How Do I Teach My Child to Sleep Alone?

Anxiety, insecurity, distractions -- these can all send your little one straight from her bed into yours. Luckily, you can break this bedtime habit. Here's how to encourage your child to sleep independently.

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Eliminate Distractions

Remove televisions, computers, and other electronic devices from your tot's room to create an environment that is conducive to sleep. "The stimulation associated with watching TV or playing video games and the light from computer and TV screens both make it much more difficult to fall asleep," says Parents adviser Judith Owens, M.D., coauthor of Take Charge of Your Child's Sleep. "Certainly, a dim light, such as a night-light, is OK for kids who need it."

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Establish a Bedtime Routine

Take a warm bath, put on PJs, brush teeth, and read good-night stories -- getting into a regular habit helps youngsters feel more secure about going to bed. This predictability "prepares kids psychologically and reduces their nighttime anxiety," Dr. Judith Owens says. "It lowers stress levels and creates a series of steps the child anticipates and knows will lead to bedtime."

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Minimize Your Presence

Leave the room before your child falls asleep so she's "not dependent on parental presence," Dr. Judith Owens says. If you do stay in her room, don't lie in her bed or interact with her. Move farther away from her bed each night while she is falling asleep to gradually reduce her dependence upon you.

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Establish a Sense of Security

Your absence or the thought of a monster lurking under the bed can leave your babe wide-eyed at bedtime. Ease the transition from sleep to wake -- and calm her fears -- with comforting objects such as stuffed animals, blankets, or even a nearby goldfish tank. "Let there be another presence in the room that reassures your child," Dr. Judith Owens says.

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Take It Slow

Many parents prefer to put their child to bed and tell her that they'll come back in a bit to check on her. Keep your promise, but wait for successively longer intervals of time. Ideally, she'll fall asleep during one of these intervals. Dr. Judith Owens suggests starting with a 5-to 10-minute waiting period. If you return in less than 5 minutes, she'll likely be awake. But if you wait too long, "the child might become anxious and agitated, which makes the situation worse," she says.

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Be Consistent

If your child slips into your bed in the middle of the night, accompany her right back to her room without much interaction, Dr. Judith Owens says. Simply say, "You need to stay in bed." It's important to be firm about returning your child to her bed every time this happens. "If you don't do this every time, it teaches your child to be more persistent," she says.

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Reward Good Behavior

And ignore undesirable behavior such as crying. After a good night, let your little one choose her favorite cereal or pick out her outfit the next morning. "This helps them associate the behavior with the reward," Dr. Judith Owens says.

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