My son is afraid to sleep alone: what to do?
As strange as it sounds, you learn to sleep too! Because, like other behaviors, it is also a habit, essential for the development of the youngest. So it is important that children learn to sleep alone, in their own bed.
However, in many families there is a concern that is repeated over and over again: ” what if my child is afraid to sleep alone? “. In this article we answer these and other questions, and give you guidelines to face this challenge, keep reading!
My child is afraid to sleep alone and I worry
During childhood, and in full development, children learn a series of habits and behaviours that will gradually reinforce their autonomy. Among these habits we find the fact of sleeping alone, since, this behavior is also learned.
The ideal is that from a young age they learn to sleep in their own bed ; that is to say, already as babies, they should have their own crib, and the parents should get used to taking them to sleep in it always, and not in their own (the parents’) bed.
Although it is true that when we educate we must also be flexible, and that sometimes, the child ends up sleeping in the parents’ bed (because he or she is sick, has nightmares, fears, etc.), this should be occasional acts, since the longer it takes to sleep 100% in his or her bed, the more difficult it will be for him or her to get used to it.
Thus, sleeping alone is a habit of autonomy that is learned over time, and parents should take an active role in this good practice.
The fact that the child gets used to sleeping in his or her parent’s bed, may cause the following problem: being afraid to sleep alone . Fortunately, this is something that can be worked on, and therefore in this article we will see a series of guidelines so that your child ends up sleeping alone, in his/her own bed and without fear.
Guidelines to encourage sleeping alone in childhood
In order for our child to lose the fear of sleeping alone, we must apply a series of guidelines at bedtime, which encourage their autonomy and reduce their anxiety.
1. Establish a routine
Children, just like adults, need routines and guidelines at bedtime (sleep hygiene), since this, in addition to facilitating sleep, will help us to promote the autonomy and security of our children at bedtime alone.
So, ideally, they should get used to sleeping in their own bed, and at about the same time. If they come to our bed, we should accompany them to theirs, as many times as necessary . Ideally, we should not enter into debates or discussions with them. Before that, we should explain it to them clearly (next point).
Routines help to reduce children’s anxiety, structure their day-to-day life and time. What should the pre-bed routine include? Some ideas are: cleaning teeth, a story or song, a hot shower, a glass of milk, pampering, etc. All this will help us educate our child’s sleep.
2. Explain things well
Depending on the age of our child, we will have to adapt our language to his understanding ; in the case that he is already at an age to reason and understand, we will explain to him that he is too old to sleep alone, and that he cannot sleep in mommy’s and daddy’s bed (or one of them).
We will explain to you that, in case you come, you will have to go back to your bed (accompanying you or not, depending on your age).
3. Sleep in the same place
Although this guideline would also be part of the routines, we include it here because it is an important point. Thus, ideally our child should have a room and a bed to sleep in (always the same), and we should avoid unnecessary changes, as this would make the process more difficult.
4. Take care of the environmental conditions
The room should be quiet, without disturbing noises, and the bed and mattress, appropriate to their age, height and weight . In addition, the temperature should also be controlled (a room temperature, neither too hot nor too cold).
5. Reinforce him when he sleeps alone
Another very important aspect is to reinforce all those nights in which the child has been able to sleep alone, especially the first ones (when some time passes it is no longer necessary). Thus, we can reinforce it with a praise, a hug, a gesture, a small prize, etc.
At what age do you sleep alone?
After all the above (or even before), the following question may arise: From what age is it advisable for our child to sleep alone?
Although every child is a world, and you will have to be flexible with it, the truth is that from the age of 3, the child should ideally sleep alone and autonomously (without the need to go to the parents’ bed in the middle of the night or to sleep directly with them). The fact that this process is delayed, could make it difficult for the child to be autonomous and safe and that he or she would acquire a certain fear of sleeping alone.
What to do in the face of nightmares?
Many times children suffer nightmares or night terrors, a sleep disorder different from nightmares. This can generate some anxiety and fear of sleeping alone, and is completely understandable and normal . However, our role as parents should be to reassure them when this happens, but not to make it an obstacle for them to sleep alone.
The goal is for the child to learn to overcome these fears and to “tolerate” nightmares should they occur. In addition, there are also techniques to treat nightmares or night terrors, such as Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT), which is widely used for nightmares.
On the other hand, when the child wakes up screaming or crying because he or she has had a nightmare or a night terror, we can go to his or her bed to reassure him or her, but avoiding that he or she comes to sleep with us (especially when the child is already starting to “grow up”).
Consequences of (not) sleeping alone
The fact that our child does not learn to sleep alone, or that this stage of development is delayed, can have a series of negative consequences for his well-being. These affect his development, and range from emotional dependence towards the parents (excessive), to insecurities or difficulties in developing other tasks that promote his autonomy. Not only do we have to take into account the negative consequences of our child sleeping (still) with us, but also the positive consequences of him sleeping alone in his bed.
In this way, by educating in sleep we also educate in autonomy, and promote such important aspects in their development as: self-esteem, security, independence, etc.
- Rodriguez, AS & BR Garcia. (2005). Sleep habits in the healthy child check-up. Bol Pediatr, 45: pp. 17 – 22.
- Newman, BM ,Newman PR, Villela, XM, Perez, RR (1991). Manual of child psychology. Mexico: Ediciones Ciencia y Técnica.
- NV Sirerol, IK Amin, TM Rodriguez, CS Frutos (2002). Sleep habits in children. Annals of Pediatrics, 57(2): pp. 127-130.