Hi Annie. I was looking for some information on line or rather some insight and there was your website. My question is, how do I get my child to sleep by himself? My son is 7 yrs. old. He still needs one of us to lay down with him until he falls asleep. Help! From the time he was a baby until about 18 months he always slept alone and had no problem going to sleep on his own. He developed a throat infection (linked to tonsillitis). I let him sleep with us during this time as he was really sick. It was all down hill from there, although when he has sleep overs he doesn’t need me to stay with him. I thought he would have out grown this need. Please help! Thanks Luisa
I wish there was a magic bullet to deal with this but unfortunately there isn’t. What it boils down to, is that he has associated going to sleep with you and it’s really just a question of breaking the habit. Sometimes people can do that on their own and sometimes they need help. He’s already shown you that on sleep overs he can do it without you, so it’s really just a question of him getting used to a new reality. Firstly, give him your expectations up front. I’d suggest saying something like the following. “You’re now a big boy, 7 years old and it’s time for you to learn to go to sleep in your own bed without mommy and daddy lying down with you. From now on we’re going to give you a cuddle, say goodnight and then we’re going to leave. That’s when you need to go to sleep.”
Then it’s time to follow through
That’s the easy part and then you have to stick with it. Go in every half hour or so and re-iterate that you will not lie down with him and that it’s time to go to sleep. Stay calm, use a low serious tone of voice and be completely boring. Try to look relaxed in your body posture by dropping your shoulders and loosening your neck. If you are uptight, he will know that you don’t really believe that he will do as he’s been asked.
If he gets out of his room and comes to get you, simply replace him as many times as it takes. Try to do it with a minimum of fuss and try to give him as little attention as possible. You may have to take him back multiple times. It may take much of the night the first time you do it, until he understands that you mean business and you won’t budge. Just remember, if you fold, it’ll be doubly difficult the next time, so make sure you choose a weekend night when you can get some extra sleep.
Allow for logical consequences
He will most likely cause a huge fuss the first night, so you will be tired. Try and get some back up if you can so you can plan for a daytime nap to make sure you stay calm and consistent. If you want, I would add an extra little incentive. Be totally boring the day after that first difficult night. That’s particularly the case if he has kept you up taking him back to his room constantly. Whenever he wants to play or do something fun try saying, “I’m sorry but I’m so tired.” Go on to suggest that maybe tomorrow you’ll get a better rest and then you’ll feel like doing something with him. Put up with the whining that he displays when he realizes that the day may not be as fun as he was originally anticipating.
I’ve no doubt he’ll realize very quickly which way the wind is blowing. It’s surprising how quickly children change when they figure out it’s in their best interest to do so. All you need is to be a good actor in the meantime.
For more parenting help and support or behaviour intervention, please visit my parenting services page.
All the best,