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Four Year Old Won't Sleep in His Room

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Dear Dr. Susan:

I have a four year old, Jake and a two-year old Mikey.

Jake recently has takent to being very sulky and is really pushing the limits, particularly with my husband, stomping around, glaring, snearing, thinks like that.

This has escalated to ridiculous proportion at bed time. He does not want to sleep  in his room, on his bed, or anywhere other thatn the “TV room.” He stalls going to bed, like most kids, and instantly when it’s time for bed, throwing a huge temper tantrum, which is not something he has ever done until the last couple of weeks. No method of solvig this we’ve tried has worked and although we talk about this actions and their consequences and he understands them all day, as soon as it’s bed time, he begins the monumental fit. Last night he screamed until 11:30 p.m., about two solid hours. The fit only stopped when for sanity sakes, we let him sleep in the doorway of his room, with his head in the hall, on the floor, with a light on. We don’t want to conceed ground and lose power struggles with our child, but we all need to rest too, Suggestions?

As far as other background goes, that has been Jake’s room since Mikey was born. At times he has had a parent sleep with him, but not for months. He was permitted to sleep in the TV room for a while when he was younger because it was a way to get him out of our bed. He’s clearly resisted the room that is designated as his forever. It is decorated in a theme he likes, and he plays in it and claims it as his, he just refuses to sleep there.

Is this a stage he’s going through? How do we ride it out and still maintain our position as authority figures without becoming terrible frustrated parents out of shear exhaustion?

Vickie

Dear Vickie:

You sound sensitive and sensible to me! It is not a safe alternative for him to sleep in the hall but you could try it! Try not to be concerned that you allowed him the TV alternative that started the whole thing, until you figured out that that was not the right move. We are all guilty of trying those things; they are actually acts of exhaustion and a reflection of your love, but do have to go back to “Basics.”

Basic #1…Continue the broken record at bedtime that he sleeps in his room because it is “his” property and he has to protect and take care of “his” things. His animals and books need to be protected…He needs to be sleeping in his room, in his bed, surrounded by his stuff. Kids sleep with their stuff! That is your story and your are sticking to it! Rewards are nice when good behavior happens, so one reward might be to let him stay up later than his brother on a night when he could watch a movie/TV after his brother goes to bed. Big deal…

Basic #2 He is to be admired for taking care of his own property. Give him compliments about taking care of his property. Give him a few pennies (no food) each day for being the keeper of his room. Make a mystery guessing game about what objects or toys he has selected to protect each night. He needs a cape, a sword and a flashlight to show you that he is the matter of his space, the controller of his universe!

“Basics” also include ignoring tantrums by singing or talking to yourself and remembering that the consequence for tantruming means less freedom and total attachment to you. Do not allow any tantruming child to occupy big spaces, run away or roam. The worse the behavior, the closer they STAY attached to you, like velcro! Hold hands with his hands, holding him closer when rages BUT BE PREPARED to jump right in and thank him for stopping his fit when he pauses to breathe! Compliment him for breathing instead of screaming.

Four year-olds need to feel important so give lots of compliments when he is doing all the right things, like playing peacefully or telling you which room he is going into or where he is going to be going. The greatest parental trick in the world is to teach toddlers to tell you when they leave a room…even if you clearly see them do it. The next best trick is to give them opportunities to reward your sons by letting them to help do anything.

The act of helping is the biggest reward there is to 2-6 year olds! Allow him to help cook or clean the garage teaches kids to recognize at an early age that each person is an important family member whose voice is listened to !!!! All family members have responsibilities. Make each one feel special.

Thanks for writing.  Dr. Susan Turben

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