Tips for Helping Your Child Sleep Alone

This can take a bit of work, but our tips for helping your child sleep alone will create independence that both of you can feel good about.

By Sheryl Grassie

Let’s face it, we all sleep better with less people in the bed. Less getting kicked in the middle of the night, less snoring, less potential disruptions to your sleep. Children, too, might not be getting their best sleep when bunking in with mom and dad. The ability for a child to sleep on their own is an important developmental achievement. It requires that they be able to self-soothe, conquer their fears, and attain a certain degree of independence. All important tasks for growing up in a healthy way.

Why Should a Child Sleep Alone? 

If children aren’t used to sleeping by themselves, it can take some effort, and the conquering of potential fears, in order to get them to sleep on their own. You may worry about your child feeling isolated, having anxiety, or even damaging them psychologically, but contrary to any fears you might have, sleeping alone is good for your child and has many benefits for everyone involved.

It Supports Healthy Development

Children need to learn to assuage their own emotional fears by learning to self-soothe. Sleeping alone can be scary for some children, and they will need to go through a process, with your help, to learn to calm their anxiety and banish the boogeyman under the bed.

Think of their ability to calm themselves as an important developmental skill that you don’t want them to go out in the world without. Learning to self-soothe, and to put themselves to sleep, can transfer to all kinds of positive emotional experiences and is worth teaching your child.

You’ll Get More Sleep

A hopefully positive side effects of having your child sleep alone is that both they and you will get more sleep. This is in fact one of the primary drivers for getting children out of your bed and into their own, because research supports that parents and children sleep better in separate rooms.

For Their Sense of Independence

In addition to learning to self-soothe, children who learn to sleep on their own often gain a stronger sense of independence. This can have a very positive effect on other aspects of their lives. They may feel empowered to try new foods, do new things, and embrace life from a more secure place.

To Support the Marriage Relationship

An obvious benefit of having a child sleeping alone is that you and your partner have more privacy for physical and emotional intimacy. In addition, a child seeing their parents sleeping alone together and understanding that the couple relationship has different rules, helps model good adult relationships.

Scared little girl staying sleepless hiding behind the duvet looking horrified in the dark having childhood nightmares in child imagination Sleeping disorders Stress Depression and Insomnia concept.

Our Tips for Helping Your Child Sleep Alone

Find the Right Time

Experts generally recommend around the age of 3 is when children are capable of self-soothing and can move to independent sleeping. Decide if the time is right for your family, and then literally set a date. If your child is old enough you can discuss it and start counting down.

Construct a Plan

This will depend on if your child is co-sleeping with you, or you are bunking in with your child. If they are with you, pick the day they will move and mark it on the calendar. Talk about how they will soon be sleeping in their own room. This will give you a chance to assuage their fears before they actually make the move.

If you are sleeping with them, let them know you will be moving back to your bedroom and when. You may want to allocate a few days and each day let your child know that in three, two, then one day, you won’t be sleeping overnight with them.

Keep It Positive

Frame any discussions in the positive. How great it will be, how this is a happy part of growing up. Maybe add an extra enticement like they can have an extra story at bedtime.

Involve Your Child in the Process

The more they feel in control, the better it will go. Where can you give them choice? If moving to a new room can they pick out some new bedding. Select a favorite toy that they will sleep with or choose a desired addition to their bedtime routine. You could add a white noise machine that gets turned on as you leave the room or add a favorite nursery rhyme that you say together. These things can be short and very simple.

Maintain the Routine

Bedtime routines are extremely important for good sleep. If you don’t have one, now is the perfect time to create one. If you have one, try to keep it as similar as possible to how it has been. Common bedtime routines can involve a bath and brushing teeth, a story or two, prayers or a song. You can be as inventive as you like. Maybe you have a routine of saying goodnight to all the stuffed animals or tucking in and kissing goodnight a favorite one. Whatever works for your family is fine, but simple is more transferable, especially if you have a sitter at bedtime, so don’t get too elaborate.

Do It Gradually

If your child is making the move out of your bed and into one of their own, you can spend a week or two getting things ready before they make the change. This gives you time to get them used to the idea and even excited (but not too excited) to sleep on their own.

If you will be leaving their room, you can do it in stages. Move out of their bed, and sleep on the floor or move to a chair until your child falls asleep. Tell them you won’t be there in the morning. Or, as an alternative you can put them to bed alone, and tell them you will check on them every ten minutes, but they have to stay in bed.

Reassure and Reward

Reassurance is as simple as telling your child they can do it or telling them there is nothing to be afraid of you are just in the next room. Expect that you may have to do this over and over until they can internalize it.

Offer rewards as needed. Do they need a sticker chart where they get a star for every night they stay in bed on their own? Do they respond well to lots of praise for doing a good job and sleeping without getting up and into bed with mommy and daddy? How about making their favorite breakfast on the weekend if they sleep alone for a specified number of nights? Gear the rewards to their age level and areas of interest. Not all children need a big reward for good behavior, but some are very motivated by something tangible.

Keep Emotions Out of It

Young children can be quite emotional. If they cry or get upset don’t follow suit. Keep calm and be there for them to cry it out. Also, don’t make the change in a moment of anger when you have run out of patience with them getting up. Keep your emotions out of the process as best you can expect to be positive about it being a good move. 

Set Firm Limits and Stick to Them

If they have a nightmare, don’t waiver and let them back in bed with you. Once you make the decision, stick to it! If you decided to leave their room before they fall asleep, something many experts recommend, don’t get sucked in if they beg you to stay, “Just until I fall asleep.”

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Help the process be successful by supporting your child’s readiness to sleep. This can include fresh air and daylight during the day, enough exercise, no screen time after dinner, no stimulants like caffeine which can be found in chocolate and sodas, no snacks close to bedtime, keep their room cool, dark, and quiet, and do something relaxing before bed like a bath or massage. Good sleep hygiene can really make a difference in how easily a child transitions to sleeping alone.


Summary

Helping your child sleep alone is really a gift for both of you. Everyone feels better with a good night’s sleep and your child is no exception. They will also gain important skills like self-soothing and independence. Have a plan, keep to a routine, be reassuring, include some sleep hygiene practices, and sick with it. You and your child will both be glad you did.


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