Children and adolescents with bedtime anxiety find comfort and security being close in proximity to their parents or another sibling. They may throw tantrums or plead with you to sleep in your room. You may even wake up in the middle of the night to them crawling into your bed.
Allowing your child to sleep in your bed causes problems not only for your child, but also for you. It reinforces the child’s fear instead of teaching them how to overcome it and become comfortable in their own bed. Co-sleeping also disrupts your quality of sleep and makes it difficult to enjoy alone time with your partner. While many parents are aware of the problems co-sleeping creates, they are overwhelmed and unsure of how to change the behavior. Below I’ll discuss five steps to help your child sleep alone.
Prepare Your Child
Before beginning any new plan in the home, you should discuss the change with your child and the reason behind it. Explain their bedtime anxiety and the importance of learning to sleep alone. With younger children, you may want to use a book to assist you. What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep by Dawn Huebner, for example.
Make Your Child’s Room Fun
Have your child help you decorate their room and make it their space. Be creative and encourage them to add personal touches to the room that will make the room more appealing to them. Add comforting touches to the room to help ease their bedtime anxiety (e.g., white noise machine, nightlight, flashlight, stuffed animals, squishies). Focus your child’s attention on the positives to help reduce anxiety when sleeping alone.
Develop a Bedtime Routine
Your child’s bedtime routine should consistently take place in the child’s room, even if they are not ready to sleep alone yet. Remove and turn off all electronics at least an hour before bedtime to allow your child time to unwind and relax.
Gradually Face Fears
The transition to sleeping alone should be taken at your child’s pace. Begin small and work up to the final goal of your child sleeping alone. They may need to begin by sleeping on a pallet in your room then gradually move up to you sleeping in their room for 10 minutes. Create a fear ladder which works for them.
Bring your child straight back to their room if they end up in your bed at some point during the night. If necessary, stay in their room with them while they fall back asleep, but try to avoid allowing the child to stay in your bed.
Praise your child for their efforts and successes because it’s hard to face any fear. You could create a reward chart with each day of the week for when they accomplish a new goal or are able to sleep alone consecutive nights. Avoid taking out your frustration out on them. Your child feels powerless in controlling their anxiety; they need your support and encouragement to show them otherwise.