How can I get my 6-year-old to sleep on his own?

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Q: I am a mother of a 6-year-old boy who still sleeps in the bed with me. How can I make him less afraid of sleeping on his own?

A: Your son has never had to learn to comfort himself when alone at night, a skill that is essential for healthy development. Helping him gain confidence in this area will be well worth the effort. Speak with him about the self-esteem he will attain by learning to sleep on his own, and the privileges that accompany it, such as sleepovers and perhaps something special for his room. Establish a soothing bedtime ritual that is independent of you: listening to music, reading in bed, and saying soothing things to himself. Agree upon a sequence of steps to make the transition, such as his sleeping elsewhere in your room, then his moving to his room, where you stay with him until he falls asleep, but not in his bed. Do not let him into your bed under any circumstances! If he seems afraid, reassure him, remind him of his tools and return him to bed gently, but firmly. Reward him with a good cuddle in the morning!

Dr. Patty Zomber is a child and family therapist based in Marina del Rey, Calif.

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