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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 5027
Experience:  Dr.Mark is a psychologist in private practice who works with parents and children in resolving family issues.
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My 3 1/2 year old is a disaster at night. She follows our bed

Customer Question

My 3 1/2 year old is a disaster at night. She follows our bed time routine and goes to sleep on her room with no one laying in bed with her. However, like clockwork, she awakes 3 hours later and is crying for my wife. We can get her back to sleep but then a little while later, shes up again crying for my wife. She used to demand that she come in bed with us. We gave in a few times until we purchased a cot for children. We keep the cot at the foot of our bed. Now she cries until we walk with her to sleep on the cot. After that shes usually good for the night. But i don't understand why she's having an issue with being in her own bed. I had thought she needed to feel someone exit to her while she slept but there is no one in the cot with her. We tried bribing, positive reinforcement, rousing her before the 3 hour wake up to shake up her cycle etc. Any suggestions on how to get her some restful sleep while she's in her own bed? I don't want to let her cry it out because I don't want to disturb her older sister.
Submitted: 8 months ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Bonnie replied 8 months ago.
Hello and thank you for consulting JA,

First of all I would just like to normalize this a bit. Many children need the reassurance of the parents nearby or do not like to sleep alone. I agree with your feelings about not wanting to force her by crying it out. Many families allow children in their room until they naturally outgrown this (about 5-6 years old).

Make sure that there is nothing bothering her physically by consulting her primary doctor about "pinworms". This is common and can wake the children when they come out at night. It is a simple and quick test to rule these out.

If she is in her own room and it seems like she just does not want to be alone, considered having the girls sleep together for a while. If she is not in her own room, use a strategy called the Fairy Bag. Get a fancy decorated bag and put it close to the head of her bed. If she stays in her own room all night, the fairy will leave her a treat. It does not have to be expensive but should be motivating to her (i.e., stickers, little action figures). This should help to change her pattern of waking. Make sure it is her goal to stay in her own bed by talking about what big girls do, etc. Them lots of praise in the morning if she does it, of course.

I hope these thought are helpful,
Warm Regards
Customer: replied 8 months ago.
We had tried putting the girls in the same room and it was the same thing except she woke up both girls. Is using the cot a good idea?! Would a brighter nite lite (we have a small nite lite for her) be something we could use? Outside of the lack of sleep for her (and us) what has us worried is the waking up pattern: about 3 hours in after she initially falls asleep and then almost every hour if we get her to go back to sleep in her own bed.
Expert:  Bonnie replied 8 months ago.
All of us have a pattern of entering into a light sleep or wake state every 3-4 hours. Most of us can get back to sleep quickly. She is just in the habit of fully wakening and coming into your room. It is my opinion that the cot is the least disruptive of your choices and she is more likely to just fall asleep quickly (rather than become so upset that she can't get to sleep). The goal would be for her to stay in room but if not...no big deal.

I doubt that a brighter light would work but you can try it.

Here is an article about pinworms.
http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/parasitic/pinworm.html#
They start to cause itching 3 hours after child is asleep.

If you have any follow up questions, I will answer them but will be away from computer for a few hours now.
Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Relist: Other.
Had follow up questions that were not addressed
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 8 months ago.
Hi, I'll be glad to help. I think that Bonnie gave excellent answers to you and important suggestions to follow up on. So let's use her answers as a starting point, okay?


Let me make sure I have all the information we need:


Is she the youngest, oldest, or where is she in the constellation?


Does she have other anxiety issues (if this is an anxiety issue), especially separation issues such as when you take her to play group, etc.?


Does she have any sensory integration/processing issues? Such as picky eater, can't stand certain textures, touch, etc.?


How does she talk about her sleep interruptions?


Any extra information that will help, feel free to share.




Dr. Mark
Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Just to clear it up, I liked Bonnie's answers. I just didn't get a chance to post any replies.
To answer your questions, I have two daughters and the one with the sleep issue is the youngest. She's in the mommy stage but its nothing crazy or anything I would say that rates as an anxiety issue. In fact, the mommy thing is starting to die down. There are no sensory issues. And we can talk to her about her sleep issues and she says that she will sleep through the night but we are in the same pattern. Other than that, she is just in this sleep pattern and we don't know how to break her it of it.
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 8 months ago.

Thank you for the replies to the questions and the added information. It helps a lot in understanding what the situation is.

I can imagine how frustrating this situation must be for you. You are clearly loving parents and this third child is giving you a run for your money. Or your sleep, in any case!

It sounds as though you've ruled out pinworms, any neurological issues, or other medical problems in your own minds. Okay, then we're left with attachment issues or simple anxiety that's led to a behavior pattern that she's entrenched in (your theory). Your theory is a good one, given that developmentally she's on track, socially she's fine, etc.

There may be a problem of over-achieving developmentally that's causing some anxiety for her. By that I mean that she's the youngest of 3 and is most likely trying to compete with everything her sisters can do. She's coming out of that mommy stage, but that isn't the only manifestation of bright kids' frustration developmentally when they're trying to do what older siblings are doing more easily. And she's not fully cognitively formed to boot.

Much of this also requires you two to not make too big a deal out of it or it will become an attention getting tool, subconsciously a specialness about me that gets mom and dad's attention. So you have that to contend with as well.

We really are, then, looking for small things to do to break the behavior pattern and relax her anxiety. Brighter lights is a mixed blessing: it can become a long term need for her and, given she's in your room, it may be tough when she has to sleep with her sisters and they're not used to bright lights. So consider if you want the light to begin with and if it will be counterproductive long term.

The cot is fine. Some parents I've worked with had given up and let the child sleep in bed with them. This too often forced one of the parents to sleep elsewhere as the child would thrash about and kick in the night. They did this just to get some sleep... So, you're not alone and it can be tough. A cot, if you can make it work is a great help here.

So, there are two times in the evening we're trying to work on: bed time and sleep time.


I've had good success with the following strategy: parents (usually mommy) has one of her soft sweatshirts, scarves, etc. that she wears for a while. Each evening before bed mommy (or daddy) takes off the scarf and kisses it, the daughter kisses it, and they both hug the scarf and say how much they love each other and that the scarf is a special thing between them to help them feel their love. Then the daughter is presented the scarf to take to the cot with her and keep so that when she wakes up, she can snuggle with the scarf and know how much mommy and daddy love her and how special she is. The comfort is transferred to the scarf rather than to your making an appearance.


At bedtime, the technique I encourage the most is letting 3 year olds regress. This means holding them in your lap and singing songs you used to when they were babies. Talk baby talk with them and see how young they would like to get. Youngest children are trying so hard to be as big as their sisters that giving developmental relief, letting them regress, is often a great comfort to them. Make up baby talk sing songs if you don't remember anything from then. Bring out the picture books from when she was younger.

All this will take some time, but you're right in that stage where you can't do more: the other kids will wake up and she's not developmentally where they are. So you pretty much have to keep her with you as there's no other room.

Okay, I wish you the very best!

My goal is for you to feel like you've gotten Great Service from me and the site. If we need to continue the discussion for that to happen, then please feel free to reply and we'll continue working on this. If the answer has given you the help you need, please remember to give a rating of 5 (Great Service) or 4 (Informative and helpful), or even 3 (Got the job done) button. This will make sure that I am credited for the answer and you are not charged anything more than the deposit you already made by pressing any of these buttons. Bonuses are always appreciated! If I can be of further help with any issue now or in the future, just put "For Dr. Mark" in the front of your new question, and I'll be the one to answer it. All the best, XXXXX XXXXX

Dr. Mark, Psychologist
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 5027
Experience: Dr.Mark is a psychologist in private practice who works with parents and children in resolving family issues.
Dr. Mark and 3 other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Mark replied 7 months ago.
Hi! I'm very glad that I was able to help you with this and thank you for your positive rating. If I can help you in the future in any way, please don't hesitate to let me know.


All the best,
Dr. Mark

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