As parents, we can all relate to the exhaustion that sets in by the time our children’s bedtime arrives. Bedtime struggles and nighttime wake-ups are common challenges faced by many families, leaving everyone in the household deprived of much-needed sleep. To break this cycle, it’s crucial to delve into the reasons behind these difficulties and find effective solutions.
Children often resist bedtime because they do not want to separate from their parents. However, to ensure optimal sleep for everyone, children need to feel secure enough to embrace this separation. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Becky Kennedy, a Clinical Psychologist and Parenting Consultant, who shed light on the underlying issues.
Dr. Becky states, “Through their evolutionary attachment system, children perceive changes as a threat; until changes are explained and an environment is deemed to be safe, children seek proximity to their parents. Sleep is the ultimate separation, as children are tasked with being alone for 10-12 hours in the dark. Sleep struggles are separation struggles; a child must be able to access a feeling of calm for distance to feel safe.”
Have you ever experienced that feeling of being physically exhausted but unable to quiet your mind when you lay down to sleep? Children go through a similar experience at night, with their fears and separation anxieties intensifying. Dr. Becky shares effective strategies, focusing on addressing feelings during the day and implementing techniques at night to ease worries and fears, ultimately making bedtime more enjoyable for everyone.
Dr. Becky’s Strategies for Day and Night:
- Create a few comforting mantras to repeat throughout the day and during bedtime routines to instill a sense of security.
- Examples: “Logan is safe, Mommy is near, My bed is cozy.”
Hot Cocoa Breaths:
- Practice long exhales through “Hot Cocoa Breaths” during the day to build an association between deep breaths and separation.
- Visualize holding a cup of hot cocoa, inhale slowly through the nose, and exhale very slowly through the mouth, cooling off the imaginary cocoa.
- Use this technique during bedtime routine to ease the transition.
- Act out bedtime struggles through pretend play using stuffed animals, trucks, or dolls.
- Incorporate mantras and hot cocoa breaths into the play to reinforce positive associations.
Create a Reassuring Story:
- Develop a nightly story explaining where you go after leaving your child’s room, reinforcing a sense of routine and safety.
- Place a picture of yourself next to your child’s bed and vice versa.
- Reinforce the idea that you are always nearby and can be seen in pictures when needed for comfort.
Bedtime Routine Chart:
- Create a visual bedtime routine chart with pictures of each step to provide a sense of predictability.
- Establish a step-by-step, predictable routine lasting 20-30 minutes each night.
- Keep the routine enjoyable while setting clear expectations around sleep.
- Respond to protests with understanding and reassurance.
- Acknowledge nighttime challenges and express commitment to ensuring safety.
- Incorporate a gentle massage before bedtime to promote relaxation.
- Assure your child that you’ll leave a picture or note on their nightstand for comfort during the night.
In conclusion, understanding and addressing child separation struggles at bedtime and through the night require a thoughtful combination of daytime emotional support, nighttime routines, and calming techniques like Hot Cocoa Breaths. By implementing these strategies, parents can create a secure and comforting environment, fostering healthy sleep habits for both children and parents.