Dear Nighttime Disaster

A recent contact from a tired, but committed mom prompted this post. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Parent Coach 🙂

My daughter will be 6 in November. She is terrified to sleep in her room. This has been going on for about 3 years. She would crawl in bed with us every single night and stills does. I try to put her back in her bed but she continues to do so several times until I finally give up or if she does go back to her bed she usually wakes up very crabby! We even painted and decorated her entire room to be more “girly”. We took all the toys out so she wouldn’t be scared of them. I replaced a more softer glow night light. And still she refuses. She says she hates her bed. I can’t keep having her wake up every night especially when school starts again. We have tried EVERYTHING!

Oh momma, I do understand!

I used to envy people who had “good” sleepers. You know the kids who magically fall into a perfect sleep pattern and require very little effort on the part of the parents. But rather than turning green, I decided to tackle the problem of sleepless toddlers head on. Like you, I tried many things, without any consistent success, but as I sit here typing, at 9:45pm with both my youngest kids sleeping soundly in bed, please know there is hope.

First, take some comfort in knowing that even at six years old, your sweet baby sees your bed as the safest place on earth. That means you are doing something right. There are some things I would avoid. I have heard of people simply locking the door. I couldn’t handle cry it out when my kids were babies and I doubt I’d be able to when they were toddlers, so I would avoid that. I’d also steer clear of punishment. Behavior is always about teaching you something about what your child feels. Punishing for communication is a bad precedent to set.

Next, without a medical issue, in my experience waking at night is about one of two things. Either your daughter is avoiding something in her room or longing for something in yours. Seeing that you have addressed possible “scary” things in the room, that most likely eliminates number one. Other things to think about are scary dreams, noisy sheets, and just the distance feature that kids don’t like.

The longing for part can be harder to address. So often we feel like kids get plenty of time and attention during the day, but kids who wake several times during the night could very easily just be wanting extra time with you. Can you create a special nightly routine, for just the two of you? During the school year, our routine includes a nightly shower, a little quiet time, a story or devotion, a 10-1 countdown, prayers, hugs and kisses. The whole thing takes about 30 minutes, but by the end, we’re all yawning and the sleepy switch has been flipped. If you have a routine that you think is working try adding a little one on one time during the day, so you know her attention bucket it full.

Other tips that can work:

Make sure everything is ok: There are medical conditions that can cause kids to wake in the night that they may not be able to verbalize to you. Lauryn had both obstructive sleep apnea due to extremely large tonsils and reflux. The combination woke her up a couple times a night and it wasn’t until the doctor asked the right questions that we were able to figure it out.

Positive reinforcement: Some people will call this bribery, but who cares! Create a chart and reward her for staying in her bed a certain number of nights. Doesn’t have to be anything big, maybe she gets to stay up 15 minutes later than usual.

Wear her out: It is possible that she may not be sleepy enough to fall asleep quickly, which can make it more likely she will get up. A little physical activity like a few brief yoga poses can help get the body physically ready to sleep.

Give her a place to crash: This one comes courtesy of my pediatrician. She advised us to make a little blanket spot in the bedroom floor where Lauryn could crash if she awoke in the night and did not want to go back to bed. By eliminating the bed option, it is designed to give the child a choice of being near you if need be. As time goes on you can move the blanket further from your bed or room and hopefully get them to stay in bed all night.

Hope this helps.

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