Please watch my video below to learn about the issue of children waking parents.
Questions about your child’s sleep? Advice to give other parents? Join the discussion in the ‘Comments’ section below!View the Video Transcript
If you’d rather read than watch, here’s a transcription of the video…
This week’s question comes from Stacy. She writes:
“My four-year old has warm milk in a sippy cup prior to lying down. Then, she wakes at least once in the night wanting another sippy cup of warm milk. If I don’t give it to her, she pitches a gigantic fit! I have to work the next day, and I’m tired… Please help!”
Well, I love this question, Stacy, because it’s more common than you would think, and it really highlights the whole idea of the associations we make with our bedtime routine and our night time sleep. And I think, probably from your perspective, you’re wondering why this warm milk is causing such an issue.
The good news is that she is not using the sippy cup to lull herself to sleep by the sounds of it. It sounds to me like she has the warm milk right before she lies down for the night, and usually with a prop, the prop is the vehicle that gets you into sleep. So, if you put the bottle in your mouth, that’s your queue to sort of start letting sleep come, and off you go into your first stage of sleep, which she’s not doing, but there is still a connection between the warm milk and sleep.
So in her mind, she’s created this scenario: “I have my milk, then I go to sleep.” And there is something in warm milk! Even as an adult, sometimes the suggestion is a glass of warm milk before bed if you’re having any sleep issues. That does sort of produce some sleepy feelings, and can aid in the actual transition into your night time sleep, so that could be part of the connection that goes on. It feels nice when she has her warm milk, and it helps bring on sleep, but the tricky part here for you and for her, is that she’s waking in the night wanting the same thing.
For a four-year old, she shouldn’t be waking in the night at all, or her wake ups should be so brief that they’re an “un-event,” that she just slides right into another cycle. So, I’m concerned for both of you. She’s waking and you are waking.
Okay, so what I suggest you do is eliminate the milk from the bedtime routine, and because she’s four, you can explain this to her. Tell her that the milk feels nice at bedtime, but it’s hurting her night time sleep because she’s waking up wanting more. So eliminate it. Give something else instead. Maybe an apple slice, or a piece of cheese, or something that has nothing to do with drinking milk.
I would also suggest that you set up a reward chart for her, to keep things positive. The goal here is that she has a good night’s sleep and that you have a good night’s sleep. Those are positive things, and so put a positive reward in there. Something like, “If you sleep all night without asking for milk, in the morning you can have a reward. It should be a reward that can happen almost instantly. You’re not going to make her wait until after dinner, and then she can have a piece of cake, or wait until after breakfast so she can watch TV. The reward really needs to come as immediately as possible.
So, as soon as it’s morning, if she slept all night, she would then get her reward. Then write it down, because there’s something to a child about writing things down. It’s very concrete. If it’s been written down, maybe it’s hanging in her room as a reminder of what the goal is.
Now, if she does wake in the night and she’s about to pitch a fit, you don’t have much control over the fact that she’s going to resist in a negative way to this. So, yes, you’re tired, and yes it might mean that you have a night or two where there is a fit, but do it on a weekend. Start on a Friday, so that by Monday, she’s got the hang of this and things are going better. A few nights of poor sleep in the name of a lifetime of better sleep, is better than just night after night of mediocre sleep.
So it’s a hill you have to climb, basically, to get to the other side. Now, you can give some consequences for pitching the fit, and you could say something like, “If you don’t get into your bed and lay calmly or quietly, I’m going to close your door, or take away your blanket.” And those are big threats, I know, but you don’t have to do an all or nothing approach to them. Often, just taking the blanket away for a minute or two is enough of a consequence that the child stops doing the behavior, or closing the door for minute or two is enough of a consequence.
So I would say something like, “Please stop screaming or I’m going to close your door.” If she continues, you would close the door for one minute to give a consequence. After the minute, you could say to her, “Please lay quietly in your bed. If you cannot be quiet, I’ll have to close the door again,” and then you would close the door for a little longer each time until it gets to a time where she’s really quite positive she would rather stay quiet and have the door open than continue to scream and have you close it.
I think this is a good way to solve this entire problem, and I think you’ll find that she’ll be sleeping better, which will make her mood better, and you will be having a better night sleep as well. So, thanks a lot for your question. Sleep well!
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