My toddler refuses to go to sleep without my wife or myself sitting or lying next to his bed.

Background - My son is about 2.5 years old. His birthday is in October. He has been sleeping in a toddler bed for about 3.5 months now. Prior this this past week, he's loved his bed, and loved to sleep in it. He goes to daycare during the day, and has a good nap that ranges anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours in length. His bedtime routine has consistently been:

  1. 7:00pm - Bath time
  2. 7:30pm - Downstairs for Sesame Street and milk
  3. 8:00pm - 8:15pm: Walk upstairs for stories then tucking into bed

After doing some research, and found that TV/blue light can hinder sleep, we've eliminated TV before bed. Instead, we've opted for quiet play in his playroom, puzzles, or reading books from 7:30pm until bed time. He has no toys in his room to play with, and we have a little juke box thing that plays the same lullaby that has been playing since he was born when he sleeps. He has blacked out shades, and there is little to no light in his room. His room is set to a comfortable temperature.

What is happening - When my wife lies him down in his bed, he asks, 'Lay with me' or 'Sit there' [pointing to the floor next to his toddler bed]. When trying to leave his room, he simply gets out of his bed, and cries for one of us to sit there. After reading some articles, we've succumbed to sitting there and when he falls asleep, and leave the room quietly.

Anywhere from 1:00am to 2:30am, he gets out of his bed, walks down the hallway, and asks for one of us. This past week, we've tried the same method where we sit in his room until he falls asleep, and then sneak out when he does so - slowly positioning ourselves closer to the door each time.

Two nights ago, after leaving his room, he would get out of bed anywhere from 5-15 min later. This would go on from about 2:30am until 5:15am every night.

In the morning, we ask him about his night, and every morning he says:

"I'm sad for you."

This makes me believe that he is having some sort of separation anxiety. I've read posts on here about trying to explain to them about big boy beds, but he just doesn't care. He repeats, "I'm (or I was) sad for you." Rationalizing with a 2.5 year old never really worked for us/him.

What we've tried -

  1. Sitting in his room while he falls asleep. Each night scooting closer and closer to the door. RESULT: He wakes up sooner, sees that we are not there, and walks down the hall again.
  2. At the middle of the night wake up, sleep in his room. RESULT: He sleeps through the rest of the night without getting out of bed because he sees us sleeping next to him on the floor. We've only done this one night, and I feel like we've failed. I do not want to co-sleep. I feel like this method will just put so much pressure between my wife and I. We share our bed and prefer to sleep together. I read somewhere that sleeping next to him could build back the trust that was lost with us sneaking out. So, temporarily, we will spend the next night or two going through this routine.
  3. Keeping the door closed, and preventing him from getting out of his room. RESULT: This went over horribly. I won't go into details, but this does not seem like a feasible option for us at this point.

So it seems like we have two issues:

1. Getting our toddler to fall asleep at bed time without one of us sitting next to his bed.

2. Preventing my toddler from getting out of his bed in the middle of the night asking for us, and keeping him in there for the remainder of the night.

Any input would be greatly appreciated.

  • Was he having trouble sleeping with your previous schedule? If not, you could consider giving him the half hour of television again. Television and blue light can hinder sleep, but that effect is mostly when it is on, not an hour afterwards.
    – Warren Dew
    Aug 6, 2016 at 3:34
  • So did the "phase" ever pass? My 2 year old is doing all the exact same things: staying up past 8, needing me by his side to fall asleep, waking up around midnight and 3am.
    – Lgm
    May 18, 2017 at 2:03
  • Can you update/share what happened in the end? Having similar issues and would love to know what worked for your family. Thanks!
    – user31926
    Apr 5, 2018 at 19:22
  • this can be diagnozable as separation anxiety and can hint at deeper problems. Jul 4, 2018 at 15:34

5 Answers 5


I think the simple answer is: "This too shall pass." You need to stay with him until he's comfortable not having you with him.

He obviously has anxiety around sleeping by himself in his bed. The best (only?) way to allay that anxiety is to have one of his parents there with him. Much as it might not be ideal for you, I think the best thing for him is to know that you're willing to be with him whenever he needs you.

Right now he needs comfort and reassurance in a new situation, and needs to know that you will always be there for him when he needs you.

I would suggest that you continue your current routine with a couple of small modifications:

  • When putting him to bed, let him know that you will stay with him until he falls asleep, and then you will go to your own bed (or go about your own business). Reassure him that you will always be nearby, and that if he wakes up he can come and find you. I would say that instead of trying to be further from him every night, stay as close as you can. Hold his hand, stroke his head, or rub his back, to help him feel as safe and calm as possible.

  • If he wakes during the night, go and lie down with him until he falls asleep again (or just sleep next to him). With my own kids (who have full-size beds) I just lie down with them in their bed and fall asleep. When I wake up (sometimes a couple of hours later), I go back to my own bed. In this situation, especially if his anxiety is heightened, physical contact can again be helpful, even if you just reach up and put your hand on his leg while you sleep.

Eventually (it could take a long time), he will become comfortable with his bed and his room, and won't always need you there in order to fall asleep. It could take a while, but I think it's probably the best way to handle the situation, for your son's emotional well-being.

It might still take some "weaning" to get him to sleep by himself, which it sounds like you've been trying. But I wouldn't start the weaning process until he's much more comfortable with his room and his bed. You should be able to tell when his anxiety levels are lower, and he wants you more out of habit or convenience than because of anxiety and security.

  • I really appreciate your response. The realm of a troubled sleeper is a very new thing for us. I know we were lucky to have such a good sleeper prior to our recent events.
    – etm124
    Jul 26, 2016 at 18:40
  • 1
    @etm124 Hopefully my comments can be of help. I'm no expert; just another parent muddling through things hoping to not screw up my kids too badly. Jul 26, 2016 at 18:42

I had this issue (still sometimes do) with my littlest son. What worked for us was a little stuffed animal that he picked out. The stuffy substituted for Mom and Dad when he woke up at night. We still sat in his room for a bit until he fell asleep, but we gave him instructions to talk it over with his stuffy before coming to get us at night. We also used asked him what he thought he might do to comfort his stuffy if his stuffy woke up at night.

This worked well when he was 3-4ish, but your son is probably still a bit too young to really verbalize his anxieties. Still having a stuffed animal or special blanket or other type of charm to substitute for comfort might help him.

  • Yeah, at 2.5, it's a bit tough to rationalize with him to talk to a stuffed animal, or work out his fears in his head. I appreciate the response though. He turns 3 in October, hopefully we have it worked out by then!
    – etm124
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:50

For issue number 1:

What works best for us is the 'I will be right back' method. We do the following:

  • Put them to bed and sing a song
  • Tell them: I will sit here 5 min, then I will leave. Close your eyes and sleep.
  • After 5 min get up and say: I will be right back, just close your eyes and sleep.
  • Then come back after 30 sec to 1 min (the importance here is TRUST that the parents are not 'gone'). Sit down for 5 min
  • If they are still awake: I will be back in 2/3/5 min
  • Wait, and then go back, sit down and repeat.

Eventually, we increase the amount time between us coming back, and in the end you don't have to come back any more.

I works about 80% for us. Some days we have to sit until they sleep. Some days (few) we have to be back still, and some days we can just say 'I'm leaving in 5 min', and they will fall asleep on their own.

As for problem number 2, we have made the decision that the kids climbing into our bed is OK, so I can't help you there.

Our kids are 3 & 5. Our oldest had a very hard time sleeping when his brother was born (when he was 2-3). Our 3 year has a hard time too with no baby, so part of it is age related. Our 5 year falls asleep very easily (started at 4.5), and rarely asks us to stay.

He also has some nights he sleep the whole night in his own bed (more recently).

  • Thanks for the response. At one point we tried the technique where we would say we would be back after x minutes, but he would just follow us out of the room. Apart from physically restraining him, he would just pop out if we told him were were going to leave.
    – etm124
    Jul 27, 2016 at 15:49
  • @etm124 What worked for us was to initially make the return time VERY close, less than a minute. This didn't give him time to get out of bed and open the door (we have round doorknobs, and for our 3 year old it takes him a minute to open them). If he continues to follow us out, we would firmly tell him to get back to bed. and then start over... it is not easy
    – Ida
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:27

We went through this with our 2-year-old kid. I took baby steps toward our goal. For example, night 1 I was sitting in a chair beside his bed until he fell asleep, night 5 I was halfway to the door and his bed, night 10 I was sitting in a chair outside the door until he fell asleep. Soon I was able to leave the room at nights with him awake after just 5 minutes of back tickling to make him drowsy and he was good. We gave him a tag blanket for comfort.

As for the waking up at night, I let my kid cry for 5 minutes, then I would tuck them back into bed and leave, next time he got up, I would wait 10 minutes, etc. I did this until the max of 20 minutes of crying out and stayed at 20 minutes each time until he finally stayed in bed. Be aware he won't let you tuck him back in bed the first few nights right away but after about 20 minutes he should. We installed a baby gate at his doorway so that way he couldn't run out of his room but could still yell for us - I definitely didn't want to shut his door and make him feel more separated.

It's really trial and error - you'll have to find what works best for you child's personality. Just try to be as consistent as you can.

  • Thanks for the input. At what age did your kid go through this?
    – etm124
    Jul 27, 2016 at 18:17
  • 2 years old....
    – Kyjere
    Jul 27, 2016 at 18:18

We had the same situation with my son once he hit the "2 yrs old" age (3 months ago). Before that he was Ok with sleeping in his bed with nobody beside him. Now, he always wants me to sit next to him. I did some research (and I'm not an expert), and found out that around this age, their emotions get more mature and complicated. Also, they can be afraid from dark, noise , etc. They need support and assurance. We've decided to provide comforting and take it easy with him. At bedtime, I ask him if he prefers to sleep in my arms or in his bed (and that wasn't an option before). Generally speaking, he's been calmer and more emotionally stable. I still sit next to him but I'm expecting him to accept me leaving at some point soon.

Again, I'm not an expert, I'm a mom going through a similar situation.

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