Leave your child's room before he falls asleep.
As much as you enjoy waking up with no covers and bruises from your child's sleep-kicking, a 5-year-old who either sneaks into your room or won't sleep in his own bed unless you're present is definitely draining. Crib bars restrain young toddlers, but a 5-year-old can easily exit his bed at night or scream bloody murder when you leave. Helping an older child fall asleep on his own is possible, but if he's grown accustomed to having you by his side, achieving independent sleeping will require additional patience and firm consistency on your part.
1Explain to your child that it's time for him to sleep in his room, without leaving his own bed, for the entire night. Outline the process so he won't be caught off guard when his usual sleeping routine is changed. You might say, "I'll read you a story, we'll hug and kiss, and you'll stay in bed while I leave your room. You must stay in bed, and I'll come back to check on you every 10 minutes to make sure you're okay." Also, explain that if he gets out of bed, you'll promptly return him. Emphasize that this isn't punishment (though he'll probably beg to differ) but a chance for him to behave like a big kid.
2Follow a soothing bedtime routine that lets your child unwind, such as bath, toilet, teeth-brushing, stories and lights out. Total darkness and silence can be unsettling if he's never slept alone, so place a night-light in his room. A white-noise machine is another soothing possibility; put it next to his bed and turn it on while you're reading stories. Sit, don't lie, on the edge of your child's bed until he's calm and drowsy but still awake. He won't learn how to fall asleep on his own if you're right by his side until he's out cold. Also, lying down increases the possibility that, as an understandably tired parent, you might fall asleep right there.
3Tell your child again that you'll be back to check on him in 10 minutes -- then brace yourself as you attempt to calmly exit the room. If he's never slept alone, there's a good chance he'll try to leave the room with you. Stick to your guns and return him to his bed. Don't get drawn into a dramatic ordeal, which is admittedly hard when your child is sobbing; instead, tell him in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, "You're okay, I'm right next door, but you must stay in your bed until I come back in 10 minutes."
4Return him to his bed as many times as necessary without saying anything besides the initial "You're okay. I'll come back to check on you in 10 minutes." Once he's in his bed, albeit bawling, return to your room and ignore his protests until 10 minutes have passed. This will be the most difficult part for you and your child. If after 10 minutes he's still going strong, quietly enter his room and comfort him for no more than 2 minutes. Insist that he lie down while you reassure him that he's doing a good job and you're very proud of him for being a big kid. Leave after 2 minutes of comfort, and repeat steps three and four if he enters your room in the middle of the night.
- Discuss what things in your child's room are scary and correct them before it's bedtime. For example, close the closet doors or the curtains to reduce scary-looking shadows.Understand that your success in getting your 5-year-old to sleep alone depends on your commitment to consistency. If you give in and let him enter your bed at night or agree to lie down with him until he falls asleep, he'll continue doing whatever he can to get you to give in the next time.
- Resist the urge to lash out during this admittedly exhausting process. When you're tired and frustrated, it's tempting to resort to threats and punishment when your child refuses to cooperate, but this approach can backfire. You don't want him to think of sleeping by himself as a punishment or something you're enforcing by locking him in his room. Rather, you want him to develop a sense of confidence that he can sleep through the night by himself.