Bedtime Chaos

Our soon-to-be 4 year old has historically been a pretty good sleeper. We have a Tot Clock in her room and she understands the colors and follows the rules of the clock without much issue. That is, until recently. Bedtime has become a nightmare struggle of wills. Until about a week ago, my husband handled bedtime, went through their whole routine, snuggly tucked her in with her stuffed animals where she wants them, closed the door and she slept. Sometimes she would play quietly with her animals in bed before falling asleep. No issues. Now he can barely get out of her bedroom before she's out of bed, crying and ultimately screaming when she's not allowed to stay up, cuddle more, leave all lights on, etc. Bedtime has become an hour and a half of struggle and stress. A few weeks ago she started coming out of her room and we found that she would be fine as long as her door was left open a crack. Fast forward a couple weeks and now seemingly nothing will keep her in bed - soothing her, listening and validating her concerns, leaving the door cracked, closing the door, not tucking her in every time she gets out of bed, not repeating her routine, repeating her routine, taking stuffed animals away, putting a baby gate across her doorway (which was previously in the family room for years and she never figured out the lock, but five minutes in her doorway and she's now suddenly an expert locksmith). The only way she would go to sleep last night, after an hour struggle, was with her overhead lights on low. The process is exhausting for all of us and it's difficult to remain calm after several nights like this. We put the gate up because it was suggested by a few sources online and I couldn't handle my husband's threats of locking her in her room. She doesn't appear to be scared of anything specific but simply doesn't want to be alone. We've assured her that we are right across the hall or in the family room downstairs. I'm worried that we are causing childhood trauma by not knowing how to help her through this struggle. Any suggestions? Anyone been through something similar? Advice? Any and all help is appreciated!

  • Jenn
    Mar 20

    The family I nannied for when through this with their oldest when she is about 2.5 yo. I suggested they get her something to look at in bed that was soothing, so they bought one of those baby einstein aquariums with moving fish and music. It instantly did the trick and they actually used it with their 2 other kids. She may be too old for that specific thing, but maybe one of those turtles with the shell that projects stars? Just something that will produce some light, but is also soothing for bed.

  • Jessie
    Mar 20

    I’ve been there! Both of my kids have been great sleepers, and even if we were thrown off our routine, they still managed to go to bed on their own. However, my eldest suddenly stopped; it was as if she had anxiety about going to bed, or afraid to be by herself. I even wondered if the fear stemmed from having nightmares, but she didn’t know how to express it because at the time, she didn’t fully understand that these nightmares weren’t real. Well, after many, many, nights of struggle I gave in. My husband or I would lay with her until she fell asleep, but during the day I would let her know that come next week (or whenever) we will no longer be in the room waiting for her to fall asleep, and we would go back to our routine. Eventually, I started to leave before she fell asleep and gradually we fell right back into our original routine. I’d say it was 2-3 weeks of this new sleep training. Good luck!

  • Lauren
    Mar 20

    I’m going through the same thing with my daughter and we have tried so many things. A friend recently suggested trying melatonin to help relieve her anxiety which I am definitely looking into. And also assessing the USE of her room. I realized we’ve been sending her to her room for time out so she has a negative association with being in her room.

  • Shaikha
    Mar 21

    Maybe you could try this the first time she gets out of bed carry her and tell her sweetheart it’s time to sleep if she doesn’t the second time carry her and again tell its time to go to bed that’s it if she doesn’t again carry her and put in her bed and keep doing that until she falls asleep.

  • Giovanna
    Mar 21

    I have been struggling with the same issue for couple weeks now. My daughter is 2.5 years old and she used to fall sleep on her own but suddenly that changed and I am completely clueless of what to do. Someone told me about melatonin but I really don’t like the idea of giving her “medicine” and her body getting use to it. People say is a phase some kids go through and I really hope it doesn’t last much longer.

  • Ashley
    Mar 21

    My 2.5 yr old is going through the same thing! We thought it was because we just moved here or because she was in a big girl bed. She also stopped napping or if she does it takes her an hour or more to fall asleep. Maybe it’s the age they have a burst of anxiety or something? I’m crossing my fingers this is a very short phase because I’m scared to have a sitter when she won’t go to sleep!

  • Olivia
    Mar 21

    Thank you all for the suggestions and empathy! I found a small owl light that she can have right next to her bed and she can choose which color light she wants easily. I also made some "monster stay away" spray and plan to have her decorate the bottle with me (simple spray bottle with water and lavender essential oil... because "monsters don't like the clean smell of lavender"). She fell asleep easier last night but then was up at 1:30 am and we all had a rough time getting her back in bed. I have to remember not to engage in discussions about why she needs to stay in bed and instead be firm but gentle with her. It's so easy to forget how little she is when I'm sleep deprived! The point about sleep training is a good one - I thought we were done with that process. Looks like more training is needed :)