August 16, 2022

I am torn between feeling:

a) accepting that G will not fall asleep on her own for the next ~5-6 years. I mean, I can just read a book in her room! It’s not THAT bad right?!

b) desperate for her to just GO TO BED like it seems like other kids her age are capable of (maybe?)

Our current routine is: teeth, books, Headspace kids’ sleep story, lie in her bed until she falls asleep (sometimes takes longer than the ~25 min story, and often goes past 9-9:30 pm). If we try to leave to spend time with the other kids or — gasp — have some adult time, there is instant mayhem. We deployed a sticker chart and it worked once (!) but last night this was not enticing enough, apparently. We will keep trying with it, but I’m already losing hope.

Maybe something more immediate like a ‘prize grab bag’ in the morning would be more enticing. (But also, is this too much bribery? Where is the line between bribery/coercion and incentive?)


What, if anything, did you do to teach your preschooler (4+) to go to sleep without a chaperone? Or should I just give up and assume the busier school year and early wakeup will make her sleep latency more reasonable anyway?

Any recommendations welcome . . .

PS: I am already tired out from this week.


  • Reply Amanda August 16, 2022 at 6:27 am

    Interestingly my daughter’s (3.5) bedtime routine/ability to go to sleep easily got better when my husband basically did it on his own for 4-5 months rather than us going back and forth or doing it together. This happened out of necessity at the end of my pregnancy/with a newborn because I couldn’t lay on the floor when I was so big lol, and then I was on with the newborn. Now it seems that we’re able to go back and forth without it stirring her up to much? Not sure why and he says he didn’t do anything except stay consistent. We do sometimes do the “I’m coming right back to check on you” thing. Although she sometimes gets up in the middle of the night which is a nightmare and can result in hours in her room. (Is the new baby sleeping through the night? No, no she is not).

    Was this any better when she was the only kid at home? I.E. is she looking for more focused attention?

    Finally I 100% think the chart or an immediate prize in the morning are fine. I guess it depends on the kid but sometimes I feel like bribery is necessary to get into a good routine, and then you can take the bribe away. I didn’t like it but we just ended up having to use candy (like big pieces of candy, not one M&M) for potty training. Now it’s fine.

  • Reply Gillian August 16, 2022 at 6:48 am

    Totally here for the bribery…ehem, positive reinforcement. My sister is an applied behavior analyst and her advice on this type of stuff has been invaluable in my 15 years of parenting. Sometimes I am better executing a plan we discuss together. Sometimes I find it really challenging (read, not worth it).

    I think she would say the positive reinforcement needs to be more immediate and more tied to what she actually wants and is getting through her undesirable behavior. It seems to me that what she is looking for is more 1:1 time with you guys which she gets by causing mayhem at bedtime. The reward should be 1:1 time with you the next day (an extra book, a special breakfast, doesn’t need to be elaborate) and give her TONS of praise when she gets it right. Also you have to totally ignore the undesirable behavior (blandly escort her back to her room–this is the hardest for me) and expect an extinction burst (one of my favorite terms–meaning it gets worse before it gets better). You also have to be totally consistent…kids will exploit any perceive cracks.

    Obviously, addressing it (or not) is totally up to you and how much you dislike the current situation. Chances are you won’t still be laying down with her to go to sleep in her college dorm 😉

    • Reply Rebekah August 16, 2022 at 2:34 pm

      I do parent coaching for 0-6 year olds from a Montessori perspective – and this is exactly what I was going to say and suggest!

      When there is a challenging behavior, the first thing we want to do is think about what’s causing it. It very much sounds like G is craving one on one time and needs going to bed to be tied with the reward of some quality time. It does NOT need to be huge, just consistent.

      And the planned ignoring when she’s getting back up is really key. It teaches her that she can’t get what she wants (attention) by those behaviors, so she may as well sleep!

      I hadn’t heard the term extinction burst before, and I love it! It will briefly get worse while she tests the limits to make sure you are serious.

  • Reply Margot Hwang August 16, 2022 at 6:51 am

    No advice, just commiserating. My child is 3. He also would prefer “mommy sit down” then me leaving. It is so tiring to stay in there for a long time (has been until 10 before omg) even though I’m not doing anything. Why is it so tiring? I have started to just leave at a certain point after about 5 minutes. He screams for about 4ish minutes, then accepts I’m not coming back and is content to fall asleep on his own. He screams in a way that I didn’t know he could. He keeps reaching new octives. But since it’s so short and then he stops, I’m fine with it. We talk about it a lot before bedtime and he accepts that I’m going to leave during a conversation but then in the moment, he does not accept!! Good luck!! You are a great mom whether you continue to lay on the floor or find a different solution!

  • Reply Meaghan August 16, 2022 at 6:55 am

    I have a child who is asleep before her head hits the pillow (and needs a lot of sleep to emotionally regulate) and one who never feels a need to sleep and lies awake for hours (but is very pleasant on little sleep). He’s always been this way, even though he’s 11 now. We do a bedtime routine for him, but if he isn’t sleepy, I let him do quiet things like sudoku or puzzle games or reading) in bed until he is ready. Sometimes he asks if he can fall asleep in my bed because he likes it better and then I transfer him when I go to sleep. His sister objects to this and says it is unfair that he’s younger and often stays up later, but I say different kids need different strategies. I would not want to be held hostage in a bedroom though, I still have stuff to do after bedtime and would get resentful.

    • Reply Ames August 16, 2022 at 10:08 am

      If you’re moving an 11 year old after he falls asleep, I need details on your strength workouts!

  • Reply Donelle August 16, 2022 at 6:58 am

    Sleep training can work at this age too. I think rough for a bit but really what has to happen establishing a routine that doesn’t involve ever being in the room while she tries to sleep, and that will be a major change because it’s the opposite of her current routine. I also suspect It may be harder for her if she can hear other people still awake, then she feels like she’s missing out versus someone in the room with her. My son is about the same age and the very delayed gratification bribes don’t work on him compared to his in the moment desires but every kid is different.

  • Reply Janelle August 16, 2022 at 7:13 am

    I hope this doesn’t come off as too mean, but can you just accept she’s going to have big feelings about being left alone in her room after books, comfort her quickly and put her back to bed if she comes out? I’d talk to her about this well before bedtime so she knows what to expect, and ask if there’s anything she needs to fall asleep on her own- another light on? A toy in bed? But make it clear you won’t be laying with her (if this is what you want of course).

    Bribery doesn’t work very well for my kids in most situations unfortunately. When my daughter was continually coming out of her room after bedtime I’d just pick her up and say I love you and it’s time for bed and put her back in her bed. Over and over again. It was so tiring but eventually it did work.
    If you don’t want her to be upset I’m guessing you’ll have to lay with her the near future. I don’t think either plan is wrong- it just depends what works for you.
    I’d honestly try bribing the older kids to almost go to bed on their own so you can deal 100% with G to get her falling asleep on her own. It won’t last forever 🙂

    • Reply Amy August 16, 2022 at 8:08 am

      I think this is key — you have to accept the fact that she’s going to be upset about it. She might be upset in an anxious way, but she also might be upset in a pissed-off way; she’s been in control of bedtime her whole life and who are you to come in and assert some authority now?? And honestly, it’s okay that she’s upset! It’s not the end of the world. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or that you’re beholden to going through this long, elaborate bedtime routine because she doesn’t stay in bed on her own — you have to help her develop the self-discipline to do that. But yeah, I mean, she’s not going to like any changes because you laying in her bed with her works for her, and she likes it, and frankly, it keeps her in control. But it doesn’t work for you, and you’re the parent here, not her. You get to set the limits. You just need to tolerate her (temporary) unhappiness about that. (And I’m finding, btw, that tolerating our kids’ unhappiness about our decisions is an important practice for us as parents. You can’t base all of these types of decisions on what will or won’t upset your kids. Let her get some practice coping with the discomfort of not having things her way.) I know I sound really direct but I don’t mean any of this in a dismissive way. It’s easy to get caught in these traps as parents and lose sight of what’s actually within our sphere of control. It’s not “disrespectful” or otherwise harmful to your child, nor selfish of you as a parent (!), to apply enough discipline on your part and hers to get her to do this.

      (I would also add that my extremely unpopular opinion is that bribery is the easy way out. But YMMV.)

    • Reply Hannah N. August 16, 2022 at 9:00 am

      This is what has worked for our daughter. She just turned 4 and the past year, bedtime just got way out of hand. Rocking time got longer, then she wanted “talk time” that was drawn out, then she would be constantly out of bed. She still gets out of bed some nights and has a hard time falling asleep but overall getting her down and to stay down has improved significantly. Once we started being more firm and consistent with just telling her it’s time to turn out the lights and go to bed (and followed up with just leaving her room even if she was whining or asking for more hugs/water/whatever), she stopped resisting so much. We also started allowing her to bring a toy into bed with her to play with until she fell asleep (we put limits on what is an acceptable “bed time” toy). We have realized that she seems to just need less sleep than my son (who is 7 and asks to go to bed) but we also need some adult time/decompression time at the end of our day so we are fine if she is still awake but stays in her bed playing quietly until she does go to sleep.

  • Reply Gwinne August 16, 2022 at 7:15 am

    So … I know you read my blog Long enough to know that tiny boy had major issues with sleep that were finally resolved around age 4. In his case that was mostly medical the little bit behavioral. He started taking melatonin as prescribed by sleep specialist. That was enough to get him over behavioral hump. That said I was still sitting in his room until age 9. I greatly cut down the amount of time I was sitting but he needed it. The trade-off was being called back to his room multiple times and I prefer just to sit quietly on the floor and stretch and read some thing like a blog or a book on a Kindle! All that is to say I can totally get behind a bribe but it might be worth exploring what’s going on with her that she requires this intervention. Is she afraid of the dark or some thing that could be rectified? Even at 10 1/2 tiny boy requires that somebody be upstairs in the house with him when he goes to bed. I’m not in the room.

  • Reply Sarah August 16, 2022 at 7:30 am

    In similar situations nothing has ever worked better than putting the little in with big kids. Is that an option?

    I am a child psychologist and applied behavior analyst and agree with Gillian that your rewards are too delayed and also not closely tied enough to function of behavior (which is most likely either reduction of anxiety or attention seeking or a little mix). You don’t have to tie them but it usually works better if you do. Could try recording yourself doing the story and switch reward to checks, e.g. get a check mark for every five minutes she doesn’t come out of the room looking for you and you go in every five minutes to deliver the check. Next day if she got 7 checks trade it for something she wants. Gradually increase to 6, 7, 10 minute intervals. I’m sure someone can improve on this idea and there are loopholes but I’d go that way instead of reward for doing the entire behavior. (Although I would seriously try sticking her with another kid first because that’s way less work for me.)

    Separately I found this interesting.

    • Reply Sarah August 16, 2022 at 8:24 am

      One more thing – not intended in any way to be defensive of rewards or offensive about anti-reward parenting – just giving a potential framework for parents who are interested. Definitionally speaking, a reward is something pleasurable that follows a behavior. It’s why humans do literally everything we do. A bribe is something (definitionally) that you give in anticipation of a behavior. It both is messy ethically and doesn’t work over the long term, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Like as an example, if you bribe a politician to vote a certain way, you give them the $ before the vote. (Sorry terrible example lol.) Same way, if you bribe a kid to be quiet at the ballet, you buy them ice cream before the ballet. More than being messy, the issue is that if you have bribe in hand there is no point in being quiet at the ballet. Whether or not as a parent you think it is right or reasonable, it is only EFFECTIVE to use the ice cream after the ballet. Always helpful for me as one potential framework to distinguish between bribes and rewards!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 16, 2022 at 8:49 am

      Omg that link is 100% true in my experience. I am sharing with everyone I know.

    • Reply Brooke August 16, 2022 at 9:23 am

      I’m not a doctor but I found that link fascinating. I do a lot of D&I work and training at my engineering office and I’m already thinking about how I can form a discussion around that article. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply KGC August 16, 2022 at 9:55 am

      Not a physician but wow that article also resonates with me as a genetic counselor – a field that is primarily women with well-documented trends of burnout. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Kari August 16, 2022 at 11:55 pm

      I am a female physician in primary care (family medicine) and I had a rough day today. I read the article you linked this evening and basically sobbed my way through it. Thanks for sharing – I feel very validated. And now, to figure out the solution…

  • Reply Gwinne August 16, 2022 at 7:38 am

    I should add I know how incredibly frustrating all this is because I’ve been there. And it’s only really recently that I’ve made a certain amount of peace with it. Probably the long view of having a kid going off to college. They do outgrow whatever developmental issues they are struggling with at some point before then!

  • Reply Irene August 16, 2022 at 7:51 am

    I have posted this before (maybe not here) but my kids were honestly very scared of the dark so for us we had to work up to it like exposure therapy. We had a chart and each kid practiced staying in the dark for one minute, then we would come back and make a big fuss (quickly and quietly) and then sit on the couch til they fell asleep. The next morning put one minute on the chart big high five. Two minutes that night. When they get to 10 minutes in the dark they get the prize. We maxed out at 10 minutes for my younger son (4) because he is typically asleep after that amount of time so if he’s awake after 10 minutes when I come back I sit with him but it’s typically 5-10 minutes. My daughter gets checked after 10 minutes and if she’s awake I tell her I will check again in 10 more. She very rarely needs more than that at 7. This works for us because they know they won’t just be lying there I definitely because I will come and check on them and it helps them relax. For us the checks are still important even at 7 but my oldest is very anxious and I had insomnia as a kid so I’m sympathetic to the fear of lying there unable to sleep. Good luck!

    • Reply Irene August 16, 2022 at 7:57 am

      Probably sounds like a minor distinction but having had insomnia i found it helped to frame it as practice being on your own in the dark (which is something they are very much in control over) vs. falling asleep on their own (less control over) When I focus on falling asleep I get stressed out and worrying I won’t fall asleep so I tried to frame it in a way that I was asking them to do something they could definitely do, if that makes sense.

      • Reply Amy August 16, 2022 at 8:11 am

        I think this is a great point — you’re really teaching her to tolerate laying in her bed in a darkened room. That’s what she needs to do.

  • Reply Mrs. Candid August 16, 2022 at 7:51 am

    My daughter needed my presence until she was 7. Maybe G needs more time to be able to sleep on her own. I think your current chart to encourage routine is very good. More goodies might not work if the child is not yet ready.

  • Reply Louise August 16, 2022 at 8:04 am

    I sat with my son every night for 10 years. I tried EVERYTHING but nothing worked. I bought a Kindle (game-changer) and read 3 books a week. Finally, about 9 months ago aged 10, he said to me “You can go now, mummy” and that was it, I’ve not sat with him since. The irony is, now, I’m so used to that reading time, that I go downstairs and sit on the sofa and read my Kindle anyway! I’m not sure I’ve helped, except to say that one day you will not need to sit there, even if it feels as if that day will never come.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa’s Yarns August 16, 2022 at 8:14 am

    We went through the same thing with our 4yo and thought it would last forever and then this summer we got him to accept that we would come and check on him until he falls asleep. He gets to decide when we come back to check on him, usually it’s 10 or 15 minutes. On weekends when he doesn’t nap he’s almost always asleep when we check on him the first time. On week days it can take multiple checks since he takes a short nap at school (which we hate but our daycare won’t change the policy). Up until this change, we were sitting in his room for 30-60+ minutes and I lost my evening time with my husband. I debated sleep training – like walking him back to his room every time he got up – but feared he would scream and wake the toddler. I did more reading done during that stage but am happy to get some time back with my husband.

    We did try bribes/rewards but found it didn’t work since he seems to need an immediate reward and there isn’t really anything you can give at bedtime. We also have a lot of night lights and there were times we would leave his light on but very dimmed until he fell asleep.

  • Reply KGC August 16, 2022 at 8:21 am

    Sleep consultant!! There are professionals whose job it is to figure this stuff out. I used one when my second son was an infant and man was it life changing – more than anything because we just committed to doing what we were told and I stopped second guessing and internet researching to the “the best” way. There are people out there who know way more about child sleep then I do so I figure why not use them?!? It worked great for us (albeit with an infant, though the person I used also has successful programs for parents of older kids), though I do find that lots of people are anti-sleep consultants so maybe this isn’t something you’d want to try. But just putting a plug to consider it. Though I agree with a commenter above that some of it is going to be accepting that there will be pushback and mayhem and getting comfortable with G having big feelings about the whole thing. Good luck!!!

  • Reply Alyssa August 16, 2022 at 8:24 am

    I only commiserate! My daughter is 4yo and my husband and I alternate bedtime duties. One of us lies with her until she falls asleep. Look forward to reading above comments for some tips!

  • Reply Kristie August 16, 2022 at 8:38 am

    Wow, so many excellent comments! Maybe a great topic to explore on BOBW with a sleep expert or child psychologist. 😊

    • Reply Jenn N August 16, 2022 at 10:06 am

      I second this Kristie! My son is almost 2.5 and we sleep trained him as an infant, but I would love to know various best practices for these toddler and preschool years. 🙂

  • Reply Amy August 16, 2022 at 8:50 am

    When my older son was 4 we started phasing out sitting in his room — we did it gradually, going from laying in bed with him to sitting in a chair in the room, then sitting in the hallway. I think it took around a month to fully transition, and from then on it was just walking him back to his room whenever he got up at night. (This kept happening, btw, for a long time.) He is someone for whom it can take a long time to fall asleep, and I realized finally last year (when he was 9) that what we really need to do is treat him like a Rhodesian Ridgeback and make sure he gets lots and lots and lots of physical activity in order to sleep well at night. Could G be similar?

    We never did reward / punishment for anything sleep related (or for much of anything else besides potty training, really) because there are lots of things I want my children to do because they need to be functional members of the family / society, and I didn’t want to set them up to expect rewards for obeying me. Every family is different of course, and that may not be the result for every kid, but it was a factor we took into account when we considered discipline.

  • Reply KDR August 16, 2022 at 8:51 am

    OK I’m not a parent so this may be totally off base but if she’s often lying awake for more than 25 minutes do you think she simply not sleepy at night? Are there ways that you can try to tire her out more during the day? Or, speaking as someone who would left to their own devices stay up an extra hour or so every night until my schedule is completely off, could she benefit from something like melatonin? Again apologies if I’m totally off and this is a behavioral thing not a physiological one!

  • Reply Susan August 16, 2022 at 9:08 am

    Sleep issues are hard on everyone. This book saved my sanity because it helps older kids, not just babies:

  • Reply Ames August 16, 2022 at 9:20 am

    This was a real struggle with my now 16 yo daughter. She very much wanted someone in her room until she fell asleep (usually me). Not only did it cut into “my” down time, but I would often fall asleep in her room. Some nights it was just enough of a cat nap to boost my energy levels and then I would stay up even later than usual. Not a great cycle for me. This continued in some form until 2nd grade or so. Some nights it was “just” that she would fall asleep on her own but wake up in the middle of the night and come looking for one of us. Gahhhh it makes me tired just thinking about it now.

    Said child and I were talking about this in the last couple of weeks. She said that what helped her get past this was getting a dog. She didn’t like feeling alone in her room. The dog’s presence was enough to help her relax and fall asleep without “help” from an adult. My guess is that a bit of this was personality (she’s a big extrovert) and a bit was fear of the dark / fear of aloneness (she also has big feelings).

    I am *not* advocating that anyone get a dog unless you really, really want a dog yourself. The dog was supposed to be “her dog” – but in the dog’s mind, she was “Mom’s dog”. I ended up with not only the medical and grooming responsibilities for the dog, but also a shadow who was right on my heels all. the. time. If I had it to do over again, we still would adopt a dog for her but spent more time learning breed characteristics before bringing one home. She (the dog) passed away a couple of weeks ago. It’s both tremendously sad and a bit of a relief.

    Anyway – time marches on and the 16 year old is rarely home. She keeps the roads hot going to school, extracurriculars, church, friend meetups. The current struggle is figuring out when she will and will not be home for supper. AND hoping she gets home before I want to go to sleep – I really do not like going to bed before a new driver gets home in the evening.

  • Reply Susan August 16, 2022 at 9:23 am

    Sleep issues are so hard (for everyone). This book greatly helped my family. The Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5 by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack. They also do sleep consultations, or there may be a “sleep consultant” in your area. The book was enough for us but if you’re still struggling, it might be worth the money to consult!

  • Reply Pankti August 16, 2022 at 9:26 am

    Not sure how much this tactic will work, but we recently were dealing with this similar sleep struggles with my 3yo. We finally told her that we’ll go to the store, and you pick out anything you want to decorate your own bed that you will sleep in alone. She picked out an Elsa/Anna blanket, Unicorn lamp, and unicorn stuffy. We also showed her some princess movies and told her, “princesses don’t sleep with mommy or daddy”. So if you want to keep these items and be a princess, you need to sleep in your bed alone until it’s morning time. Every time you come out of your bed or force mommy/daddy to sleep with you, we get to take away one item. It’s been 1.5 weeks, and it’s working but lets see for longer term.

  • Reply Morgan August 16, 2022 at 9:51 am

    As someone who has struggled with sleep anxiety since I was a kid, I have worked really hard to try to help my kids have a healthy relationship with sleep. Last year, my son (4 at the time) went through a really rough phase.

    What got us through was having “bedtime” be the time that he had to be quietly in his room, but not necessarily asleep. He has a little lantern (that shuts off automatically after 20 min) and he could choose 4 books to bring into his bed with him to read. We would then check on him in 5 minute intervals (but the clock would reset if he popped up or made noise, etc.) – so 5 min, then 10 min after that, then 15 min after that, then so on. Until he eventually fell asleep. (Part of the key is that he knew we were coming so was able to relax a bit until then — so a key is to definitely go in if you said you would.) After a while, the checks dwindled and he’d fall asleep faster — now we do a 10 min check, then maaaaaybe a 15 min check after that if he’s still awake.

    After struggling for a while and him getting SO WORKED UP and waking up his sister, etc. – this is the approach that has worked best for us. Wishing you luck – I know how frustrating this can be, especially when you’re already tired and on your last nerve!

    • Reply Sarah S. August 16, 2022 at 9:47 pm

      This is almost exactly what we did. My son has always tended to be a night owl, and the only thing that worked was completely separating bedtime from falling asleep when he was around three. We were laying in his room for hours and it was just not sustainable with a new baby brother. Now, at 8, he plays or reads quietly in his room after a short bedtime routine. Sometimes he falls asleep right away, sometimes it takes him quite a while, but we are not part of the falling asleep process.

      One thing a friend suggested in the early days was spacing the checks based on tasks rather than time. At three he had no sense of what “five minutes” was. I would tell him something like “I need to go pack my lunch, then I’ll come check on you”, and keep repeating with various tasks. It’s silly, but also felt better to have that justification.

  • Reply Amanda August 16, 2022 at 10:05 am

    Sharing solidarity. My li’l guy is within a month or so of G and we have similar issues (and didn’t with my older child). The only thing that has kinda, sorta worked a reward to have a friend over after 10 nights of staying in bed on his own. It has about a 50% success rate, which is much higher than everything else I’ve tried.

  • Reply Elizabeth August 16, 2022 at 10:11 am

    I don’t have specifics to add because you already have so much great advice, but I just wanted to say:

    1) no, you absolutely don’t have to accept laying down with her for the next 5-6 years. You actually don’t have to accept it for another night.
    2) In my own experience with a strong-willed child and bedtime, you probably do need to accept that G will make the change as unpleasant as she can, and be okay with that.
    3) The biggest thing, in my experience, is to communicate what will happen to the child AND THEN REMAIN CONSISTENT. You can’t take a night off from it because you’re tired and don’t want to deal with the tantrum. You have to decide on the plan and not deviate so she will understand that no amount of fighting it will change it.
    4) Given her age you also probably have to accept this will make bedtime horrible for a decent period of time before it improves. Like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But, it WILL get better.

    If you decide you do want to make the change, you absolutely can do it. I’m rooting for you!!! Good luck!

    • Reply Amy August 16, 2022 at 12:45 pm

      Agree with all of this, especially points 1 and 2.

    • Reply Kristen August 16, 2022 at 8:31 pm

      Hello! Upvote, thumbs up, second this entire comment. When sleep hicks ups arose in our house I set my own boundary and then stayed firm. Initially not fun, but worked!

      Each kid and family is different. And I have no doubt you can change whatever dynamic you want to change. So much support here!

  • Reply Yvann August 16, 2022 at 10:17 am

    Solidarity, sister. (and it’s so nice for me to read all these comments and realise that we’re not the only ones suffering with this!)
    Definitely keen to hear this on BOBW (I gather Laura is more of the sleep training school but she has talked about sleep deprivation).
    With Miss 7, we worked up to her going to sleep alone in her room; I had to stay on the same floor and go back to check on her frequently. This is a lot more freedom for me between 8.30-9.30pm than I had previously but I’m still exhausted by the process. Now we’re trying that she can stay up till 9.30pm and then I will sit with her because she falls asleep pretty quickly (so we save ourselves the hour of whining and checks).
    Miss Nearly 5 still has a cuddle and a bottle of milk to fall asleep (I know, the dentists are coming for me with their pitchforks); if she doesn’t fall asleep during the first bottle, the deal is that I will get her a second bottle but I won’t stay with her. She’s pretty happy with that.
    And yes to the physical exercise point – Miss Nearly 5 falls asleep faster and sleeps through when she’s had 20k steps in the day…

  • Reply Chelsea August 16, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Because I wake up so early, I usually just go to sleep with our 4-year-old. He either lays down with me until he falls asleep and then my husband moves him to his room or he decides he wants to lay down in his own bed and does that. After that, my 7-year-old comes and lays down with me – usually after I’m already asleep – and then my husband moves him to his bed, lol.

    I’m sure that scenario would give a sleep expert heart palpitations, but I always figured that whatever got the most of us the most sleep was the way to go, even if it’s not the fashionable way to do things. Plus there are plenty of places in the world where family members sleeping together is totally normal, so I assume my kids will turn out as well as they would have turned out if we were dedicated to the idea of them going to bed alone.

  • Reply Beth August 16, 2022 at 10:27 am

    My kid was similar around that age and here is what I did. I did a version of the Sleep Lady Shuffle (you can google) modified for a toddler. After I tucked her in, any time she got up and wandered around I would just bring her back to her room with zero interaction. Not mad, not annoyed, not engaged. Literally no eye contact or speaking. Eventually she got bored and stayed in bed. I didn’t really care if she slept, as long as she stayed put.

  • Reply Sophie August 16, 2022 at 10:32 am

    My daughter is 5 and I still fall asleep with her every night. But she’s asleep within 15 mins by 8 so it doesn’t feel so onerous. There have been times when her bedtime has moved later and she hasn’t fallen asleep until after 9 and it’s deeply frustrating so I understand how you feel. Anytime we’ve tried to leave her to fall asleep alone has not ended well, absolute meltdown. Sorry I can’t help but just know you aren’t the only one who’s older kid still needs mum to fall asleep!

  • Reply felicia doherty August 16, 2022 at 10:54 am

    you have a LOT of great comments here, but I will just add – we had similar sleep “issues” with my 3.5 year old and found it helpful to meet with a sleep psychologist (at our PCP office). We ended up, with their blessing, using melatonin consistently while we honed in on the bedtime routine (few weeks). She also was iron deficient and repletion seems to have helped.

    a few sessions with the sleep psychologist did seem to help me get to a better place with it all, fwiw, too

  • Reply Dana August 16, 2022 at 11:00 am

    It probably isn’t needed here but we have melatonin gummies that we only use as needed. My son is older but after a night where he was awake until 2:45am truly doing the right things and trying to get to sleep we realized we needed another tool. Sometimes we give before bed after an exciting day where we think he will struggle to get to sleep and sometimes we give when he asks after being in bed for a while and not getting to sleep. I wouldn’t want to use every day but it could be helpful getting over a bump in sleeping trouble. (My son was a kid who needed us to lie down next to him at that age but eventually didn’t need it, now he likes to pet the cat when he goes to bed.)

  • Reply Shelly August 16, 2022 at 11:03 am

    My kids also struggled with falling asleep. I remember trying sleep training when my son was under a year old and I hated it. I physically could not allow that crying. There were changes in how we worked it out but I mostly stayed with him in variations as he fell asleep. At 10 or so he decided that he would go to sleep on his own and that was that. My daughter went to sleep easier as a baby and then has struggled with sleeping on her own, being afraid of the dark/alone in her room is the biggest issue now. If it is like potty training. One day after months of trying different things, my daughter went to daycare on a normal weekday, announced she was done with diapers and never had an accident after that. I talk with her about what is good about being able to sleep on her own (going on sleepovers and enjoying her space, etc.). It will happen. I agree with Margot – you are a great mom no matter which way you go with her sleep.

  • Reply Mars August 16, 2022 at 11:07 am

    I’d definitely continue with the chart for a week or two just to see if consistency helps. She may need a more immediate reward though, like you mentioned. Fortunately, we trained our three kids from literally Day 1 & they go to bed fairly easily each night. About 30mins before bed, I give mine a small amount of chewable magnesium and it helps to calm them. An Epsom salt bath seems to work too. Would room sharing help matters? Two of our three share a room and for us, that’s been a huge help.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 16, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      We did do room sharing for a while but I feel the big kids kind of like having their own spaces now!

  • Reply Al August 16, 2022 at 11:07 am

    Do you know what Gretchen Rubin tendency she is?

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 16, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      I don’t know if 4 year olds have solidified tendencies! For example I see Annabel trending upholder now but she definitely was not at 4. Total rebel, lol.

  • Reply Another Sarah August 16, 2022 at 11:15 am

    I just explained to her how adults do it. Kind of like „they just stay up and do things until they are tired and then they climb into bed and close their eyes.“ She just said „hm… ok.“ and from that day on she wanted to be „grown up“ and didn’t want anyone to stay 😂 I think she was close to 5 years old when we did that.

    • Reply Emily August 16, 2022 at 10:16 pm

      I’m going to try this! I think this actually might help my very logical-brained 3y/o.

  • Reply Abby Meyers August 16, 2022 at 11:49 am

    We did a sleep training program – Little Z sleep. Not cheap, and not rocket science, but took my then 3.5 year old from complete bedtime nightmare to SO easy to put to sleep (now 5). She’s up front that it takes 3 weeks, and it did, but I felt like having a *plan* made all the difference, between coordinating among a few caregivers and also keeping my feelings of guilt from getting in the way (she’s big on “teaching your child to sleep independently is a gift”).

  • Reply Jenny August 16, 2022 at 11:55 am

    Our younger daughter had difficulty staying in bed by herself at that age, although her main concern involved coming into our room around 11-12 PM, and we sought the advice of a psychologist who recommended the more immediate reward system (she gets the reward the next morning if she stayed in bed the whole night) as many have mentioned above. They simply don’t care about the longer term reward enough without the more immediate reinforcement. She recommended getting those silly plastic things that come in goody bags, it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. We also had the “you get one” rule. Like, you can come out ONCE after bedtime if you need something and we will take her back in, but anything else and she’s on her own.

    You could also think about introducing a new soothing element like a lavender spray or sound machine to cue bedtime thoughts. Maybe even have the big kids adopt it too so she feels like one of them?

  • Reply Kaitlin August 16, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    We went through something similar when our oldest was 4 and I still had to lay with him to fall asleep. After lights were out, I would say “Mom is going to get ready for bed now. You can lay here quietly in your bed.” That phrasing seemed to work so much better than saying “it’s time to go to sleep.” There were still a couple hard nights but once I left the room, I didn’t go back. If the fussing got to be a bit much, dad would go in and repeat that it was bedtime and he needed to lay in bed quietly. I always gave him water bottle too so there were no excuses about being thirsty. The only excuse we allowed was if he needed to go to the bathroom. Potty training was a HUGE battle so we definitely didn’t want to say no to that. But he rarely said he needed to go potty after lights out.
    Like other commenters have said, you’re doing great and it will get better!!! Eventually something with just click and it’ll get easier! Best of luck!

  • Reply omdg August 16, 2022 at 12:10 pm

    Agree with setting firm boundaries with G, and stick to them no matter how big a fit she pitches. She is more than capable of doing this, she just doesn’t want to, and she knows you will give in.

    Another anecdote: When Dylan was 4 she started pulling this BS with my husband. I was a resident, and would read to her before dragging my corpse to bed each night, and she never bothered me, but she would get up and bother my husband… basically every night (I never knew about this until years later, because we started sleeping separately during my intern year, because intern year SUUUUCKED).

    Anyway, at some point Dylan said to me, “Mommy, do you know why I bother Daddy at night and not you?”

    Me, “Why is that, sweetie?”

    Her, “Because I know you’re just going to make me go back to bed.”

    Me, “Yep, that’s right. And don’t you forget it!”

    • Reply Amy August 16, 2022 at 12:49 pm


  • Reply Heather August 16, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    I agree with a lot of other comments in saying that seeking professional help might do wonders.

    When my nephew was moved into a big boy bed, we were very much of the camp of silently walking him back to his bed. In the first few weeks, we would camp outside the door if we weren’t in bed yet. Like he would open the door and we would be there. He did have a night light at the time.

    You should definitely not feel chained to your child’s bedroom if you do not want to be. Now, if you truly don’t mind reading in her room then that’s cool too. Like others said, she’ll eventually grow out of it. But do you want to wait for that to happen?

    • Reply Nadine August 16, 2022 at 3:10 pm

      In addition to everyone else’s comments, I think it’s worth noting that sleep is a bit different than other behavioural issues because of the science of how we sleep. She clearly has a strong sleep association that will be tough to break and will need to be replaced with a new sleep association. While it’s not a parenting book, I really loved Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It’s a great read and has helped me improve my sleep greatly.

  • Reply Kari August 16, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Just a quick plug for melatonin here 🙂 in addition to the many wonderful behavioral options mentioned above – one of my kiddos is just not sleepy some nights and less than 1mg of melatonin works wonders. She asks for it sometimes because it helps!

  • Reply Ashley G. August 16, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    I used to find it amusing that my mom let me fall asleep on the couch (at my pre-determined bedtime) and then proceeded to carry me to bed until I was TEN YEARS OLD. My mom is 5’2″ and 120lbs soaking wet, so the image of her hauling a sound asleep 10 year old through the house is fairly hilarious, but I now get that she was just unwilling to fight me tooth and nail on bedtime every night. I’ve met me. I get it.

    Also, now, not totally unrelated, I ‘incentivize’ my four year old with the promise of chocolate Ovaltine at breakfast in the morning if she stays in her room all night. It works a lot of the time, but not all the time.

    No real suggestions here, but the struggle is real and I think we all just get through it however best works for us. Best of luck!

  • Reply Liz August 16, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    We use melatonin gummies. Our 3 year old (now 4 year old) would not fall asleep which resulted in her being over tired and exhausted the next day. She was not getting enough sleep. She can be totally exhausted and still not wind down enough to fall asleep. Our older child gave us the “normal” bedtime struggles so we knew we were dealing with something different with our second. My breaking point was when I was driving her around at 10 pm hoping she would fall asleep.

  • Reply H13 August 16, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    I haven’t read all the comments and I am sure there is lots of good advice but we made “sleep coupons” about a year ago for my then 4yo. He got a coupon each night at the start of the night. He could call for us one time. A second time meant he had to give us the coupon. If he held onto the coupon until morning he could redeem coupons for treats (much like your sticker chart above– 3 coupons = make brownies, 5 = ice cream out, 10 = small lego). It worked! Having something to hold onto was really helpful and he liked being able to see how much progress he was making by holding them in his hands. A year later and he knows we only go up once. Usually. Most of the time…

  • Reply Danielle August 16, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    So two thoughts:

    This is similar to what a few have said but I’d assume the goal is to get her to amuse herself quietly in her room until she falls asleep. Not necessarily fall asleep on command (wouldn’t that be nice!)

    Thought two: That makes me wonder, how much truly alone time does she get during the day? During the day does she ever quietly amuse herself alone in her room? Is that a skill she’s already building or is she being asked to achieve that skill in the dark after a long day?

    So perhaps, if she’s not already doing this, she could practice quietly entertaining herself alone in her room during the day.

  • Reply Hana August 16, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    Oh boy, I feel your pain! My youngest is 2, and unfortunately had to be moved out of her crib because of climbing. She DID NOT enjoy going to sleep on her own not in her crib, but we held firm, and she’s doing it now! It took maybe 4 nights. When she would cry or get up, my husband or I would take her back to bed, tell she was safe and we loved her, and then would quickly leave. There was no lingering, which was really hard for me, but it worked. I knew in my brain she was testing her boundaries, but my heart hated it! Stay strong, and if you’re consistent, it will probably happen fairly quickly!

  • Reply Theresa August 16, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    I work on behavior with special needs students and I know that EVERY behavior expert I know says that bribery does not exist at this age and that positive reinforcement has to be strong and has to work for weeks before you reduce reinforcement. I would totally do a toy chest. Do it til it works for 3+ weeks straight and then do it every other night or she rolls the dice if successful and only gets a prize for an odd number (random reinforcement is best).

  • Reply KW August 16, 2022 at 10:09 pm

    You already have so many comments, but still wanted to offer my 2 cents! One idea that worked for one kid who begged me to stay: “I have SO MANY dirty dishes that need to be washed. Even though I would MUCH rather stay with you, my lovely child, the dishes will get harder to clean if the food hardens on, so I HAVE to go do them! I will be back to check on you AS SOON as I’m done with dishes!” Another idea: we moved siblings into the same room. Are there some shenanigans? Yes, but we still get adult time and they bond as siblings. [Elizabeth Pantley/ a gentle parenting author is a proponent of siblings together]. Lastly, is G not ready for sleep at bedtime yet? Maybe there’s another adjustment, like dropping a nap or waking up earlier that could also help? Sorry you are dealing with this!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger August 17, 2022 at 5:44 am

      Oh there has been no nap for 1.5 years now (unless she falls asleep in the car for 10 minutes in which case bedtime is 10x worse). BUT maybe the earlier wakeup will help . . .

  • Reply AG August 17, 2022 at 1:28 am

    In spite of reading for years, this may be my first comment. I tell my 4yo that after we read our story I’m going to go do some grownup stuff but I’ll be watching him on the monitor and if he’s can stay in his bed until finish, I’ll come back for another kiss. He usually passes out a few minutes after I leave.

    Occasionally he will still be awake when I finish with dishes/laundry folding/existing as an adult away from my kids, in which case I’ll go in and snuggle with him. Usually if he’s awake, there’s something on his mind and as soon as I lay down he’ll tell me he couldn’t go to sleep because he was worried/sad/scared/excited about something and it generally seems to be a real concern, not a simple stall tactic.

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