It isn’t uncommon for parents to allow their infants to sleep in the same room or even the same bed with them. Babies wake frequently to eat, and many parents find it easier to roll over and feed their child than get up and go to the next room to do it. While the co-sleeping solution works for many families, it can’t last forever. Unfortunately, this may prove to be more challenging than you anticipate, so here are a few helpful tips for how to teach your child to sleep alone at night.
Generally, it’s easier to teach a 2-year-old to sleep alone than it is to teach a 5-year-old. The longer your child develops the habit of going to bed with Mom or Dad within arm’s reach, the harder it will be to break that habit.
Some experts recommend sleep training as young as 4 months old when the child is too little to crawl out of bed. If that seems too young to you, go with what feels appropriate for your family. Many parents decide to initiate sleep training when the child’s sleep behavior begins to disrupt the parents’ quality of sleep.
If you hold off on sleep training until your child is older, it isn’t the end of the world. However, you may need to be more creative to get your child to cooperate. For some older children, rewards-based systems like sticker charts and prizes can be good incentive to go to sleep on their own.
Be Slow and Steady
Once you decide it’s time for your child to sleep alone, it can be hard to patiently guide him through the process. Remember, sleeping alone can be scary for many children, so it’s important to help him feel safe and to initiate the process slowly.
You may need to check on your son every five minutes or so until he feels comfortable being in his room alone for longer periods of time. Eventually, you can lengthen your “check-ins” to once every seven minutes, then once every 10 minutes, and so on.
Focus on Good Behavior and Ignore Bad Behavior
When you are first learning how to teach your child to sleep alone, you are bound to encounter lots of tears and tantrums. She’s not used to falling asleep without you and will probably fight against the process for a while.
Instead of focusing on bad behavior and getting angry, simply ignore the tantrums and crying. Choose to focus instead on acknowledging and praising your child’s good behavior and she’ll soon learn that being good every night will bring greater rewards than acting out in negative ways.
Make Bedtime a Pleasant Time
Bedtime can leave many kids feeling vulnerable, scared and alone. To help your child associate bedtime with safety and security, establish a pleasant bedtime routine and give your child comforting objects to help her sleep.
A soft blanket and a favorite stuffed toy can become calming companions that make it easier for your child to transition to solo sleeping. Your babe may also respond positively to soft bedtime music or the warm glow of a nightlight in her room.
It can be tempting to allow your child to climb into your bed if she wakes in the night, but it’s very important to maintain consistency by immediately helping her back into her own bed. Tell your child firmly and lovingly that she needs to stay in bed, then return to your own bed after making sure she’s tucked in and feels safe. Repeat this process every time your child attempts to climb into bed with you.
You’re exhausted, so it’s easy to understand why you would let it happen “just this once,” but if you give in, she’ll learn that she can get her way if she tries long enough.
If you’re at your wit’s end, just take a breath. Try to maintain your patience throughout the process and remember that you are a symbol of security in your child’s life, so it will take time to teach her to sleep without you nearby. Always be firm but loving and your efforts will pay off in the long run.