My 3yrs toddler daughter scared to sleep alone in her bedroom

by Santa

Question: My daughter is scared to sleep alone in her bedroom, somebody must be with her always while she gets sleep. I don't know what to do..

Heidi's Answer: Dear Santa,

Ideally we will want to find out what the reason for your toddler daughter's fear is. Unfortunately that's not always easy – otherwise of course you would know what it is.

It can help to ask yourself when it started? If the problem wasn't always there, think of when it started. Had anything changed at that moment? A new bedroom, a sibling who moved to another room, less or more light in her room or the corridor, more or less noise around the house or on the street, an innocent toy that may suddenly seem scary in the dark, ...

Anything, any small detail, can cause a child to not feel comfortable to go to sleep by herself.

And it doesn't even have to be a sudden change in her environment. Even if everything around her stays the same, she changes and may start noticing something that didn't bother her before ...

Try to think of anything that could be a cause and then experiment with changing some things around. Always give a change a couple of days to see what its effect is and don't change too many things at the same time.

Also, talk about it with your daughter. She may not be able to express exactly what she is afraid of or why she won't go to sleep alone. But every day, spend some time in her room together during the day.

Ask her what she likes and what she doesn't like. Close the curtains, switch on the usual night light, ask her if she likes the light like that (give both of your eyes the time to adjust to the dark), play a game in the half-dark ... Make a suggestion: “would you like a picture of mommy and daddy near your bed?” “a soft animal?” ... Don't make too many suggestions though, just carefully try to find out what could help her enjoy her room better.

During that same “bedroom time” during the day, leave her alone for a couple of minutes. For example tell her you will go and get a book while she stays and waits for you. Or you need to go to the bathroom.

Don't stay away for long at first, just a minute (less if she's already uncomfortable with that). But gradually increase that away time, so she becomes more and more comfortable with being alone in her room.

Then for the night:

First of course be sure to still have a good bedtime routine in place. A good bedtime routine is fun and relaxing, doesn't take too long (5-10 minutes max) and has a clear beginning and a clear end.

You probably already have one in place but re-visit it maybe to add a little extra she likes, make it shorter/longer, … all to make sure she goes to bed relaxed and feeling secure.

Then when it is time to put her down tell her that you will go out and that you want her to be nice and quiet and go to sleep. Also tell her that if she tries her best you will come back to check on her real soon. Then you go out.

If she fusses, explain it again, tell her you will be right back but that you want her to be quiet now.

Then you go out of the room. The first time, go back really soon, say after a minute or even less. This is to reassure her and show her that you really are coming. Tell her she did really well and that you are very proud of her. Tell her you will do the same now: she stays and goes to sleep, and you will be back soon.

And do go back soon, but maybe add another minute. If you hear she's having a difficult time, go sooner – always before she gets upset. The first days it's all about building her confidence, even if in the end you stay until she's really asleep.

See how it goes and gradually increase the time you stay away. Be very enthusiastic and praise her each time she did well, even if it was staying alone nicely for a couple of minutes.

- If in the above, leaving the room is too drastic at first, you can simply sit next to the bed, and gradually move your chair further away towards the door. Or stay in the corridor making sure she can hear you, or maybe in the room or bathroom if it is near: make some 'noises' so she knows you are there.

- A really good tool to help encourage her is a sticker reward chart. You can download a free chart here.

Good luck,
take care,

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