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4 Year Old Bedtime Battles

Bedtime battles are few and far between in this house.

We are a no games, no questions house when it comes to bed.

Honestly, bedtime is pretty flawless around here for a few reasons:

Bedtime battles with our 4 year old as she lies in bed sad that she can't have more time with Mama and Daddy.
  1. Bedtime Routine (it’s short and sweet and settles our daughter down)
  2. Consistency (bedtime is the same time every night)
  3. My Tot Clock (the clock turns blue and it’s bedtime- no questions asked)
  4. Sleep Training using the Babywise Method and Cry it Out Techniques (done as a 4 month old)

That being said, however, our daughter is human. She’s a kid. She would always prefer to stay up, or get more attention.

And, we like to give our daughter  the benefit of the doubt.

That means that at times, we end up getting a bit taken advantage of and have a bedtime issue that needs correcting.

And so, the occasional cycle of bedtime battles do happen. 

What we’re lucky with, is that the act of going to bed is never questioned. 

There are never arguments about the fact that it’s time for bed, or getting ready for bed, etc. 

Those things always happen amicably and without a fight.

Our bedtime battles happen after the lights are out…

4 Year old Bedtime Battles

The issue we are having at night:

Caroline comes out of her room multiple times claiming to need all sorts of things. 

She comes out needing another hug and telling us she’s sad.

She comes out needing help with itchy eyes, or an itch she can’t reach.

She comes out needing all sorts of things. 

But she’s clever. She asks for things we don’t like to say no to. She asks for things like a hug, or extra attention because she’s scared, or sad about April and Chelsea dying.

She has legit reasons at some point, but then she definitely realizes if something works and uses it again and again. Hence, where Mama and Daddy get taken advantage of a bit!

Why these power struggles are happening:

Well obviously I don’t know the magic answer to this, but I have some guesses..

1- Rest time

We implemented quiet time instead of nap time for her long ago. She was probably 2.5 pushing 3 at the time. 

I know full well that children still need their naps for quite some time, however. 

And so, she always is set up for nap, even though she’s allowed to simply “rest”. 

This girl is in a phase right now where she ALWAYS naps, and naps hard. I have to wake her up at about 4 o’clock in the evenings so she doesn’t sleep too late.

As a result of these nice lengthy naps, she’s wide awake at bedtime and having trouble falling asleep quickly.

She’s never been one that falls asleep fast, but with these naps happening, it’s taking even longer. 

She’s honestly really great with her awake time in bed before bed– she always has been. And I love that she can handle it and get some quiet, independent wind down time.

Since she’s wide awake, however, she’s coming up with excuses to come see Mama and Daddy.

2- Life Changes

Her sister died.

We moved. Then moved again.

I am pregnant. 

We got a puppy.

There have been so many big things happen in this little girl’s world. Death, birth, excitement, sadness and tons of change.

She rolls with the punches. She talks to us. She figures out her emotions and is absolutely amazing about everything.

With everything life has thrown at us in the last year, it’s surprising she hasn’t faltered in her behavior too much. She’s so strong.

3- Change of Rules

With a baby on the way, and our move into a new house, we took the opportunity to make some rule changes.

Caroline has NEVER been allowed out of bed to come and get us.

The expectation is always that she call us, and we come to her, if she needs something.

We’d hear her through the video monitor and either respond to her on the microphone, or come talk to her in person.

Never was she allowed out of bed.

Well, that has all changed. 

In preparation for baby William’s arrival, we kept the video monitor out of Caroline’s room after this move, so we can put it in his room, where we’ll really need it. 

She can’t just talk to us anymore. 

As a result, she is allowed to get out of bed for two things:

  1. Potty
  2. An emergency

She can either go potty on her own, or she can come get us for help. We’re pushing for her to do it on her own, but she doesn’t seem fully comfortable with that idea just yet.

As a result, she now has the freedom to get out of bed. And she’s taken advantage of that new freedom.

4- Extra Emotional 

Caroline is very passionate. She’s very strong-willed, and she’s super emotional (like her Mama). 

At the moment, she’s going through a very raw emotional phase.

She knows about death far too well for an almost 4 year old. 

She understands how real it is and how sad it makes her.

So, when her class goes on a field trip to the fire house, and we talk about fire safety, the discussion isn’t fun and exciting for her.

No. It’s a reminder that we can die and that life is scary. 

A simple talk about “stop, drop and roll” leads to all out tears from our little girl.

The same happened with swim class when they did a safety lesson. The other kids were busy having fun throwing life rings. Caroline was crying as she thought of someone dying in the pool.

At breakfast one morning, Caroline looked at me and said…

“If you died I would be so sad. I need you Mama.”

Death is a topic in our house that comes up pretty much daily.

Our sweet girl always has it on her mind.

“Mama, when you die I am going to hold you so you know how much I love you.”

It’s hard. So hard to see your child have such a harsh reality that you can’t take away. We can’t shelter her from it. We still need to talk about safety. 

She questions everything- even the snow. 

“Can snow hurt us?”

And so we explain and give her answers to her questions. 

At bedtime, these emotions cause sleep problems. 

Just like me, her little mind is going and going like the energizer bunny at night. 

The distractions are gone. It’s just you and the quiet thoughts in your head. It happens to all of us.

And so, when she comes out of her room for a hug…

When she tells us she’s scared…

Or sad…

Or “needing extra attention”…

It’s hard to enforce the rules instead of just hugging our daughter. 

And so we talk to her. We hug her. We help her.

But then… our almost 4 year old uses her intelligence. She sees that she gets the extra attention when she says certain things.

And eventually she’s using those as “excuses” when she’s just wanting out of bed, and not really sad. 

Boy is it hard to tell the difference, and super hard as a parent to trust in your gut and be able to say no when you think it’s just an excuse this time…

If you are also struggling with big 4 year old emotions, this is a great post to read on how to handle your emotional 4 year old.

What we are doing about these bedtime “sleep issues”:

1- Pushed bedtime back by 30 minutes

Due to her rest time pretty much being nap time right now, and the fact that she’s wide awake at bedtime, we are trying to help out.

Bedtime is now 7:30 instead of 7:00. 

2- Consequences

In addition to some bedtime battles, Caroline is having a bit of a “wise in her own eyes” phase.

(Read more about that idea from the Babywise book in this post)

Basically she’s decided to start saying no to us a lot. 

While I’d still describe her as very well behaved, she’s having moments of not listening well and making poor choices.

This, in combination with her bedtime battles of coming out of her room multiple times at night, caused us to take away her choices and freedoms.

"Bedtime battles with our 4 year old".

She needs to demonstrate good behavior and good listening before she can earn her choices back.

Things like picking out what she wears for school, or picking the book at bedtime have been her choice.

These things are now Mama and Daddy decisions. She’s slowly earning these choices back as she gets back to her best behavior.

3- Praising Good Behavior

In general, I always think that positive thinking is best. Praising the good things is always better than focusing on the bad.

If you praise the good enough, a child will want to hear that praise more, and will behave better.

And so, we point out the good listening, and the good behavior. We do this as much as we can.

4- “Yes Mama”

The Babywise book discusses this concept. Always requiring your child to look at you and respond to you can dramatically increase how well they listen.

We’ve employed the “yes Mama” tactic since the moment Caroline could talk. 

If we ask her to do something, or explain something to her, etc. she is required to acknowledge us with a simple “yes Mama”, “okay Daddy”, etc. 

5- Being Understanding

At the end of the day there’s just a certain amount of empathy that we need to have with our children.

If you think about life from your child’s eyes, they are told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc. ALL DAY LONG.

That’s frustrating. 

Throw in the extra emotional challenges that Caroline has right now, and her hyper focus on death at the moment…

There’s a lot of compassion that just needs to be given.

We need to remember that our children are human. They have needs and desires that maybe don’t always fit into our “rules” perfectly.

Caroline tries really hard to do her best all of the time. Sometimes too much!

So in her moments like these, we also try really hard to be compassionate and understanding, while still enforcing rules. 

It’s crazy hard to figure out how to do that. It’s not black and white. I wish it was.

The grey area leaves so much room for us, as parents, to second guess our choices. 

It’s really hard to be consistent and understanding at the same time.

So we just do our best.

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