Category — Bedtime
Sometimes small children get very fearful of monsters (although Mike and Sully might have helped with that), things under the bed, dragons, dinosaurs and ‘bad’ guys. The fears all come out at bedtime and just when everyone’s got few energy reserves to call on we need to find ways of reassuring the little darlings so that they’ll GO TO SLEEP so we can have (finally) have some adult time.
These are the years when a child’s powers of imagination are exploding, which means that now she can imagine new and scary things to be afraid of. And because she spends a good portion of her day immersed in fantasy play (in the company of dragons and dinosaurs and bad guys), or listening to stories, it can be hard for her to shut off her imagination at bedtime and go to sleep. Thoughts of monsters can also reflect whatever the child is going through at that age, whether it’s struggles with aggressive feelings, independence, or fears of separation. The cast of characters might include monsters, bad guys, animals, imaginary creatures, or familiar people, places, and events combined in unusual ways.
It’s really important that parents don’t dismiss these fears in our attempts to reassure. When we deny our child’s fears we teach them not to trust their inner experiences and that we don’t take them seriously. They learn not to trust us and we lose an opportunity to connect with them. It is important to talk about the monsters so you can understand what is happening beneath the image and it won’t make it any worse to talk about it. The ideas are already in her head. Perhaps even more than she is letting on. You can’t put them there or make them bigger. By bringing them out into the ‘daylight,’ you help her to manage them.
What to do:
o Establish a peaceful evening routine that includes, for example, a warm bath, maybe a milky drink, a gentle story, a quiet song, and a few minutes of you sitting quietly by his bed while he settles. A night light might help.
o Talk to him about the monsters and his fears away from bedtime if you can. What do they look like? Can you compare them to creatures he doesn’t find scary – Shrek? Sully from Monsters Inc, The Gruffalo? Perhaps you could make a story about them. Where do they live? Do they fall in love and have babies? Can you use fantasy to make them friendly and fun?
Name it to tame it
o If he’s really fearful acknowledge the fear. The more you talk about it the more you normalise their experience.If the adults don’t want to talk about it, it must be really scary. Labelling the emotion makes it manageable. “Are those scary monsters here tonight? That is so mean of them to scare you and keep you up all night. Why don’t you draw a picture of them so that I know what they look like so that I can keep an eye out for them? Now why don’t we draw what you would look like if you could be a scary monster, then we can scare them away!”
o “I can see how frightened it has made you feel. The fact that you’re crying lets me know that it was a really frightening experience for you. Was the monster this big to you or this big to you? Use hands to find out how big it seemed, then say, wow that is big, no wonder you felt as frightened as you did? What else did it make you feel?” Sometimes it can work to then shrink the monster or give him a funny face.
o Use fantasy and maybe humour (without minimising her fears) to deal with those pesky monsters – the magical powers of your love and protection can work wonders. You might be able to make the pretend monsters disappear with a dose of pretend monster spray. Some families work with magic ‘talismans’ that can ‘magic’ away monsters –these can be any object that can be invested with magic properties.
I have found a courage stone to be very useful. Find a nice smooth stone and put it in the child’s hands. Ask them to recall a time when they were brave. Recreate that memory vividly with sounds, visuals and smells. Ask the child to think about how they felt and what they did that was brave. The stone is now invested with the quality of courage. Now whenever the child needs to feel brave he can touch the stone.
o You’re validating her feelings, not necessarily confirming the reality of monsters. You could say something like “even though monsters aren’t real they can feel very real in the middle of the night.” This won’t dismiss her feelings but nor does it suggest that there is actually something for her to be afraid of.
o Can you make a plan for what she can do next time she thinks about monsters at night? Could she call out to them? Could she listen to music or read a book for a few minutes? Brainstorm ways to manage her fear of monsters.
10/10/2013 No Comments
Do you as a parent have the experience of getting your children into bed and then keeping them there throughout the night as a regular waking nightmare! For many parents preventing their children from waking up and disturbing their own sleep or the sleep of siblings can be a huge problem…..when your kids are teens then this ceases to be a problem as they will then struggle to get out of bed. Such is the developmental pattern of behaviour – life is cruel!
Children and parents need their sleep and we also need to have some time to ourselves in the evening if we are to ensure we are not functioning purely as a C.R.U….. a child rearing unit with no time to nurture adult relationships.
Why do parents experience the issue with bed hopping and bedtime battles? The answer often lies with us, as we as parents can often be so inconsistent that inadvertently our children end up training us to reward the behaviour we don’t want e.g. by allowing them into our bed in the middle of the night. There of course may be other practical issues such as needing the toilet; being scared of the dark; finding it hard to settle in the evening and putting themselves to sleep.
The solutions are plentiful:
- Decide with your partner or if a single parent with anyone who is regularly involved with putting the kids to bed, what your values are around bedtime; create rules and ensure there are meaningful rewards and consequences attached
- Establish your evening routine so that it is conducive to the kids winding down; sitting in bed for stories; playing a quiet game after bath; PJ’s and teeth brushing routine. Make the whole routine positive using masses of descriptive praise and no criticising; nagging or shouting. Try not to encourage rough and tumble at this time of day as this can make some children more excitable
- Alternate which parent puts the children to bed, otherwise they become dependent on one parent and start calling the shots!
- Ensure your bedtime rules are as detailed as possible – “Going to bed nicely” is too general. Ask the question what does this look like and make it detailed. Each of these below amounts to a rule around bedtime:
- Have 2 stories
- Do a wee if need to
- Get into your own bed
- Kiss mummy and /or Daddy goodnight
- Say everything you need to say…have your bedtime chat and may need a time limit for this
- Turn out the light and say “ goodnight, see you in the morning”
- Don’t stay in the room till your child falls asleep, or he will not be able to sleep without your presence and inadvertently you have created a dependency.
- If your child is scared, don’t tell her not to be afraid or that she’s too big to be worrying about monsters and the like. Really listen to her feelings and empathise….and try and help her understand what she is feeling. “It can be scary if you wake up in the night and everyone else is asleep. Maybe you feel lonely”. Once our children feel that we are listening and understand they are much more able/willing to listen to solutions.
- A great Health Visitor friend of mine recommends introducing your child to an anchor which they can reach out and use if indeed they are scared of monsters in the dark. Arm them with an empty plastic pump spray bottle armed with imaginary “anti – monster juice” so they can reach out in the middle of the night and zap the monster away.
- Discuss with your children strategies they can use if indeed they wake during the night to help them get back to sleep. Have reward stickers that build up around the head board of the bed or on a sticker chart so she can earn rewards for each stage of the “going to bed” proceedings. Gives her the message she is being successful and is capable
- The sleep fairy is also a lovely idea….she fills during the day a favourite teddy bear with all the sleep needed to ensure the child has the tools to sleep at night. If progress has been made and he only got out of bed twice compared to 6 times the previous night the sleep fairy will visit in the night and leave a small note or token of how happy she is the child is making progress and getting into better bedtime habits. This token can be anything that tickles you child from a special stone; a pretty flower; a piece of lego; a conker? You are the experts in your children and what motivates them but the sleep fairy does not spend any money and uses her creativity and imagination to reward.
- In the early days of training your child into better bed time habits, it is much better to go back into the room and praise them, rather than wait till you are downstairs cooking supper and they call you back or come out of their rooms. We always recommend that in order to create a new habit you have to be there as the trainer. This may mean sitting outside the child’s bedroom reading a paper or book for 20 minutes or so, but it means you are far less resentful then having to leave the kitchen and head back upstairs and have your buttons pressed
- Training into new habits takes time…don’t expect perfection after just a few nights and do praise for any progress made
- Never use bed as a punishment/consequence
- Remember to recharge your own batteries- think of yourself as a chequeing account – once overdrawn it is not easy to be an effective parent.
If you like this blog and want to see more examples of Descriptive Praise for bedtimes, take a look at our Bedtime Battle publication which you can download from the website:
Here’s to sweet dreams and quality sleep.
09/02/2011 No Comments