What to Do if Your Child Wants to Sleep with You

In today's article, we'll talk about what you can do if your child wants to sleep with you. Gradual accompaniment is the answer.
What to Do if Your Child Wants to Sleep with You

Last update: 02 August, 2022

Every step we take in parenting is a challenge. Sometimes, the road is so uphill that it seems as if we won’t make it. However, when we look back, we realize that most things happen in time and that patience is a key factor in our well-being. One of these common challenges is getting children to sleep alone in their own bed. In the following article, we’ll tell you what you can do if your child wants to sleep with you.

Most of us parents wonder what to do when our child wants to sleep with us and there are many recipes, beliefs, and disjointed information circulating around the subject.

The problem arises when we apply these recommendations uncritically and convince ourselves that the knowledge lies outside, in other people. We turn off our instinct and forget a crucial point: That the answer’s right in front of us, in that child who will show us when the time is right for him.

A toddler boy sitting on his bed crying.
Children have their own time to adapt to changes. What works for one family won’t always work for another. Listen to the little one you have in front of you.

Why your child wants to sleep with you

It’s true that adults rest and regain their privacy when children sleep in their own room. The early years of parenting are demanding, both in terms of time and physical effort. Therefore, it is understandable that parents want to improve their quality of life, but not at the expense of leaving children alone with their fears.

Therefore, it’s important to find a middle ground and respect the time of adaptation of each child to the new room. It’s logical for your little one to feel fear or insecurity, especially when everything is dark and silent in the house.

Should you let him cry to get used to it? No, this isn’t recommended at all. The objective is that they get used to sleeping alone, not that they naturalize loneliness.

Children must learn that their parents will be present when they need them because they have a need for attachment and affection that must be protected by their caregivers. Otherwise, the process of sleeping alone may become even more complicated.

At the same time, it should also be taken into account that children’s thinking is characterized by being magical: They believe in ghosts and monsters and don’t understand figurative language. Moreover, fear of the dark as such is part of evolutionary fears. Therefore, it’s to be expected that children experience anxiety when they’re left alone in their room.

Understanding this allows us to adapt our expectations and our demands to the possibilities of that flesh-and-blood infant living in our home. We don’t always have to act according to the wishes, wills, recipes, or recommendations we receive from others.

Being able to understand your child with empathy allows you to accompany them with respectful parenting.

How to help children to sleep alone

Beyond the recommendations, it’s about understanding that the key is to go slowly. It’s also important that the parents agree with the objectives, that they discuss the strategies, and that they’re coherent and consistent with the decision. Because when this doesn’t happen, confusing messages are transmitted and this prevents the desired habit from taking hold.

Let’s look at some tips to keep in mind when accompanying children to sleep alone.

Create sleep routines

This means adopting some habits that prepare the child for the moment of going to sleep. For example, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a bedtime story, etc. It’s also good to have an early dinner with a light meal and turn off the screens at least 2 hours before bedtime.

Carry out pleasant transition actions

If your child enjoys the period before bedtime, they’ll surely fall asleep more peacefully and rest better. For example, going to bed together to read a story, talk about the most beautiful part of their day, or being thankful for what you have is a good way to provide security to face the night.

Promote the child’s autonomy during the day

Encouraging them to do things on their own without help is a good strategy for building self-confidence and personal safety.

Anticipate, listen and attend to the child’s needs

Knowing what’s going to happen before it happens allows us to regulate anxiety at any age. Therefore, it’s best to let your child know that if they wake up in the middle of the night, they can call you and that you’ll come to their room. Also, let him tell you their fears, let them ask you questions, and be sure that you won’t let him down.

Soothe without anger or frustration

Keep in mind that establishing a habit requires patience, support, and understanding. Many professionals recommend that, instead of allowing the child to return to the parental bed after a nocturnal awakening, one of the parents should lie down in the child’s bed to calm them down.

A family of four sleeping together in the same bed.
Your children don’t demand your presence out of selfishness. They seek you out of necessity. Accompany them with empathy, respect for their timing, and selfless love.

Finally, it’s worth taking into account the contributions of neuropsychologist Álvaro Bilbao, who argues that many times, recommendations on sleep are based on extremes. Either we let them cry or we co-sleep with them. However, real life has nuances and building one’s own options is completely valid.

Learning to sleep alone can’t happen at any cost

Being respectful when accompanying our children to choose their own bed is one of the keys to getting them to stop sleeping with us. And this isn’t limited to achieving a specific goal but reflects the way we have to relate to them.

A bond based on trust, love, and empathy is the best parenting tool we can count on.

Be careful with blindly implementing those methods that suggest letting your children cry and not responding to their calls. Surely, with those methods, children will learn to sleep alone after a while, but at the expense of feeling that their emotions don’t matter.

So, what’s the price we’re willing to pay so that our children learn to sleep alone? Reflecting on this is our responsibility as adults. Acting on our principles is our duty as parents.

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  • Montserrat Gala, A. M., & Fortes del Valle, M. A.. (2013). Aprender a dormir. Pediatría Atención Primaria, 15(60), e145-e155. https://dx.doi.org/10.4321/S1139-76322013000500004
  • Bilbao, Alvaro (2015) El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres. Plataforma Actual.