I’m a nationally published sleep expert, journalist, and the mom of three young kids. I’ve been helping tired families sleep since 2007 (more about me here). Subscribe to The Well Rested Family for fresh news and tips on keeping your bunch happy and healthy. Thanks for stopping by!


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Ask Malia: Big-Kid Milestones are Wrecking Sleep

Hi Malia,

We moved my 3-year-old to a big-girl-bed a couple months ago, around the time her baby sister was born. It went great. Then, last week when she turned 3, we took away pacifier. Though she knew this was coming and we talked about it for months, it hasn't gone well. She comes into our room 3-6 times per night wanting to be tucked in and get one more song. She willingly goes back to bed, but comes out again and again. Is this likely just a transition issue? When she adjusts to not having the pacifier, will it go away? How long do we keep forcing her to go back to her room?



Dear Theresa,

Congratulations on the new addition to your family—and congrats on your older daughter’s milestones! It sounds like there’s a lot to celebrate at your house. Now for the bad news: Too much change, all at once, can throw off a child’s sleep. As you probably know, your daughter’s world is kind of topsy-turvy right now. She’s only a few months into the big-kid-kid bed transition, recently paci-free, and just celebrated a birthday, all on top of becoming a big sister.

It's normal to deal with regression in these circumstances. And it’s normal for a child with a new sibling to want more attention from mom and dad. Unfortunately, sometimes this manifests in the middle of the night. So you are going to need to be patient with her. I always advise parents to deal with one issue at a time, but you have multiple things going on here. You can't go back and give her the pacifier or put her back into a crib (nor would you want to) so you're just going to have to deal with it all at once.

Here is my advice:

  1. With such broken nighttime sleep, she’s at risk for becoming severely overtired. To prevent this, maintain a consistent nap schedule (but don’t let her nap longer than 1.5 hours) and an age-appropriate bedtime.  Try to have her in bed by 8 pm.
  2. Remain very consistent in taking her back to her room each time she wakes up during the night.

When you take her back to her room, STAY WITH HER UNTIL SHE IS DEEP ASLEEP. I recognize that this is the last thing you want to do. But unless you do this, two things will happen. 1) She will pop out of her room again and again, becoming more awake and less likely to go back to sleep each time, and 2) You and your spouse will get zero sleep because she’ll be up and down for hours.

Stay in her room until she is deep asleep. If she protests and wants to get out of her room, tell her “It’s time for sleep.” Deal with any requests (glass of water, etc.) with minimal interaction and only in her room.

To answer your question of "how long do we keep forcing her to go back to her room"—as many times as you need to. Your willpower has got to be stronger than hers. Don’t allow her to get up and stay up. Being up at 4:30 am is not appropriate for a child. If she does wake up that early, stay in a darkened room to protect her circadian rhythms from disruption (too much light or stimulation early in the morning will program her brain to continue the early wakings—the last thing you want).

If you need to lie in her bed with her, rock her, or rub her back to get her to sleep, so be it. It is much easier to wean her off these behaviors later, than it is to deal with a circadian cycle that’s completely out of whack from being up all night.

I’m sure you’re ready for some good news now, so here it is: As the transitions in your home smooth out, her sleep will smooth out too. Keep being a fabulous mom to your two lucky kids, and good luck!


Image courtesy of zazzle.com

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Reader Comments (1)

I 'get' the sleep thing.... It's like torture
I found Goodnighties and that helps me...also a locked door! :)

February 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe International Laundress

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