Solve Your Big Kid's Sleep Problems
The Please-Stay-With-Me Sleeper
When John Connor*, 7, of San Anselmo, CA, had a bad ear infection, his mom sat at his bedside as he fell asleep. After a few days, the ear was better, but John insisted that his mother stay by his side. "I need you to be with me," he'd say. Now he refuses to go to sleep unless his mom or dad is there with him.
We all have certain props that help us fall asleep. Maybe you prefer a feather pillow, say, or the thermostat set at 65 degrees. A typical sleep association for a child is a night-light or a favorite blanket. Unfortunately, it can just as easily be you.
"Sleep is a biological need of our bodies, but it's also a learned behavior," says Byars. "A child can learn to 'need' his parents' presence to fall asleep." He doesn't really need you there, of course. But every time he insists that he does -- and you stay by his side -- that insistence creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To break the habit, try a phaseout. For starters, suggests Byars, say something like: "As you grow up, it's important to sleep by yourself, without me here. I'm going to stay in your room but not lie down next to you." For a few nights, sit up on the bed until he drifts off. After success with that, move to a chair next to the bed. If your child protests, remind him: "I'm not far away. You are working on learning to sleep by yourself." Most parents who stand their ground have success in a week to ten days, as they transition out of the room. Help your child build a new sleep association to take your place. Maybe it's a substitute for you, like your T-shirt. Kelly Sheehan of Phoenix, MD, helped her son Colin, 7, pick out a stuffed dog. "I told him he needed to make sure the dog felt safe at bedtime. Having this responsibility seemed to ease his tension," she says.