Your 4-year-old child has been a good sleeper for a long time, and you have never noticed how good that was until recently. You have no idea what changed, and now the child can’t sleep. It is as if she is battling monsters by staying awake.

On your part, it could never be any worse as you now have to keep reassuring and to encourage her to sleep without much success.

You may take her to bed and stay by her side for a while, but once you think you have succeeded in soothing her to sleep, she calls out to you before you can get out the door. Dealing with a 4-year-old sleep regression can literally drive you up the wall if you have no idea of how to deal with it.

Why preschool sleep regression occurs

A sudden change in sleep habits can be disconcerting for a parent. You wonder what is happening to them, but 4 year old sleep problems are nothing to worry about too much.

Anxiety is usually the main culprit for the sleep troubles, but that should not send you into a frenzy. It is a standard developmental process, and it indicates cognitive growth.

In simple terms, your child is maturing. I know it sounds crazy, but that is usually the case – studies have shown that your child is finally growing mentally but usually with this mental growth, the child may experience feelings of anxiety.

Your son or daughter has reached a stage where they come to realize that their parents are not the all-powerful beings they believed they were. They may find this new knowledge very uncomfortable as they come to terms with the fact that the world is a pretty large place where he finds unexpected perils and evil.

The children realize that their little home is no longer a safe place for them. This is usually overwhelming and requires a significant amount of understanding from the parent.

If the child also has a bed wetting problem, this exacerbates the situation, and she may be awake longer than usual.

What can you do as a parent to help your child deal with sleep problems?

As a parent, you should know that there is no one size fits all solution to your son’s or daughter’s sleep challenges. However, you can try the following.

  • Try to be as much understanding as possible and never ridicule your child for sounding stupid. Understand their feelings and be with them every step of the way. Instead of mocking them for thinking about monsters, come up with a bunch of ideas that you can both work on to keep the monsters away.

Remember that children at this age finally realize you are not all-powerful.

Don’t give them another reason to believe you are not also all-knowing.

In their little world and in their minds, monsters are real. As an example, you can suggest ways of chasing the monsters out of their bedroom and throwing them in the dustbin where the garbage truck can take them away.monsters photo

  • Help your child overcome their fears by demonstrating that they can still trust you to offer protection. If she is getting stuck while climbing into the bed and they get agitated, seek to understand rather than being impatient. Your child is subconsciously evaluating your ability to be their knight in shining armor. Don’t disappoint them. Rise to the occasion.

Instead of trying to force the behavior out of them, try understanding their state of mind and be more comforting than judging.

She needs to internalize that she can finally trust you and your ability to be there for her.  However, that does not mean you should not set boundaries. Be a source of guidance and avoid meting punishment as it risks making the situation worse.

  • A little firmness goes a long way into helping your child learn to sleep. Accompany her to bed and stay with her a few minutes and then leave. If she still doesn’t want to remain in her bed any longer, be innovative in your strategy.  You can set up a reward system with marbles and jars where you throw in a marble every time she accepts to stay alone in bed for the night. After reaching a particular number of times, reward them as necessary.

You also need to establish a sleep routine. Preschoolers do well in an environment characterized by routine. Draw a list of must-dos and encourage her to follow it to the letter. Keep at the back of your mind that the routine by itself is not essential. It is there to program the preschooler’s body to get tired at a particular time of the day and get to sleep.

  • The most straightforward solution you can offer your child so that the 4 year old sleep needs’ can be taken care of. Slow down and sit with her as she talks endlessly about her day. Take the time and sit down with them to just enjoy their company. Your presence goes a long way into soothing her fears so that she can go back to sleeping regularly.

You can also try the door shutting approach and see whether the child’s sleeping problem will improve.

If the child gets out of the bed during the night, take her back and resist the urge to cuddle her. Allow her to climb into bed on her own. Don’t go into her room but rather, shut the door once she gets to bed.

All interactions during this time should be simple.

Shut the door for ten seconds and check on her. If she is still in bed, increase the interval by another ten seconds. If she gets off the bed, repeat the technique. However, if she stays in her bed for longer, praise her from the doorway and be on your way.

  • The goal of the door shutting technique is to let her know that she is in control of her doors. She can open and close as she likes and this realization helps overcome fear. However, this technique may be difficult in early mornings when the urge to go back to sleep is minimal.

If in addition to anxiety the child is having a hard time dealing with bedwetting, then try additional approaches to diminish the problem. For example, limit the number of beverages they take to one hour before they go to bed.  If she sleeps easily before she can visit the bathroom, wake her up. If that also proves problematic, carry her on your lap to the toilet and encourage her to go.

Final word

The 4-year-old sleep regression is a more common problem than you may think. The preschooler reaches a point where they just can’t get to sleep.

As a parent, I understand that you get worried.

However, you should know that it is a normal process of cognitive growth. They have finally figured out that you are not a superhero as she used to believe all along. This is usually a hard time for them, but you can work together to restore her faith in your ability to take care of her.

Some of the approaches you can utilize include understanding their fears and working with them to reduce those fears.

Ridiculing and punishing them should be out of the question as it can exacerbate the problem. What should indicate to you regarding the on-set of any 4-year-old sleep problems is your child feeling scared or anxious just before going to bed. Children at this age are more fearful of what is out there in the world, and their brains cannot comprehend fact from fiction, so many children usually internalise their fears which then leads to sleep regression issues. Work with them and make them feel that they matter to you.

However, if you really are concerned about the sleep regression and your child does not exhibit any anxiety issues, the problem may actually be related to your toddler’s mattress. In some cases, when your child feels uncomfortable on the mattress, it leads to fitful sleep and this can affect their natural sleep patterns, which in turn leads to the child forming poor sleeping habits and continually waking up through the night. If you do suspect that the sleep regression may be related to your toddler’s bed then make sure you replace it and the mattress immediately.