A Child’s Poor Sleeping Habits

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2000

My 3 1/2 year old child is scared to sleep my her self she say that she likes the light on but she stills comes into my room in the middle of the night around 2 or 3 AM what should I do?  This is putting a strain on my relationship.

95% of the times she wakes me up crying at my bed side saying that she has to use the bathroom or she just wants to sleep in my bed what should I do?  Where can I buy that child proof doorknob plastic covers?



Dear C.,

You have to ask yourself three questions to understand what is behind the crying.  Is there a medical reason for her behavior?  Is she truly afraid of something (a psychological reason) or just lonely?  Is the crying a symptom of a physical or psychological mental problem or is the child using it as a tool to get attention. 

If she is having nightmares, listen to the content of her dreams to find out what is bothering her.  You may have to generalize here, as dreams are not always straightforward.  If her dreams have some violence in it, check to see if playmates are hurting her.  If it is about dogs or other animals hurting her, it could be that a neighbor’s dogs scares her, has tried to bite her, or actually has bitten her. 

She could have gotten these ideas from scary books and/or TV.  Things like this need to be ban at least until she gets old enough to handle them.  At this age she is not able to cope with them.

If her dreams are about an animal, find children’s library books with stories about good-natured animal of the same type and read them to her.  Find people with friendly animals for her to be exposed to a little at a time until she can play with it.  Do not force contact or expect it the first few times she is exposed to the animal.

If the problem is mean playmates, you can talk to the parents or remove your child from their influence or both.

If the problem is that your child wants to be with you, because she is lonely you and allow her in your bed or give her special attention, you have just given her positive reinforcement for her bad behavior.  Remember that a behavior exist because it gets the child what s/he wants.   As long as the behavior is positively reinforced  (gets the child what she wants) it will exist!  The more it is positively reinforces the more often the behavior is exhibited. 

When a good tool is frustrated by negative reinforcement there will be a period where the child tries the behavior harder and longer in hopes that it will magically work again.  Finally, when the behavior doesn’t get the child what she wants, it is stopped for a time.  Since good tools are hard to come by, the child will try the tool off and on again, in hopes that it will regain its potency again. 

Be consistent!!! Never allow unwanted behaviors to be reinforced.  If you do, you will have told the child that this tool might get her what she wants, therefore she will continue to try it and the behavior will never be extinguished.  You do not want this, so be consistent!

The easiest thing to do is use the childproof door caps on the child’s side of the door, but this means that the child cannot use the bathroom, if needed. 

If door caps are not available, make sure the child understands that you will not tolerate this behavior.  With minimal words and the least attention possible, get her back into bed.  Let her know that she is not allowed in your bed and that this time is for sleeping for her and for you. She needs to know that her behavior is not appreciated.

Also, to make sure she sleeps, wear her out with physical activity so she is tired and will need her sleep. 

Door caps can be found at just about any store that carries supplies for babies. 

If you cannot locate any in your area, you can order on-line from either of the two places I’ve listed below:

Deluxe Door Knob Cover with Lock Guard


Item#: 0001-08-0003     Price: 2 for $3.99


Secure Grip Door Knob Covers


Item#: 191SF05    Price: 3 for $4.95


Best wishes for you and your child,

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage

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