We’re past middle of the night diaper changes. We’re over 2am feedings. Our crib met the attic more than a year ago and pacifiers are a distant memory. Our son slept through the night at 6 months old and we humble bragged to all who would listen about his 14-hour nights and 3-hour naps. We were rested. We were energetic. We were naïve.
For good reason, all the early sleep discussions focus on how to get an infant to sleep for more than 12 minutes at a stretch. The books talk about sleep regressions at four months, eight months, even two years old. They make you think you’re safe once you’ve successfully Ferberized or Baby Whispered or Sleep Lady-ed your munchkin into a long, dream-filled sleep. They make you think that even though ages three and four introduce some new challenges, sleep shouldn’t be one of them. They make you think you’re free.
Or so we thought.
The first time our now four year old appeared at our bedside at 3am, his eyes filled with tears as he asked to please sleep with us we thought, “how sweet, little guy missed us in the night.” The second time was a little less sweet. The third? There was swearing involved.
We’re now about four months into our nightly visitor routine. Except now those visits have gone from one to sometimes two or three bedside appearances. We’ve tried carrying him back to bed. We’ve tried not talking or cuddling. We’ve even tried a sleeping bag on the floor next to our bed because OH MY LORD, WE NEED SLEEP. And on our worst we-just-need-an-hour-just-one-hour-is-that-too-much-to-ask nights, we flout professional advice and pull the little guy in between us and pray that unlike every other time he’s been in our bed he won’t lay on top of my face while kicking my husband in the neck. Or sucker punch us in his dreams.
We’re exhausted. Frustrated. And ready for a nap.
So tonight, we’re changing things. Trying a new routine in the hopes of making all of our sleep better. If that doesn’t work, I’m sure we’ll try something else. And so on and so on. But if all else fails, I just try keep reminding myself that no 15 year old wants to sleep with his parents. Right? Please say I’m right.
How to Sleep Train a Preschooler in 25 Easy Steps
- Start bedtime routine by brushing teeth, donning cozy, warm pajamas and choosing two books (note: hide all Search & Finds, books with buttons or noise, and Skippy Jon Jones)
- Turn on gentle wave white noise, dim lights, snuggle in with stuffed animals and favorite puppy blanket.
- Read books, turn off lights, turn on star night light, say prayers and sing two songs. Remind child that tonight is the night you just know he’ll stay in bed until his alarm clock turns green at 7am. Child promises (he lies).
- Snuggle for a few minutes before a kiss goodnight. Leave room. Sigh with relief.
- Binge watch Scandal.
- Tip toe in for a quick look at his peaceful, sleeping face. Freeze with terror when he shifts positions. Stay rooted in spot for 2-3 minutes until it’s clear that he is not, in fact, waking up.
- Decide your heart rate is too high for bed. Watch another episode of Scandal.
- Mute TV at the sound of footsteps. Brace yourself. Wait, wait… It’s the dog. Breathe.
- Trudge up to bed at midnight, promising that tomorrow night you’ll be in bed by 10.
- Snuggle deep in covers, elbow husband accidentally-on purpose for a bit more room and drift off to sleep.
- No. No, no, no. That sound of a whimpering child shuffling up the stairs is a dream, a nightmare. It’s not real. YOU’RE STILL SLEEPING. And then you hear it: “Mommy?”
- Take a deep breath, peel warm duvet from body and meet child before he makes it to your bed. Carry child back down to his bed, tuck him in and creep slowly from the room.
- Stop, turn back into room, promise that yes, you will check on him in two minutes, not four minutes, TWO minutes and then creep back up to bed with no intention of checking on him in any quantity of minutes.
- Nudge the dog from your side of the bed, climb back under the covers, silently curse your husband for sleeping soundly and fall instantly back asleep.
- Stifle a scream as you’re ripped from sleep to the sight of two eyes staring down at your face. Apologize for scaring said eyes – er, child – and gently explain that he has to stay in bed this time. Kick husband and grumble that it’s his freaking turn.
- Flood with relief as husband gets out of bed and carries child back down to his room.
- Wake up when husband returns to bed and steals all your warm covers.
- Grunt and sigh heavily to show your annoyance and pull covers back. Get even more annoyed that your husband wants to actually talk about how annoying this all is. Moan “I’m sleeeeeeeeping!” even though you’re clearly not. Feel husband roll his eyes behind your back.
- Wake up to husband’s alarm clock at 5:30am. Get mad. Fall back asleep.
- Hear footsteps approaching bed. Sigh with resignation, keep eyes closed and lift covers. Feel a small warm, soft body climb in and immediately hug your neck in a sleepy, yet vice-like, grip.
- Wake to mild strangulation. Remove child’s arms from neck. Accept that child won’t sleep anywhere but on top of you. Fall asleep.
- Wake to growing pain from having your neck and cheek act as a human pillow for your child’s head. Push child off. Feel child slide back to you like a magnet to metal. Fall asleep.
- Wake to small fist in your eye socket. You groan but are too tired to move child’s hand. Fall asleep with his mitt in your face.
- Wake to your alarm clock. Find that child is snuggling peacefully in the crook of your arm. Hit snooze. Fall asleep.
- Wake five minutes later to child jumping on bed and telling you excitedly that, “I slept until there was a 7 on the clock!! I did it! Yay!” Sigh in defeat. Make coffee.