Help, My 10 Year Old Won’t Sleep Alone

as seen in Brooklyn Family Magazine and on NYParenting.com

Dear Sharon,

Our 10 year old is having trouble going to sleep alone in his room. What should we do? He comes into our bed a lot and we’re concerned and losing sleep.

Dear Parents,

I have known of other 10 year olds who have had trouble sleeping alone. It may take some parental time and patience but here are some ideas that could help.

Many young people go through periods of anxiety as they get closer to adolescence with its array of complicated social, academic and physical demands. Pre-teens can easily become restless and need more company and if they have a busy schedule these issues often can surface at night. It is therefore important to think through any underlying pressures that are affecting young “tweens” who are having trouble sleeping. It can make a big difference to begin tackling sleep problems by taking steps to reduce or talk through external pressures that might be affecting a 10 year old’s day to day routines.

Parents who think that their child’s interrupted sleep will gradually end as stress eases or he or she matures often adopt a temporary compromise. Some people I know have put a sleeping mat or small bed in their room for their child to use. Others have decided to put a larger bed in their young person’s room so that mom or dad can lay down comfortably when “in demand” and have enough room to sleep if they need to. Some parents prefer this approach as it is usually easier for children to sleep through the night when they stay in their own bed and eventually parents are no longer needed. In order to catch up on interrupted rest others I know have temporarily resorted to taking turns sleeping in another room when their child appears.

Of course some moms and dads can tell that their child’s behavior might not be a brief phase and decide to put their foot down and require that their child to sleep through the night. In this case it is important to remember that it is often difficult to present adult expectations when difficult issues surface, in this case at the end of the day or in the middle of the night. Talking to a child about sleep at calm moments well before bedtime can often be helpful. If mom or dad can maintain a relaxed tone it is usually easier to listen to a child’s worries, calmly share why disrupted sleep is hard for everyone, and think through some possible solutions together. A child can sometimes make helpful suggestions to resolve a complex issue such as this when a good opportunity to do so is provided.

Some parents have had success offering a reward in return for a few days of solid sleep as even a relatively brief period of success can help break bad habits. Others have gradually diminished the number of times they respond to their child’s requests. This solution can temporarily mean less sleep for mom and dad and some degree of upset but the long-term results can be worth the effort.

A good night’s sleep can be hard to get for children at any age, but with consistent effort over time I have seen many parents help their young person sort it through.