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Nearly Four but Won't Sleep on His Own

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My son will be four years old this June. How do I get him to start sleeping on his own at night? I have always been with him when he falls asleep. Sometimes he falls asleep on our couch, or we lie on his bed and watch a children's video and then he falls asleep.

A: This will be a major transition for both him and you. You should now begin the task of letting him learn to go to his own bed at night when he is still awake and fall asleep on his own. Falling asleep on your couch conditions him inappropriately to regard the couch like a bed at night, plus you're with him there too. The toughest part of this learning for him will be doing it without your presence.

First make a big deal out of you being excited that he's going to be going to sleep in his big boy bed now, all the time. Then create, if you haven't already, a soothing bedtime ritual that will both condition him for bedtime and soothe and calm him. This ritual ( story reading/telling, brushing teeth, washing up, getting into pajamas, songs, etc.) should take between 20-30 minutes.

For the first few nights you put him in his bed alone to go to sleep, I would make the bedtimes somewhat later than usual (but make sure he does not fall asleep anywhere but his bed) to insure that he has the best chance of falling asleep quickly. Pat his back, tell him you'll be in the room next to his while he falls asleep and that you'll see him in the morning. You may have to sit next to his bed for a while until he falls asleep, then leave. You should gradually taper this routine off. For detailed advice on how to deal with sleep disturbances that may surface consult any of Dr. Richard Ferber's books in your library or bookstore. Good luck and sweet dreams to all.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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