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On Call: Learning to Sleep Solo

Q. Our toddler just can't fall asleep unless I'm next to him. How do we get him to sleep on his own?

A. Full disclosure: I love snuggling in bed with my children, feeling their breath on my face and watching them drift into sleep.

But this routine clearly has its downsides. There have been plenty of nights when I've wished that they would just fall asleep already so I could get back to my husband, to chores, to the TV show I was watching, or to bed myself. There's certainly something to be said for teaching kids to sleep alone. Here's one good way to do that:

  • Start by curling up in his bed and reading to him.
  • Once the lights are turned out and it's time to sleep, sit at the edge of the bed, instead of lying down with him.
  • Bit by bit, move away from the bed until you're outside the door. If he cries, try talking or singing to him from afar; if he wants physical contact, give him a quick hug or a kiss, then go back to where you were.

It may take a while, but the idea is to show him that you can pay attention without actually being next to him.

Two caveats: Separation anxiety peaks at around 18 months, so if your child's about that age, wait a month or so to try this. Same thing if your family is going through a transition, like a new baby in the house.

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