Yes, many parents have problems getting their young child to sleep at night. When it’s time for bed, a young child often wants to be fed, held, walked, sung to, talked to, read to, or comforted. She wants her parents to spend time with her as she falls asleep, but they’d rather put her quickly and peacefully to bed, and then get on with their own activities.
You may wonder why your child won’t fall asleep alone, especially when you hear, or imagine, that other children go to sleep easily. It’s true that some children quickly fall asleep and that others are content to lie down with a bottle, sippy cup, pacifier, blanket, or stuffed animal. But most young children have a genuine need for their parents to be with them at night.
Bedtime can be a lonely, frightening time for young children, who naturally feel safer and more comfortable if their parents stay with them. Even three-, four-, and five-year-olds prefer not to be alone at night. One child said, “I can fall asleep better if you stay in my room,” and another asked her parents, “Why do you want me to go to sleep? Don’t you want to be with me?” A child finds it hard to understand her parents’ need to be alone, she simply has no such need herself.
The intensity of a child’s bedtime need for her parents can be judged by the struggles that occur when they leave her in her room. A baby might spend a long time crying, while an older child might get up or call out for water, another kiss, a trip to the bathroom, and anything else that would bring her parents close again. Elaborate bedtime rituals can take forty minutes or longer and often leave parents angry and frustrated.
But what happens if, instead of spending forty minutes trying to get your child to fall asleep alone, you spend ten to twenty minutes keeping her company, feeding her or rubbing her back or lying next to her? She’ll probably feel content and secure, and fall asleep peacefully without a bedtime struggle.