Tips for Battling Sleep Issues with Your Child: Part 2
Fears of the dark… fear of intruders… panic when left alone in their rooms… When children are experiencing anxiety around bedtime, it can cause a lot of stress in the home. When a child is waking frequently at night, many parents resort to co-sleeping (in either their own bed or the child’s bed) to ensure decent sleep for everyone. This set up works for some families, but for others, there is a desire to have everyone return to sleeping in their own beds. Unfortunately, while it may have taken one or two nights of co-sleeping to start this routine, it typically takes much longer to have an anxious child successfully return to sleeping alone in his or her own bed.
A graduated plan is recommended for helping a child work towards sleeping on her own. For instance, if you are sleeping in your child’s bed, then the plan would include having you slowly move out of the room. First steps may include having you sleep on a mattress on the floor beside your child’s bed and then slowly moving the mattress closer to the door and then out of the room. Another option is to just have you sitting near the bed (and then gradually moving the chair further away) while your child falls asleep. When your child wakes in the night, it is tempting to return to co-sleeping. However, it is important to go back to that same spot (on the floor or on the chair) each time while they fall asleep again.
Changing nighttime sleep patterns can be challenging for you and for your child. Also, the fears with nighttime and sleeping alone are very real and very distressing for your child. Helping your child cope with her fears requires patience, understanding, and also strength to not give in to the anxiety yourself. Your child will be better prepared if she is learning skills to cope with anxiety in the daytime, such as relaxation strategies, distraction, talking back to anxiety, and coping statements. Also, it is helpful for your child to have a good understanding of how anxiety affects her thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and physical reactions/sensations in her body.
Parents may find that with a few changes, improvement is quickly seen. However, many other parents find it helpful for their family to work with a therapist on bedtime issues and anxiety management.
A recommended resource is: What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep, by Dawn Huebner (this book is meant for children and parents to review and practice the coping strategies and suggestions together).