is a very common situation for families who practice attachment parenting and nighttime parenting with their kids (like I do). Infants who are used to being nursed or snuggled to sleep are naturally going to want to continue to do so even after they are weaned from breastfeeding. This is often true until age 5 or 6 or even older. On the other hand, infants who are “trained” to fall asleep, and stay asleep, on their own often do not require a parent’s presence to go to sleep when they are three years old. It all goes back to how you decided to do things early on. I am not saying that either situation is right or wrong; I am just stating what is typical child behavior.
I have faced this exact same situation with my own kids. My wife and I chose to “parent” our kids to sleep from early on. This required one of us to lie down and snuggle with them while they fell asleep. This was my wife’s duty while they were still breastfeeding. When they were weaned, it became my job. I just snuggled in their bed with them while they fell asleep until they were about 5 years old. Then I began to sit on the floor next to their bed. I used a flashlight to read a book. It usually took about 30 to 45 minutes for my kids to fall asleep. Now that my kids are 5 and 8, I usually only stay in their room until the 5-year-old falls asleep (thankfully only 10 minutes or so), then I kiss my 8-year-old goodnight and leave. I come and check on him every 5 minutes or so until he falls asleep (which is usually right away).
I know this situation takes a time commitment on my part, and I am ok with that. I realize my kids are growing up fast, and soon they won’t need me in their room anymore to fall asleep. I probably could have weaned my kids of this need sooner, but I just decided not to.
Now, not everyone is ok with this time commitment. Many people can’t spend this half hour or so in their kids room every night. I know I had plenty of nights where I got frustrated with how long it was taking them to fall asleep. Sometimes I would fall asleep myself, then wake up groggy and grouchy.
So after having said all that, here is how you CAN try to wean your kids of this need and help them feel comfortable falling asleep on their own:
- Every child is different, so there is no one set age at which kids should be expected to fall asleep on their own. Use your own judgment for your kids.
- Start by no longer lying down in bed with your child. Sit or lay NEXT to the bed.
- A flashlight and good book can help you pass the time.
- Try reading bedtime stories with your child already tucked in and the lights down low. This will settle her down.
- Choose a time limit. Stay for perhaps five minutes or so, then kiss your child and reassure them you will be right back to check on her.
- Check on your child every so often by just stepping into the doorway. If your child looks up at you, quietly say, “daddy (or mommy) will be right back to check on you again.” If your child doesn’t look up, say nothing.
- You must sit down with your child during the daytime to discuss the new rules and routine. Do not just surprise her with it one night at bedtime.
- Discuss the new plan well ahead of time. Each night, remind her that soon mommy won’t be lying down with her at night, but mommy will check on her as she falls asleep. This way she can prepare for the change.
- Create a sticker chart reward system for each night she does well.
- If your child does not accept the new situation, and you are having a huge battle that you do not feel comfortable with, then go back to lying down with her for short a time. Try again in a couple months.
- Remember, there is no one age that this will be right for every child. Some may be ready at age 2, some at age 8.