Your Preschooler and Bedtime
Wondering how to get your three, four or five year old into bed -- and how to get him to stay there all night? You're not alone! I hear from parents all the time about their preschoolers falling asleep on the couch or in front of the TV, anywhere but their own beds.
Some people think that preschoolers should be able to put themselves to bed, and maybe there are some four year olds, somewhere, who do. But 99% of kids five and under need a couple hours of calming downtime that includes dinner at home, and then a full-blown bedtime routine, with storytime and snuggling, in order to fall asleep easily at night.
After that, whether the parent can walk out of the room and let the child fall asleep on his own, or has to lie down with the child, will depend on three factors:
1. Whether you got lucky and this child falls asleep easily by himself.
2. Whether you have "taught" this child to put himself to sleep.
3. Whether your child's life feels stressful to him. Kids who have a more stressful life -- and, I'm sorry to say, that usually includes kids who are in preschool all day -- tend to build up cortisol and other stress hormones in their bloodstream. Cortisol is like adrenalin in that it wires kids and keeps them from settling down and falling asleep easily. For this reason, it's best if you can keep your preschooler's afternoons and evenings relatively calm and homebound.
Many, many preschoolers wake up at night. Many spend all or part of the night, most nights, in their parents' beds. There's no shame in that, if it's your preference. Biologically speaking, it's normal for three and four year olds to sleep cuddled up with a parent or sibling. But if you do want to teach your child to sleep in his own bed, it is certainly possible at this age.
For full step by step suggestions, please read the section on Toddlers and Sleep. And then you can indulge yourself in feeling lucky for a moment, because Preschoolers find it easier to learn to relax and fall asleep without their parents than toddlers do. Aren't you glad you waited?