sleep patterns.
Discover how to address such sleep challenges when your 4-year-old won't go to sleep.
Mum was room sharing with Ebony as space was tight in the house, and more often than not Ebony would end up in Mum and Dad’s bed at night. Usually after the 4th or 6th feed back to sleep.
“At least this way I was getting 2-3 hours sleep in a row in the second part of the night.” ~Rachel explains
“People started to suggest I try things like a white noise machine, a night light, lavender oil, chamomile tea and even a much later bed time. None of it made any difference to how Ebony slept, and by he first birthday I was pretty tired. I’d stopped going to the gym, started to refuse social invitations, I just wanted to sleep.”
A family member suggested maybe Rachel try moving her to a big bed, so at 18 months, she popped her into a cute toddler bed, and moved her to share with her sister.
After the honeymoon period of 3 nights Ebony started waking again and came out of her room into mums room at least 4 times a night. Once again ending up in mums bed around 5am, so everyone could just get some sleep.
Next came the sleep drops, a week in and nothing had changed for Ebony so mum ditched the sleep drops and went back to putting up with broken sleep, exhausting in itself but it was starting to feel like at nearly 2 years old Ebony would never sleep through the night.
People kept suggesting a sleep consultant, but Rachel had never used a sleep consultant for her other children, and was loathed to go down this path with Ebony.
“I thought I could fix it, I kept thinking, come on Rachel, you have 3 children, you know what you’re doing. She can’t keep this up for much longer.”
Next came a $180 weighted blanket, although Ebony showed no signs of being particularly tactile, anxious or needing extra sensory input mum tried the weighted blanket.
It was difficult to keep the blanket on Ebony, she usually kicked it off over the night. Night 10 and mum walked back into the room with Ebony for the umpteenth time that night, the weighted blanket was lying on the floor, and she didn’t bother putting it back on the bed.
2 year molars were blamed for another few months, and then the terrible 3’s as Ebony continued with her nocturnal habits of waking numerous times, and refusing to sleep in her own bed.
By 4 years old it was starting to affect her daytime behaviour. Easily upset, short tempered and struggling to be patient with other children at pre-school, Rachel finally reached out to Baby Sleep Consultant.
“I had been documenting what I was trying with Ebony’s sleep on my Instagram. I only share with friends and family, but they had always been supportive and giving me ideas.
It was my best friend who finally said something when Ebony was 4 and she could see how worn down I was. She asked me why I was so resistant to professional help…I didn’t have an answer except maybe pride? I called and booked in the next day.”
It was clear that in Ebony’s mind, when she woke from a sleep cycle at night, her process to go back to sleep was to get up, find mum and be walked back to bed, and then be tucked in and go back to sleep. I explained to mum that just like feeding to sleep, or rocking to sleep, this was a sleep association for Ebony.
She didn’t know any other way of going to back to sleep. The bed sharing after 4 or 5am was more mums way of coping with the broken sleep, than an issue for Ebony.
We sat Ebony down and had a chat about how tired everyone was, and what the new bedtime rules were.
We discussed what would be the positive outcome of staying in bed at night, and what would be the outcome of getting out of bed. While mum had already been doing a return to bed, she was also chatting with her, tucking her in, and sometimes lying down with her.
We needed to change this, and also work on breaking Ebony’s habit. We did this was a baby gate on Mum and Dad’s room to stop Ebony in her tracks. She had to be more aware of what she was doing, and climbing into bed with Rachel wasn’t an option.
We practised a new going back to sleep routine for Ebony, and made a game out of it so she would know what to do at night when she woke after a sleep cycle.
10 nights of a consistent approach backed up by some positive rewards and Ebony was sleeping from 7pm to 6am every night!
We checked in with Rachel a month later to find out how things were going.
“Ebony is like a different child. Her pre-school teachers are praising the turn around in her behaviour there. She is so much happier and able to cope with lifes little challenges. She has only gotten up once in the last month and come to our room. I took her back to bed, and she slept through the rest of the night. The baby gate lives under our bed and we wont hesitate to use it again if needed.”
“I was so worried about rocking the boat and having Ebony cry and throw a tantrum, but in the end she did really well, and wasn’t even that bothered by the strict night time approach.
I was really brain washed by the Instagram mums telling me I needed to respond to her all night. But I’m not a mum who wants to bed share, I need my space and I need my sleep.
So I was up and down all night just to avoid a little crying by Ebony. When I look back at the last 4 years, she cried much much more from being tired and emotional than she ever did when we put the baby gate up and did some sleep training. Do I regret sleep training? No way, but I do regret how much money I wasted before I sleep trained!”
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the Block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.