Child won’t sleep alone: What you can do

By Dr Richard C. Woolfson   — October 11, 2018
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    Don’t be alarmed if your child suddenly won’t sleep alone. He tells you he is afraid of doing so. Many toddlers go through a phase when they prefer to be with others during the night. There are many reasons for this, and here are some practical suggestions to help you tackle this challenge effectively.

    Related: This is how much sleep your child really needs, from newborns to primary schoolers

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  • I'm scared
    2 / 9 I'm scared

    What’s wrong: He’s afraid of the dark, and this makes him want to have company.

    How it shows: Your three-year-old refuses to let you put the bedroom light out and starts to cry when you try to switch it off. You may find that after you switch the light off, you hear him get out of bed to click it back on again.

    Related: How to get your toddler to sleep in her own room


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    How you can help: There are several options. First, you can fit a dimmer switch to his bedroom light enabling you to gradually darken his room a little bit more each night.

    Second, you can have a night-light or a glow-plug, which gives off a small amount of illumination all the time.

    Or you can sit with your toddler until he falls asleep – though that can soon turn into a habit that is hard to break.

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  • I need a tuck-in
    4 / 9 I need a tuck-in

    What’s wrong: After waking in the middle of the night, he can’t get back to sleep.

    How it shows: You are fast asleep when you suddenly realise your three-year-old is at your bedside, wide awake and afraid of being alone. He mumbles that he can’t get back to sleep and he wants to come in beside you.

    Related: Singapore mum confesses: Why I will not stop co-sleeping with my kids

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    How you can help: Take him back to bed, give him a quick cuddle, and then leave the room. Resist any temptation to give him food and drink and definitely don’t play a game with him.

    Your basic strategy should be to reassure your son and return him to his own bed, while making it clear that this is not a time for fun and games. Do this every single time he wakes during the night until he settles down.

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  • I'm stressed
    6 / 9 I'm stressed

    What’s wrong: He is so worried about something that he wakes up troubled and lonely.

    How it shows: He goes to bed at the usual time without any complaint, but he genuinely struggles to get to sleep. He may lie awake for hours. You may also find he wakes up crying in the middle of the night and doesn’t want to stay on his own.

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    How you can help: Start by calming your child and by giving him lots of reassurance that he has nothing to worry about. But keep him in his own bed while you do this.

    The next day, think hard about possible areas that may concern him – for instance, falling out with his best friend at preschool, or continual teasing from his older sister. Do what you can to make practical changes to resolve his concerns.

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  • I'm manja
    8 / 9 I'm manja

    What’s wrong: His so-called fear of sleeping alone is simply attention-seeking behaviour.

    How it shows: Although your toddler tells you he doesn’t want to sleep alone and that he is afraid, he makes a remarkable recovery the moment you appear in his room! Your attention lifts his mood instantly and he wants to play with you.

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    How you can help: Take more control of when you give your toddler attention. For example, try to ignore him when he calls out that he doesn’t want to sleep alone – and if you feel you have to go in to see him, keep that contact brief, without any fuss.

    In addition, give him positive attention when he wakes up alone in the morning. Tell him you are pleased that he slept alone, cuddle him and play with him.


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