Are you struggling to get your child to transition away from bed-sharing? Is your child finding tons of excuses to avoid sleeping in her own room?
Training your child to sleep alone and to sleep in his own room can feel like moving mountains. As babies get older… 6 months old, 1 year old, 2 years old… parents begin to worry if their baby will ever be able to sleep in their own room, or bed (for co-sleeping babies)!
Learning how to sleep alone is great for children’s development as they learn how to be more independent and not overly rely on parents.
Training infants to sleep alone can be difficult because they’ll constantly want to be picked up and held/nurse/sing/rock to sleep. You get the point.
Training toddlers and preschooler to sleep alone is no small task too. Telling them to sleep in their own room will be an uphill battle because they’ll whine and say something down the line, “mom, I’m scared” or “dad, you have to sleep here [next to me]” Often, after hour-long negotiation, parents gave in and we’re back to square one.
Children have difficulty falling asleep independently because they lack a sense of security.
Training your child to fall asleep alone requires your understanding of your child’s temperament. Also, training a 6-months-old is different than training a 2-year-old or 5-years-old. Every child is different and you just need to find the right methods for your child. When you find the right ways, it’ll just be like unlocking the lock with the right key!
How to train a 0~2-year-old child to sleep alone
It’s very common that 0~2 years olds are hard to fall asleep independently. Amerian Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies can share a bedroom with parents, but not the same bed if babies are having a hard time falling asleep alone. This is especially true for infants 0~1-year-old.
For children that have the clingy temperament, start to sleep train in separate beds, then separate rooms as a part of progressive training.
Sleep training babies younger than 6 months old takes extra efforts. For infants younger than 6 months old, sleep training should always be supervised but parents often find success with the Ferber sleep training method.
Also, every child’s trust with her parents and her sense of security is different. If you tried to sleep train for a long time and you’ve not found success, it is likely that your child has a lower sense of security.
For kids lacking a sense of security, forcing them to sleep in a separate room or bed will only make them feel more pressured. Doing the cry-it-out method and hoping that they’ll eventually fall asleep will only produce adverse effects.
Here are a couple of tips on how to create that sense of security for babies when it comes to sleep.
Tips #1: Introduce a bedtime lovey
Most babies can’t sleep without mom because they recognize mom’s voice, smell, and touch. Having a lovey, or a comfort object a baby goes to sleep with, will help your baby ease to sleep and help him fall back to sleep when he wakes.
Help your child sleep in his own bed or room with a transitional object is a way to transition your child AWAY from relying on you!
Tip #2: Provide security through your baby’s receiving blanket
You can give your child a blanket that you hold him with during the day. Make sure it’s the same blanket you hold your baby with because it’ll have your smell on it. When you put down your baby in the crib, but the blanket on him to give him a sense of security that mom is still there.
You want your child to rely on the blanket, not you so that he’ll fall asleep on his own.
Your baby can rely on your voice too. If you have been singing your baby to sleep, try replacing with nursery rhythms, white noise, or a shusher. The key takeaway of transitional training is to help your baby feel secure and relaxed so she’ll sleep on her own.
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How to train a 2~4 years old child to sleep alone
2-4 years olds are tricky to get them to sleep on their own because their abstract thinking hasn’t caught up with their cognitive development. For example, children at this age may be scared that something will pop out from the closet if you turn off the lights. Or, they may be afraid that mom and dad will disappear after they fall asleep.
Kids are afraid to fall asleep because they don’t have a sense of trust within the unpredictability of the environment after they fall asleep.
The best way to sleep train a 2~4 years old is to help them establish trust in sleep.
Tip #1: Give your child the power to choose
Let your child choose which teddy bear to cuddle with to bed, let him choose which books to read before bed, let her choose which pajamas to wear. If you have a bedtime routine, let him choose which activities to do… you get the idea.
Tip#2: Give your child a sense of identity in their sleep surrounding
Let your child have a say in what bed sheets he wants to sleep on or even all the nursery decorations. Your child will get a sense of identity in his own room and this could help him build trust in sleep. Before bed, you can tell your child to “go find your friend Micky (referring to the Micky Mouse printed bedsheets) or “Princesses Elsa is calling you for bed (for an Elsa sleep pillow)”. This technique can help distract your child from the unpredictability he feels after lights-off.
Be courageous and playful, and let your child know that going to bed is not scary at all.
Tip #3: Assure your child that you are not going away
After you put your child in her own room, let her know that mommy and daddy are just outside. You can say something like “You go in and sleep. You know where to find us if you need us”.
In the first night, most kids will reject to sleep alone or that they come to find you shortly after you leave the room. If this happens, you can take another approach and say “ok, go in first and tuck yourself in your bed. We will go find you after a while”. Then, progressively increase the length you go in. Progressively letting your child fall asleep alone is the best way to establish trust in sleep for 2~4-year-olds.
How to train a 5~7 years old child to sleep alone
This is the toughest age to sleep train and most moms often pull their hair out when it comes to sleep. Kids this age find all sorts of excuses to not to fall asleep.
“It’s hot in my room.”
“There’re spiders in here.”
“It’s not dark outside so it’s not bedtime.”
“I forgot to give grandma a kiss.”
Sounds familiar? The best way to avoid sleep battles is to help your child establish their trust in the sleep environment and increase their self-confidence.
Tip #1: Make your child feel relaxed and safe
Let your child know sleeping doesn’t mean mom and dad will be gone. When you turn off the lights, tell him, “you’re safe here. We’re just outside. You can call us if you need us. But you need to sleep first. After you fall asleep, we will check in on you after 5 minutes you fall asleep.” Then, progressively increase your check-in times. Check in on 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and so forth. Progressively increasing the time your child sleeps alone will help him ease into sleep and stay asleep alone.
Tips #2: Have a bedtime routine and stick with it
Routines work very well with 5~7-year-olds because the predictability of knowing what comes next makes them feel safe and secure. A bedtime routine at this age can be as simple as reading a book, hug and say good night. The key point here is after you did your last activity, don’t have any interaction whatsoever with your child. Your child may try to get you to talk by asking you questions. Don’t fall into this trap. Be firm and leave interactions for the next morning.
Tip 3: Teach your child the importance of sleep
As your child grows and starts to make a connection between ideas, it’s important to teach your child the importance of sleep. It’s important to give your child their sense of mission in sleep.
Let your child know that sleeping alone = you’re grown up= you’re ready to do more things!
Tell your child sleeping together is for little babies. Sleeping alone will make her fall asleep faster, and fall sleep faster will make her grow taller and healthier.
If they don’t have a sense of mission in sleep and they are being forced to sleep alone, they will not nurture the ability to fall asleep independently.
Children at different ages require different training approaches to sleeping alone. Which tips have you found success with?