Daughters cannot fall asleep on their own

Q Since the end of last year, I have been trying to get my daughters, aged seven and eight, to fall asleep on their own instead of being with them on their beds until they fall asleep. But the older one makes a fuss (to the point of vomiting) and the younger one wakes up looking to be comforted. Should I revert to the previous practice?

A Predictable bedtime routines, including having mummy by their side, give children a sense of comfort and security, so they can relax, fall asleep and stay asleep.

Your daughters' making a fuss and waking up indicates that their sense of comfort and security have been shaken during this time of transition. It does not mean that they cannot handle the transition successfully or that you need to revert to previous routine, though. It just means you need to develop new bedtime routines gradually.

Here are some suggestions for you to help them retain a sense of control and develop confidence:

- Find opportunities to talk casually to them about growing up and the new things they will encounter such as taking the school bus on their own.

- Tell them that going to sleep on their own is another growing-up thing, which needs getting used to.

- Mention their successes and milestones to help them gain confidence in their own ability to adapt.

- Find out from your daughters what makes them feel comfortable and relaxed at bedtime. For example, a long hug, big kisses, your brushing their hair or reading them a bedtime story or listening to soft and calming music. Build these things into a new routine of comfort over a few weeks. Make it fun.

- Go shopping together for a night light that they like. Keep it switched on at night and call it their growing-up sleep light. Or buy each girl a new soft toy and give them names. These will be their new sleep-friends.

- Avoid over-stimulating activities before bedtime, that would make the kids excited, such as fast-paced TV programmes or rowdy games.

- If the girls wake up in the middle of the night and come to you for comfort, give them a hug, speak softly to reassure them that you are around the home, then gently put them back to bed.

Avoid scolding or talking too much to them when they wake up as these will not help them get back to sleep. Also, do not get tense or angry when they make a fuss. Stay relaxed but stick with the new bedtime routines. Your daughters will pick up on those feelings and learn to relax, and eventually sleep independently.

Dr Cecilia Chu, who answered this question, is a clinical psychologist at Raffles Counselling Centre

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