Needing a Parent’s Help to Sleep: Why Your Child Wants You There

Posted by in No-Cry Sleep

Do you have to stay with your child until she falls asleep? If you do stay in the room until your child is asleep you’re not alone – as a matter of fact you are in the majority – as more than half of parents follow this routine. Most importantly, this tells us that this “problem” isn’t really a “problem” at all, but normal childhood behavior.

Savannah with her daddy, Shane

Savannah with her daddy, Shane

Why Your Child Wants You There

There are a number of reasons your child wants you beside him until he falls asleep:

He loves you

You represent security, safety, and love. Falling asleep brings the vast unknown. If a big, strong parent is in the room, then all is well, and a child can relax enough to sleep.

She’s scared

The dark brings frightening shadows. The quiet invites mysterious noises. The stillness brings scary thoughts. A parent in the bed, or beside the bed, is the ultimate protection from all things scary.

He’s worried

When the activity of the day grinds to a halt, your child’s unoccupied mind begins to sort through the day’s events. Worries enter your child’s thoughts – things that have happened, “Oh, no! Where did I put my red truck?”, and worries about upcoming events, “Did Daddy say we have to go to the doctor’s tomorrow?” Preschoolers worry about bigger things – “Will my dog run away?” “Will our house burn down?” “Will Mommy or Daddy die?” These worries loom large when a child is alone in the quiet and dark. Having a parent nearby is the ultimate protection against scary thoughts.

He’s not sleepy

If you put your child to bed when he’s not tired – or overtired – he won’t willingly stay put. He’s wide awake and would rather be doing anything else than laying in bed, so your company is the only thing that keeps him there.

Luke, 6 months with mo Debbie

Luke, 6 months with mo Debbie

She nurses to sleep

The Sleep in America poll uncovered some very enlightening information about toddlers and sleep. When breastfeeding mothers were asked if their toddler fell asleep nursing, the answer was:

    • 67% Every night/Almost every night
    • 11% A few nights a week
    • 11% About once a week

This means that almost 90 percent of breastfeeding toddlers fall asleep nursing at least once a week and almost 70% do this almost every night! Let me repeat that amazing information for you: Almost 90 percent of breastfeeding toddlers fall asleep nursing.

The sucking-to-sleep association is the most difficult and complex sleep association to change, and so this – obviously! – becomes a key component to your child needing you with her as she falls asleep.

She wants Mommy – and nobody but Mommy will do!

No matter how wonderful and loving that Daddy, your partner, the baby-sitter, or Grandma are, nature and biology take a role in causing your little one to prefer Mommy above everyone and everything else in the world. Especially when it comes to bedtime! And while we may instinctively understand this, it can be a challenge when Mommy is also dealing with younger or older siblings, or when she’s just all Mommied out from a long day of child-tending.

When it comes to bedtime, many mothers have conflicting emotions: they want to be a loving, comforting mother, but they also just want a moment – just one! – to themselves. This conflict can be conveyed to your child through both your conscious and unconscious acts and words. If your loving partner offers to take over the bedtime routine your child inevitable rebels with tears or tantrums, it hurts everyone’s feelings, and complicates the already stressful evening, dragging on an already too-long process.

It’s a routine

We’ve talked a lot about bedtime routines and how critical they are to a peaceful process, and believe it or not, you are demonstrating just how powerful these rituals are. You have a bedtime routine now—and it involves staying with your child until she is asleep. Remember that it takes about a month for a new routine to be formed. Whether you’ve been staying with your child until sleep from the day she was born, or you starting doing it after her sibling was born three months ago, or after your move six weeks ago, you’ve likely been reinforcing this routine – night after night – for a long, long time. It will take patience and a plan to create a new routine.

Vincent, 11 mths with mom Michele

Vincent, 11 mths with mom Michele

What is it that bothers you?

When I interviewed parents about what exactly it is that bothers them about having to stay with their children until they fell asleep the five most common answers were these (and many included a combination of all five):

  • “It takes a long time for her to fall asleep, and I have things I need to do, so I get very antsy about lying there.”
  • “Sometimes I even fall asleep before he does, so I’m in bed too early.”
  • “She gets used to my staying beside her so if she wakes up she wants me back.”
  • “I have a baby and a husband that needs me too, so I feel pulled in all directions.”
  • “At the end of the day I just don’t have the energy to deal with bedtime. I want to just tuck him in and get on with it.”

Before we proceed with the solutions, take some time to figure out what it is that bothers you about having to stay with your child until the sandman arrives. When you can understand your own feelings it will help you choose the correct plan of action to take as you make begin to make changes to your current bedtime practices.


Need more tips? The No-Cry Sleep Solution Enhanced eBook features a video at the end of each of 14 chapters to help you as you work through the book. You’ll have restful nights in no time!

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  1. is this need to have parents in the room til kid falls asleep normal on a 9 year old? my girl shows anxiety at night and we’ve ben told the reason is using a family bed for too long (til she was almost 7 years old). after this long she still has nilght issues, she hates having to sleep and starts to worry about it a couple of hours before bedtime! we feel lost and dont know how to help her!

    • Hi Liz ~ Most likely your daughter is set in her routine and habit and sleeping alone is foreign to her. The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers & Preschoolers has several chapters on this. Check my website for some excerpts. For example – get a bed-side pet, like a turtle, so she’s not so alone. Let her pick out some new bedding and curtains. Get her a CD player and some books on tape to listen to in bed. Hope this helps!

  2. Liz, when I was a child, I didn’t want to sleep alone in my bed, I would beg my mum (single mum) to stay up, sleep on the couch while she was up, in her bed. It was the feelings I had when I was alone, scared of the next day, being without my mum, pretty hard to explain the feeling but it was a sense of uncertainty. Now having kids 2.5 and 7 mth old I see the way they behave when going to sleep and I don’t want them to feel that way too so I too stay with them and comfort them while feeling the exact same feelings listed by other mothers. Does your girl have many friends, enjoy social outings with others besides you? I was 11-12 before I began to lessen my dilemma with needing my mum at bed time

  3. I really appreciate how you encourage moms to work through their feelings about Baby’s sleep and how it really affects them (as opposed to what other people have to say about it). I just read through “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” and feel more confident than I ever have about helping my 6 mo old to sleep better. Thanks for all of the great strategies and encouragement. I am following your blog!