Many parents have
problems getting their child to sleep at night. When it’s time for
bed, she may want to be fed, held, walked, sung to, talked to, read
to, or comforted. She would like her parents to spend time with her
as she falls asleep, but they would rather put her quickly and
peacefully to bed and then get on with their own activities.
Parents wonder why their child won’t fall asleep alone when they
hear, or imagine, that other people’s children go to sleep easily.
It’s true that some quickly fall asleep and those others are content
to lie down with a bottle, pacifier, blanket, or stuffed animal. But
most young children have a genuine need for their parents to be with
them at night.
Bedtime can be a lonely, frightening time for young children, who
naturally feel safer and more comfortable if their parents stay with
them. Even three-, four-, and five-year-olds prefer not to be alone
at night. One child said, “I can fall asleep better if you stay in
my room,” and another asked her parents, “Why do you want me to go
to sleep? Don’t you want to be with me?” A child finds it hard to
understand her parents’ need to be alone—she obviously has no such
The intensity of a child’s bedtime need for her parents can be
judged by the struggles that occur when they leave her in her room.
A baby might spend a long time crying while an older child might get
up or call out for water, another kiss, a trip to the bathroom, and
anything else that would bring her parents close again. Elaborate
bedtime rituals can take forty minutes or longer and often leave
parents angry and frustrated. It’s not unusual for a parent to sing
“Rock-a-Bye Baby” through clenched teeth.
But what happens if, instead of spending forty minutes trying to get
the child to fall asleep alone, parents spend ten to twenty minutes
keeping her company—feeding her or rubbing her back or lying next to
her? She will feel content and secure and fall asleep peacefully
without a bedtime struggle.
Once parents see how strong their child’s need and desire for
closeness is, they may choose to stay with her at bedtime. In this
situation, as in many others, parents will have to lower their
expectations. They’ll have less free time than they’d like. But
they’ll also eliminate many nighttimes problems associated with a
child’s loneliness, fear, and insecurity, and they’ll end their
child’s day in a calm and relaxed way.
If you decide to stay with your child until she falls asleep, you
may find that few people you discuss the situation with will give
you support and encouragement. Many parents do stay with their
children, but few talk about it because they fear criticism. In a
parent discussion group, one mother blurted out that her child would
not fall asleep unless she was nursed. She expected to hear
criticism, but instead saw other mothers at the meeting nod their
heads. Their children behaved the same way
The time you spend helping your child fall asleep should be restful
for both of you. You can use the time to relax, think, enjoy your
child’s closeness, or read. At times you will probably nap or even
fall asleep for the night. You may want to adjust your schedule to
accommodate this by getting up earlier in the morning.
You may be afraid that if you stay with your child at bedtime,
she’ll become manipulative or unwilling ever to fall asleep alone.
It’s true that she will get used to having you with her, but as she
gets older, her need for your company will lessen. And when you
think she’s ready, you can let her know that you expect her to fall
asleep alone most of the time, perhaps with the help of soothing
music, a night light, or another comforting device. At that point,
she’ll know that she can count on you, and that when she really
needs you, you will come.