Tips for Helping Children Sleep in their Own Beds

Many families throughout history have chosen a “family bed.” In fact, in most cultures around the world today, a “family bed” is the norm. If that is a family’s choice, it can work very well. However, having a “family bed” is not for everyone. It also works well to teach children to sleep in their own beds.

Here are some tips on how to help children sleep in their own beds:

It does not work well to tell children to sleep in their bed and then relent when they act up. This only teaches them that their persistence will be rewarded with a trip to your bed.

The best approach is to discover the underlying cause or causes for your child’s behavior. At some level, your child knows why she doesn’t want to be in her own bed, even if she isn’t able to articulate what she is feeling. If you ask her outright what she is feeling, you may not get any valuable information.

A great way of discovering what your child is feeling is to play with her using dolls or action figures to represent members of a family. Have the characters act out several typical family situations: mealtime, going to the park, driving in the car, etc. Enact several of these non-threatening situations, and let your child put words into the figures’ mouths. When you get to bedtime, if your child is hesitant to talk, you can try speaking for the characters. If your child has gotten into the play, she will correct you if you give the characters motivations that are inaccurate from her perspective.

Another approach is to encourage your child to color or paint while she tells you about what she is creating. Be sure to allow her lots of time to open up and don’t react negatively if she says something you don’t want to hear.

The things you are most likely to find are: your child has night time fears, i.e. she is afraid of the dark, being alone, closet monsters, etc.; she is jealous of one parent or a sibling; she is afraid of losing your affection if she “grows up”; or some variation of one or more of these.

If your child is suffering from night time fears, give her tools that empower her to overcome her fears:

  • Give her a flashlight to play with (especially during the day in a darkened room) to help overcome fear of the dark.
  • Give her a spray bottle filled with “monster spray” so she can shoot the monsters if they come out.
  • Record a tape of her favorite stories and songs that she can turn on whenever she is feeling alone or afraid (it is best if the recording is of your voice).
  • Give her a stuffed animal as big as she is to sleep with.
  • Ask her for suggestions.

If the primary reason your child wants to sleep with you is night time fears, you should be able to switch her into her own bed as soon as she has the tools to cope with her fears.

If you discover that your child is jealous of one parent or a sibling, evaluate the situation and determine if she has reason to be jealous. If she has a younger sibling who is getting most of your attention during the day, she may feel the only time she “gets you” is at night. The best way you can help overcome her jealously is to pay special attention to her when she is not asking for it.

If your child reveals that she is afraid that she will lose your affection when she grows up, take stock of what you are communicating to her regarding growing up. You may inadvertently be sending her the message that you want her to stay a baby. If this is the case, consider how you can change her feelings by the way you communicate with her.

You will need to take some time for your child’s feelings to change before you can move her into her own bed. When you do, you may need to make the change in several stages. The first few nights, she might sleep on the floor beside your bed. The next move might be right outside your door, then into her own bed. The large stuffed animal or the tape recording of your voice may help ease the transition.

Published on: January 03, 1996
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

My daughter was sleeping in her own bed until thunder storms and since she has felt with one she down not want to sleep in her bed or her room for that matter. Does anyone have any suggestions please!!? She now sleeps on the couch right out from my room help me please, thank u

My lil girl keep wake up abound 5:30 or later at night I getting upset in da morning. Talk to my lover next to me about it she don’t about it well DAT ok.

My four year old son has trouble sleeping throughout the night. He is in his own bed, in his own room, upstairs while my bedroom is downstairs. I have been co-sleeping with him since his father and I divorced when he was 2. We had only one bed so it was our only option. I recently moved into a house, in May, so he has been in his own bed since. I lay down with him at night until he falls asleep then sneak out to my room. He knows I leave and he cries that he wants me to stay with him. The only reasoning I get for hi waking is that he needs me. He doesn’t tell me why, just that I am needed. I lay and sleep with hi throughout the remainder of the night. Waking times vary, sometimes he will sleep until 4-5 am, other times he wakes around 12-2. It has gotten worse the past month or so. When I first transitioned him he would occasionally wake throughout the week a night or two. He is also going to headstart now, which he loves, but with going to school we are waking earlier and I worry he isn’t getting the sleep he needs.

I would greatly appreciate any tips you may be able to give me to help my son get the full nights sleep his little body needs.


Dr. Greene wrote a great post called, “Get Out of Bed Free Card — A fun way to keep kids in bed!“. Your child is the perfect age for this technique.

Please check back in and let us know if you try it and how it works for you.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I answer a lot of questions on, I am the co-founder of, Dr. Greene’s business partner, but I am a not doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My 8 year old son is scared to sleep alone.he says he cant sleep unless he has mum or dad in his room.please help he is,scared.he mentioned monsters also

Hi Hayley,

Dr. Greene talks about this in his Q&A Dealing with Irrational Fears

One of the fastest ways to help, though, is to provide opportunities to play with NON-THREATENING versions of them… For kids who are afraid of the dark, this might mean lots of play with flashlights and colored lights in a darkened room during the daytime. For kids who are afraid of monsters, monster action figures can be the key (as well as good guys to overcome the monsters).

I hope this is helpful,

I forgot to mention even though my son is on Prozac, he is still quite scared. He doesn’t worry as much.

I have three boys, ages 6, 8, 9. All three sleep in one brothers room. They have three night lights as well as their Father sleeping with them. They are still scared. They won’t stay in any room without an adult or on different floors. Sometimes my middle one is so scared he has to stand on the side of the toilet near me if I am using the bathroom.

My oldest son has been diagnosed with OCD and is currently taking Prozac. As for the other two, i haven’t had them tested.

Please give me a little help

Thank you