How to get a child to be willing to sleep alone.

Linda asks: Hello Shirelle, My questions have to do with my little granddaughter . She will be 4 years old soon and I am concerned about her emotional development. All of her short life she has not slept in her own bed not once. Her father and mother never married and are now separated. She lives with her mother who is a very good mommy. My concern though is that she is not allowed to sleep alone in her own bed in fact her mom never used the crib or even converted it to the youth bed for her. She has no bed of her own at all. She can’t sleep by herself even when she visits her dad who has provided her with her own room and bed. When she visits me overnight she needs to have me right there with her. She has severe separation anxiety regarding her mother but as soon her mom leaves to work or out the door she’s calmed down. I sense something is not right but I am not sure. Is all this just normal?

Hi Linda –

When Handsome first brought me home, he read every book he could find about raising puppies.  And while they had lots of different advice, one thing they all agreed on was that humans shouldn’t let puppies sleep on their beds, as it just creates problems.  But Handsome didn’t follow that rule.  He understood the problems they were concerned about, but he wanted his dog to sleep on his bed; he liked the idea of us cuddling up together at night.

And it’s been great, for both of us.  But the only reason it’s been good is that he never wanted me to stop sleeping there.  If he had, that could have gotten really difficult.

The problem your daughter has created is that, like me, her daughter is used to falling asleep next to an adult human.  And she doesn’t know how to sleep by herself.

As with a dog, this is a problem, but not a giant one.  What needs to happen – someday – is that your daughter is going to have to change the rules, at least some.  For example, for a while, maybe your granddaughter will have to fall asleep by herself in her bed, but with your daughter in the room.  And then it’ll be okay for her to come into your daughter’s room if she wakes up during the night.  For a while!

Will she like it?  Of course she won’t.  But if your daughter can frame it as exciting news, that she’s growing up, and this will enable her to spend the night with friends later, that’ll help.

I do think she’ll have to be the one to do it, though.  Although once she’s doing it, then it’d be great for her father and you to follow a similar regimen (which maybe you already are, if I’m reading correctly).

Now about the separation issue, yes it’s very normal for a child of her age to have separation anxiety.  But the fact that she calms down the second your daughter leaves makes me think something else.

And before I say this, I want to emphasize that, if I’m right, your granddaughter probably doesn’t realize it, and it doesn’t make your daughter a bad mother.  Okay?

What I’m thinking is that your granddaughter is actually acting out on what she feels from her mother.  That she feels her mother wants to have her by her side at night (like Handsome wants to have me there), and she feels her mother hates leaving her.  If I’m right, it’s really Mom’s job to impress on her daughter that she actually wants her child to be more independent.  Not to shame her for what she’s done, but to encourage her to move ahead now, to “become a big girl,” with all the excitement that contains.

And of course, it does!

I’d say to try these out and see what happens.  My guess is that it’ll help a lot.  Please let me know!

All my best,


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