Q&A: My 4 1/2-year-old son comes into our room every night and wants to sleep with us. What can I do?
My 4 1/2-year-old son comes into our room every night and wants to sleep with us. This has been going on for a few months now.
At first, my husband was always escorting him back to his room, and sometimes our 23-month-old son would also wake up because of his older brother's crying. When this went on several times a night we let him sleep on a blanket next to us for a few weeks. Then he began coming in earlier and earlier. On top of that he started to cry several times at night, even though he is already sleeping so close to us.
We don't get any rest and we are desperate. The toughest part is to try to get him back into his room, because he is throwing such a fit that it wakes up his younger brother down the hall. My older son says that he is scared. Yet he is already equipped with a nightlight and a flashlight, and the door is wide open. The bathroom light is also on. We make sure he doesn't see anything scary on TV or elsewhere. Basically I'm at a loss and would like your help on what to do!
It sounds as if you are convinced that this behavior isn’t due to stress or trauma, in which case you’ll need to work out a plan to ‘retrain’ your son to sleep on his own.
You could start by telling him that your room is for adults only, but that you will help him get used to sleeping in his own bed. You can then either put him back in his bed, with you and your husband taking turns being in the room until he falls asleep (moving further back from his bed each night until you are just at the doorway), or start with him on a mattress in the doorway, then moving his mattress gradually back to his bed.
If he awakens, he gets returned right back to the place where he fell asleep for that night, and you may need to stay with him at first to enforce this. He needs to understand that there is no going backwards on the plan, no matter how much he cries and even if his brother does get woken up several times. Consistency is the real reason this plan ever works. Setting up a daytime reward system for every night that he complies serves to reinforce the behavior you are after. Lots of praise for acting like a ‘big boy’ may help motivate him as well.
Some of your first nights may be long, but sticking to the rules will bring him around sooner than if you back down, even once. Good luck!