Question: Dear Karen, I blame myself for this problem. My daughter is almost 12 years old and will not sleep in her own bed. She has never slept in her bed she always wants to sleep with me. I thought she would grow out of it so I didn’t put much effort into making her sleep alone. Now that she is almost 12 years old I am getting worried. Should I be and what can I do to help her get over her fear of sleeping alone. Lori
Answer: One way to get over a fear is to learn through repeated positive experience that the thing you fear is not what you thought it was. Your daughter can learn that she is safe in her own bed and that she has the resources to make it through the night alone. Over the years, I’m sure you have heard all the possible suggestions of how to make the transition! You could just send her to her own bed and she will adjust. You could make a gradual transition – let her sleep in a sleeping bag in your room moving the sleeping bag gradually from your bedroom to hers or you start the night in her bed and then come back to her room throughout the night reassuring her that all is well. You could get a puppy to sleep in her bed (careful with this one, you don’t want all three of you in your bed!). Whatever you choose may take time if your daughter is truly fearful. She will need to experience repeated success to learn that her room is a safe place at night. But I think it is a good message to learn.
Your daughter’s world is growing outside of the home. She deserves to feel strong and confidant. Include your daughter in problem solving conversations. Ask her “what would happen if…” Have her write down her answers and then check them against reality. Ask “what can she do when she feels scared” or “if she feels threatened?” Get to the bottom of her concerns, and then, give her the rational and emotional support she needs to conquer her fears. She will always have fears but you can give her the courage to face them. The preteen and teen years are valuable steps toward maturity and independence.
The sleeping situation may, however, be more of a habit than a need. Habits are not easy to break either but at least you know that she is emotionally capable. Tell your daughter that you are ready to sleep alone and she is too. Help her to find a comforting bedtime routine. Use daytime hours for mom and daughter bonding and nighttime for a little separation. Once you are clear on making a change, it will be easier than you think.
Eventually, your daughter will be off to college or to live on her own and you will barely remember this time. Just be sure you are giving her every opportunity she deserves to discover her strengths and to cultivate her independence. The world is not a fearful place when we know we are capable people…
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.