My three-year-old son had been sleeping with us and recently moved into his own bedroom. We started with a toddler bed in our room, and about a week ago we moved the bed to his own room. For the first few nights, he fell asleep fine, but woke up several times through the night and called me into his room. After some minor reassurance (a pat on the back) he went back to sleep. But after a few nights of the up-and-down all night routine, I asked him if he’d please sleep through the night without waking me every time. Surprisingly, he did just that. The next two nights were great, but last night, he woke up twice and stayed up for over an hour each time, calling me into his room every 10 minutes to tuck him in again. It got so frustrating that I was ready to lose it. He’s doing so well in his own room that I’d hate to bring him back into our room, but I was ready to, just to get some sleep. How should I handle this if it happens again?
First, some great news: You’ve discovered a little-known secret to helping preschoolers sleep better. Simply ask for their cooperation and explain your request in an age-appropriate way—“Mom and Dad don’t want to wake up all night long because it makes us tired the next day, so please try to fall back to sleep without calling for us”. It’s a brilliantly simple strategy that few parents employ—so bravo! (As you’ve seen, results can sometimes be short-lived. But hey, it’s still worth a try!)
Your son sounds like he’s adjusting normally to a new bedroom, and it sounds like you’re doing all the right things. But broken sleep may be the norm for a week or two, because he’s still adjusting and needs reassurance. Consider trading “shifts” with your partner so each of you can get some uninterrupted rest each night. When you do visit your son’s room at night, continue to make your visits brief with as little stimulation as possible (that means no engaging in conversation or turning on a light).
In these situations, some children respond well to a reward system—for example, every night he stays in his room earns him a sticker or another small treat, and when he stays in his room all week, he gets to choose a fun reward.
Another tactic is to give him three small tokens (stickers, play money, or whatever works for him) at the beginning of each night; tell him that every time you come into his room at night, he has to give you one. If he wakes with all three in the morning, he gets a special prize.
Finally, your son wasn’t being “bad” or trying to manipulate you by keeping you up. The night he had extra trouble sleeping, he was likely trying to tell you something. What, you ask? My sense is that it had more to do with overtiredness/undertiredness or overstimulation than the adjustment to a new room. Missing a nap, napping too long, or staying up too late can all make it hard for kids to maintain restful sleep—as can new or exciting experiences like an unfamiliar teacher or daycare provider, a change in the family’s routine, even visiting a new park.
In this case, he couldn’t stay asleep and he let you know about it. That’s actually good, because it means you can be more watchful for those sleep-disrupting situations in the future so that last night’s situation won’t happen again. If it does, continue doing what you’ve been doing: providing brief reassurance and then leaving his room. When you get frustrated or feel like you’re going to “lose it,” step outside him bedroom for a moment or two to regain your calm. Remember, this is a brief phase. Keep up the good work, and he’ll be back to sleeping like a champ in no time.