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Sleep

Children and Sleep: Leave them Alone

Create independent sleepers

Key points

  • Creating great independent sleepers is worth tolerating the distress of a child when they are learning to self-soothe.  
  • Building routines starting at the infant stage will help create independent sleepers.
  • In the toddler stage, taking naps or having a rest time is still beneficial for children.
  • Children of school age should stick to schedules of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day.
Krakenimages/Shutterstock
Baby fighting sleep
Source: Krakenimages/Shutterstock

Good sleep routines begin in infancy and are lifelong. It is hard for a parent to leave the room when their child is falling asleep and has some distress, but this is often the best thing. Creating great independent sleepers is a lifelong gift and worth tolerating the distress of a child when they are learning to self-soothe.

Starting at the infant stage can be a difficult time to begin sleep training. Babies are still figuring out breast or bottle feeding and need to eat more often. As they begin gaining more weight, they can sleep longer and stay asleep. At this stage, parents can start by setting a schedule and try putting the baby down for naps. The routine can include making sure that the baby is well fed, has a dry diaper, and is in a room free from distractions and light. If you can work into building a schedule of naps, this can continue with creating a bedtime routine that happens at the same time every night. Once they are old enough to sleep through the night (at 6 months or so depending on your child), not reacting when they cry immediately but letting them learn to self-soothe is a great technique for creating independent sleepers.

In the toddler stage, taking naps or having rest time is still beneficial for children. Children might fight this as they are not interested in laying down. This time can include a story in which the caregiver reads to the child and then leaves the room after the story is over. For a bedtime routine, bathing your child and then reading them a story can help them settle down from the day’s activities. This, along with creating an environment that is dark and quiet, will support healthy sleep. Transitional objects, like a blanket or stuffed doll, can be useful when you leave the room rather than needing to stay in the room until they fall asleep.

So the question becomes: What can you do if your child resists naps and is sleeping independently? Some children will resist going to sleep without crying and staying in their room even if you try creating a routine. You can try a reward system in which, if the child stays in their room all night and does not fight, they can earn stickers, privileges, or praise. This will show their progress and give them a sense of accountability.

Once a child is of school age, it is important to stick to schedules of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. The child needs sleep to be alert and have the energy to perform in school and their other activities. Limit and stop screen time before bedtime, helping to create a restful state of mind. Instead, read a story or allow children to read to you or themselves as a way to settle down before bedtime. The room should be free of devices and distractions.

Creating sleep habits starting at a young age will promote healthy sleep. Independent sleeping is the best gift a parent can give a child, including the foundation of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

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