Sleep-sharing has its drawbacks, including fewer/limited intimate moments with the spouse, sleeping discomforts and inadequate rest, and higher risk of transmitting illnesses. Most parents, therefore, feel that once their children are about to enter the preschool age, it would be best that they start sleeping on their own beds. Unfortunately, the transition is not without difficulties. Children used to the security of sleeping with their parents will resist this change, employing everything from tears to tantrums to go back to the old routine. According to Gayle Peterson, Ph.D, a family therapist, here are some ways you can help your toddler to sleep alone:
1. Make sure you spend enough time together during the day or in the evening after you return home from work. If he is crying because he misses you, consider spending close time with him each evening before putting him to bed. He will learn to count on this period of time as his and be more willing to relinquish you at bedtime.
2. Initiate a bedtime ritual. This will allow him to adjust to a nightly separation from you. Explain to him where mommy and daddy are sleeping.
3. Consider decreasing his daytime naps. This should make him more tired at the end of the day. If he is sleepy enough, he will be more likely to succumb to your reassuring voice and gentle but firm persistence.
4. Take turns putting him to bed. This way, he can experience both mom and dad as his primary nurturers at bedtime.
5. Be prepared to stay in his room up to 30 minutes for the first few nights. It may take that long before his crying truly subsides. Patiently be with him and give him your persistent reassurances.
6. Remember that crying is a sign that your toddler is attached to you. It is your toddler’s job to cry (survival instinct), and yours to establish limits that you can live with and help him adjust to over time.
7. Stay calm. Repeatedly tell him he will be fine. Absorb his screams neutrally and calmly. It is important for your child to sense that he is indeed secure in separating from you at night.
8. Consider returning in the night to reassure him with your presence. He will eventually learn that his own bed is a safe and secure place. But do not underestimate the quality of your own internal state in calming him.
9. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s health care provider. If your child remains highly upset despite your repeated and persistent efforts, consult your pediatrician.
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10. Keep in mind that your most effective allies in parenthood are patience, calm and determination.
Learn to answer his tears with these qualities, and you will develop the skills you need to help him “let go” and trust the guidelines you establish for him—now and in the future.