Wants to Sleep with Parents – School-Aged Children

While people know that babies and toddlers often want to sleep in their parents’ bed, they may not realize that this desire can also occur in school age children. Children aged six to twelve may refuse to sleep in their own rooms for a variety of reasons. Knowing WHY a child wants to sleep with his or her parents can help guide appropriate interventions.

If your child insists on sleeping in YOUR bed, consider the following:

Fears and Anxiety
Many children have anxiety and fears that cause them to seek parental comfort in the night. For instance, a child may be afraid of the dark (ghosts, monsters and other unnamed demons). Or, a child may be afraid of robbers or other night-time invaders. Some children have had a traumatic experience that leaves them feeling afraid and vulnerable. Some children have separation anxiety – a type of anxiety whose main feature is fear of being separated from caregivers or significant others. Some children have an anxiety disorder that causes them to feel high degrees of anxiety for no particular reason. Many types of anxiety become more intense when a person is alone and they also worsen when a person is in the dark and when the person is unoccupied – all of the conditions that occur when a person is in bed at night!

If fearfulness or anxiety seems to be the culprit, you can try “self-help” techniques with your child first. For instance, you can give your child Bach Flower Remedies that address the particular type of fear.These harmless, water-based preparations are added to a bit of water, milk, chocolate milk, tea, juice or other liquid 4 times a day until the fear has disappeared. Mimulus helps specific fears like fears of robbers and also separation anxiety. Aspen addresses vague fears such as fears of the dark. Rescue Remedy addresses fears that come from a traumatic incident as well as overwhelming terror of being alone in one’s room, Rock Rose may help panic that seems to be occurring for no known reason. Bach Flower Remedies are available in health food stores. Instructions for their preparation are available on this site (see article called Bach Flower Remedies).

There are also practical, behavioral interventions that can be used. For example, allowing a frightened child to sleep with the light is a method that may help. Eventually the child will learn to sleep with the lights off. Unless the child has a sleeping disorder, there is no need to be concerned about the short-term use of this strategy. Similarly, the door of the room can remain opened. Also it’s fine to put on some relaxing (and distracting!) music or white noise or even a CD with relaxation strategies.

Another technique that works very well on fears is EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique. This is a short sequence of acupressure that involves tapping on one’s own body at 8 different points. There are numerous online video clips demonstrating the technique for both adults and children. There are also many books on the subject. and lots of mental health professionals who use EFT in their practice, both as a treatment modality and an educational tool.

Meditation, breathing, visualization and many other easy and powerful self-help techniques are available for the self-help reduction of anxious feelings. Look for a mental health professional who can teach both you and your child how to use these strategies. Meanwhile, be sure to respond to your child’s fears compassionately. Use Emotional Coaching (the naming and accepting of feelings) to knowledge and welcome anxious feelings; stay away from mockery, criticism, lectures and reprimands. Not only will these do absolutely nothing to remove the fear, but they will harm the child and your parent-child relationship. On the other hand, compassion and acceptance can soften the fear and help it shift, while building and strengthening the parent-child bond.

If your own efforts to help reduce your child’s fear or anxiety level don’t work, take your child to a child psychologist. A mental health professional will be able to help your child manage fears effectively.

Adjusting to Change
Sometimes children react to change by seeking the comfort of their parent’s bed. When parents have separated or divorced or when one parent has passed away, for instance, many children “move into” their parent’s bedroom. If the family has moved to a new location, this is even more common. Instead of settling into his or her own new room, the child wants to sleep with the parent.

The problem of allowing the child into the single parent’s bed is that the child may be in no rush to leave that bed. In fact, the parent may also be finding comfort in the child’s presence after separation, divorce or death of a spouse. However, the parent often heals with time and develops a new relationship. Eventually the parent will want his or her new partner in that bed and will have to ask the child to remain in his or her own room. Trying to make the change at this juncture can cause the child to deeply resent the new partner.

When the child is having trouble with change, you can use the Bach Flower Remedy called Walnut which helps people adjust to new circumstances more easily. You can also bring comfort tools into the child’s new room – items such as large stuffed animals, CD player for bedtime sleep programs, healing crystals, special blankets or special toys. Be patient; it can take time for the child to make the necessary internal changes.

If these methods aren’t enough to allow the child to feel comfortable in his or her own room after a period of months, however, then seek professional help. This can often bring about the desired change.

Seeking Attention
Sometimes children want more parental contact. This can happen when parents have long working hours or travel a lot or are otherwise physically or emotionally unavailable for the child a lot of the time. It can also happen just because a child is particularly needy of parental attention – this is an inborn characteristic.

If you suspect that your absence is the reason your child wants to be in your bed, see if there is a way to give a few more minutes of quality time each day to your child. If you can’t be there in person, perhaps you can have other types of contact (email, skype or chatting/texting). Or, perhaps you can have more intense quality time when settling the child to bed. Maybe you can make a special time on the weekend to have more intense contact. Sleeping with the child is not healthy for the child’s development and therefore it is NOT a good idea to try to make up for inadequate parenting time by having the child in your bed.

If you suspect that the child is simply needy, consider offering the Bach Flower Remedy called Heather. If the child is both needy and manipulative, try Chicory. Alternatively, speak to a Bach Flower Practitioner for assessment and preparation of an appropriate mixture of remedies to help reduce neediness.

Strong Willed
Sometimes your child just WANTS to sleep in your bed. Firm and consistent rules can be helpful with this kind of youngster. Be careful not to give in to tantrums, whining, pleading or other dramatic behaviors. Make a simple rule: “No sleeping in our room. You have to sleep in your room.” Then stick to it. Use the 2X-Rule of discipline if the child comes to your room after his or her bedtime (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for detailed instructions on how to use the 2X-Rule and choose negative consequences). Repeat your rule and add a warning the second time the child shows up in your room: “We told you before – no sleeping in our room; you have to sleep in your room. From now on, when you come into our room, such & such consequence will occur.” Apply the consequence if the child shows up in your room a third time.

In addition to (or sometimes even instead of) discipline, you might consider experimenting with the Bach Flower Remedy called Vine This remedy can help reduce stubborn and strong-willed inborn tendencies, helping the child to retain his leadership qualities while becoming more flexible and cooperative with others.

Night Terrors

Does your child wake up screaming during the night? Sometimes nighttime screams are triggered by a nightmare, but sometimes they happen for no apparent reason. If your child is waking in fear or hysteria, always talk to your pediatrician. Allergies, health conditions, trauma and other issues may trigger nightmares. It is also possible that the child is suffering from Night Terror Disorder. We’ll look at this latter condition in more detail in this article.

What is Night Terror Disorder?
Night Terror Disorder may be diagnosed when a youngster awakens from sleep with a loud scream, intense fear, rapid breathing and sweating – without any recollection of a dream. The child will seem confused as to where he is, what time it is and what is happening in the present moment. The child usually has no memory of the frightening dream. He is unresponsive to attempts to comfort him, although he may “return to himself” a few minutes later.

Children experiencing Night Terror Disorder may get out of bed and act as if they are fighting. During an episode of night terror, children are not fully awake and it may not be possible to awake them. The average bout of night terror usually last less than fifteen minutes. People with night terrors usually only have one episode a  week.

Night terrors are much more common during childhood than in adulthood. Night terrors usually begin sometime during the age of 4-12 and most often disappear sometime during adolescence. This disorder is more common in boys than it is in girls and is not associated with any psychological disorders in children.

Treatment of Night Terrors
As long as sleep terror is not interfering with the child’s life then there may be no need for medical treatment – your doctor will advise you. Simply waiting quietly with the child for the terror to pass is usually the best intervention. For instance, a parent can lie down beside the child until the child is calm again and falls back to sleep. Although parents may feel distress seeing their child so distressed, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the child will actually have no recall of the event the next morning! Sometimes just giving the child a few days of extra rest (early bedtimes) and a calming routine is enough to end a cycle of Sleep Terrors. However, if sleep terror disorder persists and is interfering with the child’s life there are some steps that are suggested for parents to take such as: rearranging bedroom furniture to avoid injuries, taking the child for some for of psychotherapy or play therapy and, if so inclined, looking into alternative treatments that may be helpful. For instance, some children have responded well to acupuncture in the treatment of their Night Terrors.

Experiment with Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless treatment that might be helpful. For instance, during an episode of Night Terror, spray Rescue Remedy into the child’s mouth or drop liquid Rescue Remedy onto his or wrists – it might help calm the child down. Also, see if giving the child a personal Bach mixture might help reduce the frequency of the episodes – if it has no effect, there is no loss apart from a small cost of the remedies. The remedies Agrimony, Cherry Plum, Impatiens and Rock Rose might be especially helpful.

Medical Treatment
It is possible that certain breathing disorders may contribute to the development of Sleep Disorder and these should be ruled out by a medical practitioner. When such a disorder is present, treating the breathing disorder will relieve the night terrors. In particularly severe cases of Sleep Disorder, medication may be employed. A common medication for example is diazepam – a sleep-inducing medication that can sometimes prevent sleep terror from occurring during sleep.

Afraid of Monsters

Boogeyman under the bed, one-eyed balls of fur in the closet, you name it – children have vivid imaginations. This allows them to be endlessly creative and, unfortunately, to conjure up endless varieties of frightening images. Imagination, combined with a child’s actual experience of real helplessness against forces much larger than himself, often finds expression in the common childhood fear of “monsters.” Far from being “cute,” this fear can prevent kids from getting a good night sleep. It often leaves them afraid to be alone in their own rooms, fearing shadows, cabinets, closets and that ominous space under the bed.

If your child is afraid of monsters, consider the following tips:

Accept the Feeling of Fear
Fear of monsters may seem silly to adults, but it is a serious matter for young children. Avoid shaming the child or discounting his feelings, even as a form of encouragement (i.e “don’t be silly!”). Instead, acknowledge that the child is afraid by saying something like “I know you’re afraid.” This simple comment can accomplish many things: it conveys understanding (which, in itself, is therapeutic for the child), it helps strengthen the parent-child bond (because the child feels “seen” by the parent), and it helps shrink the fear (because naming the feeling gives it a “box” to fit in, rather than leaving it larger than life). The simple naming of a feeling without negative judgment helps the child to accept and release his own feelings which, over time, helps him to calm himself down more easily. The naming of a feeling is called “Emotional Coaching” and it helps build the child’s emotional intelligence (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for more information about this technique.)

Teach Courage in the Face of Fear
After you’ve named the child’s fear, you can provide problem-solving tools and you can still enforce your normal household rules. You might say something like this: “I know you’re afraid of monsters. You can keep the little night light on and sleep with your bear. You need to go to sleep now.” As we have already mentioned, there is no need to discount the child’s fear (i.e. by saying things like “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”)  You can acknowledge the fear and still insist that the child sleep in his or her own room.

Positive Stories can Help
Use stories to help empower children. Kids who are afraid of monsters are usually toddlers and preschoolers; the older a child gets, the less believable monsters are. Younger kids are not likely to believe a parent’s direct reassurance that monsters don’t exist. After all, how would parents know? Maybe they just haven’t seen one. Because of this, indirect methods of communicating are best. Library books with stories of kids who “conquer” monsters can provide relief and an indirect invitation to be courageous in the face of “boogeymen.” In addition, making up stories of children who overcome all sorts of challenges, can help kids feel less helpless and more competent. This helps reduce the insecurity that leads to fears of monsters. Parents might take their child’s name, add a title, and make up adventures. For instance, here is a story that one Mom made up for her son Kevin:

“There was once a little boy named “Kevin-the-Brave.” Kevin-the-Brave took his friends to explore the deep jungles of Africa. He was paddling his boat up the river when he saw a big crocodile up ahead. ‘Quick,’ called Kevin-the-Brave to his friends, ‘throw me a rope! I have to swing it over that branch and pull our boat away from the crocodile. Someone handed Kevin the rope; he threw it high and it landed on a nearby tree. Quickly he tugged on it to pull the boat sharply out of the crocodile’s path and they were saved.”

The story continues with adventure after adventure, with little Kevin  always saving the day. These kinds of stories have a tremendously empowering effect on kids, sending messages of courage and strength deep into their little minds. Try it and observe the results!

Use Positive Imagination to Elicit Safety & Comfort
You can encourage positive imagination through comfort objects. Young children can find a little extra comfort in stuffed animals and dolls – especially kids with good imaginations. Imagination, after all, can produce different kinds of images; negative images like scary monsters and protective images like magic bears. Encourage your imaginative child to generate helpful, happy ideas. The more the child does this, the stronger the positive mental habit becomes. Instead of saying, “See, there are no monsters,” you can guide the child to positive thinking by saying, “Here is your friend the Bear to cuddle with. The two of you can sleep together. The bear will keep you company and scare the monsters away.” If possible, get one or two smiley, happy-looking dolls or stuffed toys for the child’s room and put up positive images on the walls (bright, happy-looking pictures). Keep the atmosphere safe and friendly looking. To keep your young child’s mind focused in brighter places, consider playing some sweet lullaby music as he or she drifts off to sleep. Music can calm the anxious mind and distract the child from his or her worry-habit.

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse –  try not to solve the problem by letting your child sleep in your room in order to escape the monsters in his room! Moreover, be careful not to show significant interest in the fear; keep your interventions brief and low-key. In this way, you will not accidentally reinforce the fear by giving it excessive attention. Simply attend to the child in a calm, brief, matter-of-fact way. “I know you’re afraid. You can keep the night light on. Remember to use your calming techniques. I’ll be downstairs with Dad.”

Provide Protective Presence
If you have the time, it’s fine to stay with your young child for 10 or 15 minutes IN HIS OR HER OWN ROOM until he or she drifts off to sleep. Surviving the experience of being in his or her own room is an important aspect of healing the fear. However, being supported emotionally in the room is fine – the child doesn’t have to go it alone in order to get better. Young children feel most secure (and least bothered by monsters) when their parents or other loved ones stay with them during the transition to sleep. Most kids outgrow the need and desire for this practice once they are school age. Let kids share a room: kids tend to have less monster fears when sharing a room with a sibling. Keep in mind that the fear of monsters is time-limited and you can change sleeping arrangements later on.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. Of the 38 Bach Remedies, several are excellent for different types of fear. For instance, Aspen is for vague fears like fear of the dark, fear of ghosts or fear of monsters. The remedy Rock Rose is for panic. If a child loses control due to intense fear, Cherry Plum will return stability. If the child becomes stubborn, absolutely refusing to sleep in his room for example, Vine can help him become more cooperative. Bach Flowers are sold in health food stores around the world. You can mix several together in one treatment bottle. Fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold wherever Bach Remedies are sold) with water. Add two drops of each remedy. Add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use: place 4 drops in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, soup, etc.) and give it to your child 4 times each day: morning, midday, afternoon and evening. Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue until the fear has dissipated. Treat again if the fear returns. Continue in this way, treating the fear when it is present and stopping treatment when it is not present, until it is simply gone. In this way, a child can become more secure over time and possibly less prone to anxious feelings in the future.

Seek Professional Intervention
If you find that your child is still intensely fearful of monsters even after you have provided self-soothing techniques, do consider accessing professional help. A child-psychologist may be able to treat your child’s fear in a few brief sessions.

Nightmares

Everyone dreams. Most people probably remember having at least one nightmare – a very frightening dream. There are some people who are bothered by regular nightmares, so much so that they don’t want to go to sleep. This can happen to children as well as to adults. After experiencing a traumatic event, people can have nightmares virtually nightly, until the trauma is resolved. Whether it’s once in a blue moon or a regular occurrence, a child’s nightmare always requires parental attention.

If your child has had nightmares, consider the following tips:

Some Kids are Sensitive to Images
Some kids are particularly vulnerable to scary images they see in books, movies and on T.V.. They can also create their own frightening images based on what they hear in snippets of conversations around them.  It isn’t possible to always shelter kids from unpleasant images, but parents can certainly respect the child’s vulnerability and try to limit frightening stimulation – for example, there is no need to insist that a child confront a disturbing image that is only recreational in nature (i.e a violent movie). If a child has come across a disturbing image, parents can help the child to talk about it, both accepting the child’s fear and also explaining the pretend-nature of the picture. For children whose vivid imaginations and sensitivity often lead to nightmares, parents can try offering the Bach Flower Remedy called Walnut – a harmless, water-based form of vibrational medicine available at health food stores everywhere. Give two drops in liquid (water, juice, milk, etc.) four times a day until the nightmares stop. Or, for nightmares about ghosts and other vague, scary fantasies, try the Bach Remedy called Aspen. The remedy Mimulus can help with nightmares about more specific fears, such as people dying or scary events like being robbed or chased. A Bach Flower practitioner can help further. You may also find more information about Bach Flower Remedies on this site.

Nightmares can be Triggered by Food Sensitivities
If there is no other apparent reason for the nightmares, you might consider the possibility of food sensitivities. Sometimes such sensitivities can chemical processes that can cause nightmares. Any food can cause problems, so you might need a systematic approach to food elimination in order to find out if there is a sensitivity. Naturopaths and self-help books can help with the process, or you might be able to find a medical specialist who tests for sensitivities (not allergies).

Consider Stress or Traumatic Events
If your child has experienced a stressful event or situation lately (i.e. medical or dental procedures, moving, a mean teacher, examinations, and so on), or even a traumatic experience (car accident, robbery, bullying, assault, family violence), then it’s possible that the nightmare is a sign that he or she is having difficulty coping with the situation. If a child who recently experienced the death of a loved one, for example, gets recurring nightmares, it’s possible that there are feelings he or she can’t identify or express. The child may also have experienced some sort of traumatic or overwhelming experience that you aren’t aware of – at school, at a place of worship, at an extracurricular activity, while volunteering or babysitting or even in your own home with his or her siblings or other relatives.  If you KNOW that something stressful has happened, be sure to talk to your child, naming the feelings that YOU would have if you were dealing with that situation. Help the child to express his or her feelings by using Emotional Coaching  (learn how to use this technique in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe). Unremitting nightmares should always best checked out by a child psychologist.

Medicines, Substances and Illness
Certain health conditions can trigger nightmares, as can mind-altering substances and even over-the-counter medications. Withdrawal from substances can also trigger nightmares. If your child has been unwell or on medication and is having unusual nightmares, speak to the pediatrician.

Ways to Help Your Child
Accept your child’s fear and anxiety. Saying things like, “It’s not real. Go back to sleep,” doesn’t do anything to comfort a child and may even make them feel ashamed simply for having a normal reaction. Remember: to a young child, a dream can be so vivid, it feels like it actually happened. Go slowly and gently, taking time to calm and soothe your child to help orient him back to reality. Give a hug or a kiss or rub his or her back. Get him or her a glass of water or even a cracker to munch on, as eating and drinking are “grounding” activities that bring a child back into his body and away from the fantasy in his head. Putting a few drops of Rescue Remedy in the water can be particularly helpful, or even dropping them on a child’s wrists will work (Rescue Remedy is available in health food stores and is a harmless Bach Flower Remedy that quickly turns off adrenaline and restores emotional balance in cases where the fight-or-flight response has been activated.)

After a bad dream, separation anxiety may re-surface. Kids may demand that you stay with them as they go back to sleep, or they might insist on following you back to your room. They may also put up a big fuss when you attempt to leave their presence. Remember that these responses to terrifying dreams are all normal. Because your child is feeling fearful and maybe even disoriented and confused, make the exception if possible, and indulge his or her need for physical presence.

Nightmares are ultimately fantasy, so fantasy is an excellent way to deal with them. If your child’s nightmare did not have a happy ending, perhaps you can continue the story together — with your child emerging triumphant against the object of his or her fear. For instance, if the nightmare is about being attacked by monsters, a child can be encouraged to pretend that he or she is a “monster exterminator.” The child can role-play assertively warning the monster that he’s toast, and capturing the monster with special weapons. Although this may seem silly, this very strategy is used very successfully to help victims of trauma to deal with their terrifying nightmares.

Help Your Child Cope with the Aftereffects of a Nightmare
Sometimes the fear isn’t just an aftershock to a nightmare. It’s also possible that a nightmare creates worry that tragedy will happen in real life. For example, dreaming that a loved one died can create fear in a child that the loved one will indeed pass away. Gently but firmly explain to your child that just because something happened in a dream doesn’t mean it will happen in real life. At the same time, acknowledge your child’s fear. For instance, you can say something like, “I understand that you’re worried that Grandpa will die because he died in your dream. That must make you feel very sad.” When you name the child’s feeling, the feeling will intensify (often to the point of tears) and then disappear. In this example, the child might cry when the parent acknowledges the sad thought and then the child might say, “Anyway, it was just a dream. I know Grandpa is fine.” Allowing a person to feel his feelings is a fast way of helping that person to clear the negative feelings out of his system.

Help Your Child Prevent Nightmares
If a nightmare has really made a child feel helpless and victimized, you can teach him ways on how to manipulate images in a dream. While controlling one’s dreams takes practice to learn to do, the steps are child-friendly. Just encourage kids to visualize their desired dream content when they get to bed (“think of something nice that you’d like to dream about”), and remind themselves that they are just dreaming when faced with bad dream content. They can wake themselves up and change their focus to a positive storyline as they fall asleep again.

In addition, using effective stress management techniques before bed can help alleviate bad dreams. For instance, you might teach your child EFT (emotional freedom technique – there’s lots of on-line resources for this technique as well as therapists who can teach it to your child) so that the child can remove worries, fears and problems from his mind before falling asleep (YOU should learn it too!). This helps the mind have a better, more peaceful rest.

For a recurring nightmare, ask the child to create a satisfactory ending for the bad dream. Have him tell you the dream along with the new ending. Have him do it over and over until he feels calm. If he’s old enough, he can also write and rewrite the new dream, helping to install it deeper in his unconscious mind.

Therapeutic Bedtime Stories
Parents can make up healing bedtime stories for young children. One way to do this is to create a main character whose name just happens to be the same name as that of your frightened child. By way of example, let’s call the main character in our story “Liam.” The title of the series of stories is “Liam the Brave.” You now make up a different story each night about episodes starring Liam-the-Brave. In each story, Liam fights off scary foes using his arsenal of magic weapons. For instance, on Monday night, Liam-the-Brave takes a canoe trip down the river in deepest Africa. As he passes through the tropical jungle, he encounters crocodiles, warrior tribes, hungry animals and more. Every time he faces a threat, he pulls out a magic weapon from his magic weapon bag and aims it at the “enemy.” By waving, shaking or otherwise triggering the weapon, Liam successfully makes the threat vanish into thin air. He then continues on his trip, observing the beautiful waterfalls, plants and friendly animals, until the next threat appears. And so on. Of course, the story always ends happily with Liam arriving at his destination. On Tuesday night, the parent tells a similar story, this time taking place in outer space. On Wednesday night, the events may take place in the Antarctic and so on. Although the stories are nonsensical, they have been shown to give children a sense of power over internal enemies. Try them for a week or so and see if they help end your child’s nightmares and his fear of having bad dreams.

Consider Professional Help
Your child should not have to suffer from regular nightmares. Be sure to speak to your doctor and/or a child psychologist if your interventions have not resolved the problem.

Child Ignores Alarm Clock

Whoever invented the snooze function in the alarm clock, is both a genius and a fool. The “genius” element stems from the fact that people don’t like to just suddenly jump out of bed in the morning – they crave a more gradual wake-up process, allowing body and mind to adjust to the new day in a series of small steps. When an alarm rings or buzzes, the sleeper wakes up, but by hitting the snooze function, he or she can drift back to sleep. The alarm sounds again and wakes the person again and the person hits it again, falling asleep again – but not very deeply. After a number of times of sleeping, hitting and waking, the person finally becomes alert and ready to start the day. The “fool” component of snooze alarms is that they actually train a person to IGNORE the alarm clock and continue to sleep in. Whereas the alarm is supposed to get the person out of bed, the snooze function allows them to stay in bed indefinitely!

If your child belongs to the “just one more minute” club, consider the following tips in weaning him or her off the habit:

Buy an Alarm with No Snooze Function
If your child knows that the first ring is the only chance of getting up on time, he or she might be more inclined to respond to that first ring.

Set a Limit for Snoozes
Buy an alarm clock that has limited snoozes allowed. Or perhaps an alarm clock that can be set for only one or two snooze hits. This way your child still gets to hit the snooze button— but not so many times that they end up sleeping in too late.

Be the Snooze Button
Snooze alarms are tempting to disobey because they are just machines – they don’t give you a disappointed look or a jarring physical shake. And if your child’s relationship wit the snooze button is really dysfunctional, perhaps you as a parent can help out. Once you hear the first alarm, just quietly enter the room and check if your child is already awake. If not, give them 2-5 minutes, and then wake them yourself by turning on the light, opening the blinds and talking to them or singing to them until they show signs of life or until 3 minutes have passed (whichever comes first). Leave the room and let your child get him or herself out of bed. The trick is to help but not to actually replace an alarm clock. Ultimately, your child has to learn how to get him or herself out of bed. Y

Place the Alarm Clock Far Away
Another technique is to just make it extremely difficult for your child to go back to sleep once the alarm has gone off. One way of doing this is to place the clock all across the room. This way, your child will have to stand up, walk to the clock, hit the snooze button, and travel all the way back to bed before he or she can resume sleeping. By the time your child’s head has hit the pillow again, he or she will be fairly awake already from the standing and the walking.  You might also consider the new “annoying” alarms that are available on the market – alarms that jump madly all over the room (and the child) until they are turned off, alarms that have a “boom” that will awaken the whole street, and alarms that get louder and louder, the longer they are left ringing.

Following the same principle, you may install many alarm clocks, and place them in different places. If your child has to attend to more than one ringer, he’ll be awake by the time he or she gets to the last!

Instill Healthy Sleeping Habits and Better Time Management Skills
At the end of the day, the best way to get children to rise on time is to ensure that they’ve had adequate sleep and that they know how to get themselves into bed at a reasonable time. Young children need to be regulated – it’s up to parents to establish bedtime routines and times. As the child gets older, however, he or she will have greater personal responsibility for getting into bed at the right time in order to get enough sleep. Parents can help by setting up negative consequences for failure to be in bed on time. For instance, a child who is supposed to be in bed at 9:15 but is wandering around the house or still playing on the computer at that time, may be subject to a rule that has been established such as, “failure to be in bed on time costs you X amount of your allowance dollars” or “failure to be on time means that I will not help you wake up in the morning” or whatever.

Use Consequences
Alternatively, make consequences for failing to be on school on time. Then leave it up to the child to figure out how to get out of bed by him or herself. Don’t tell the child what time to go to bed or how to get up. If the child really doesn’t like the consequence, the child will figure out how to use his or her alarm clock appropriately

Wakes Up Too Early

Many young children rise with the sun – which can be way too early for their exhausted parents. Indeed, it is not unusual for a parent to be waking up several times a night to tend to an infant and then to have to deal with a toddler or pre-schooler who is up at 5:45 a.m. These little people often toddle into the parental bedroom asking for help in going to the bathroom or wanting to climb into bed or asking for something to eat or drink. Loveable as they might be, they are NOT who parents want to see at that hour of the morning.

If your young child wakes up too early for your liking, consider the following tips:

Try to Change Your Child’s Sleep Cycle
If your child currently goes to bed at 7:00 p.m. and wakes up at 5:30 a.m., try changing his or her bedtime to an hour or more later. In other words, keep the child awake (by whatever means you can devise!) until 8 p.m. every night. Since the child still needs the same number of hours of sleep in order to feel refreshed, chances are good that he or she will sleep in to a more civilized hour.

Something that might also help is blacking out the child’s room. Use heavy light-blocking blinds to prevent light from pouring into the child’s room. This might help the youngster stay asleep longer.

Teach Independent Skills
If your child gets up too early for you, teach him what to do until you awaken later. Make a rule that the child is NOT allowed to wake you up EXCEPT for those conditions that you establish. For instance, you might give the child permission to wake you to help him or her in the bathroom. However, after helping the child, YOU go back to sleep and the child engages in independent activities (that you establish beforehand). However, many children who wake too early are quite capable of taking themselves to the bathroom. If so, make sure that everything the child might need is ready for him in the bathroom. For instance, make sure the light is on, any potty or toilet seat is already prepared and a stool is in place for handwashing. Similarly, make sure that toys, games and even snacks are available for the child in his room in the case that he wakes before you. If you have a computer or similar instrument the child can use, have it charged up and ready-to-go with a tap of some chubby fingers. Insist that the child amuse himself in his room – or in another designated room. Under no circumstances is the child welcome in your room to play or eat. However, if the child wants to lie down in your room after awakening early, he can do that – on a small mattress on the floor without talking to anyone.

Once you establish your morning “rule,” you may have to use negative consequences to reinforce it. This means that you will have to warn the child that waking you up will result in a punishment for the child. For instance, you can say something like, “from now on, if you wake Mommy or Daddy up in the morning, you will not have your chocolate milk treat for breakfast.”  Pick some consequence you think will motivate the child to wait for you to wake up. Do not attempt to use anger to get your child to stay in his room or his bed; not only will it not work, but it provides a poor model of frustration control and pro-relationship problem-solving strategies. Simple rules with simple consequences are most potent and least harmful.

Alternatively, you may use positive reinforcement instead of negative consequences. Every morning that the child manages to entertain himself until you wake up earns the youngster a point. Let the child earn a few points and then trade the points in for a small prize. Then tell the child he now has to earn more points, but when he does succeed, he gets a bigger prize. Then tell the child he gets a point for each successful morning, but now needs even more points and will get an even bigger prize. End the period of practice with even more points that lead to a grand prize (something the child has long-wanted.) During this period, do NOT punish unsuccessful mornings: the implied punishment is the loss of the point for that morning, thereby delaying the opportunity to receive his reward.

Reduce the Payoff
When your child tries to wake you up in the morning, be careful NOT to give high quality attention. Don’t speak loudly. In fact, try not to wake up completely even if you have to tend somewhat to your child’s needs. Through your behavior, show your child that it is not time to start the day. If possible, stay in your bed and don’t even talk. If you must talk, whisper and say few words. Give minimal attention only. When it is wake-up time, however, do the opposite: give high quality, happy morning attention. Let the child see the difference between your sleeping state and your awakened state. Be patient, firm and consistent. Your child will soon catch on that early morning is not a time that you will be available to tend to his needs.

Wakes Up Too Frequently

Like adults, children can wake up in the night.  They may do so for any number of reasons, depending on their age, health and unique characteristics. However, when a child awakens in the night, other members of the household may be disturbed (i.e. siblings sleeping nearby or parents in their own room). If nighttime awakenings happen only on rare occasions, it’s not a big problem. But what if a child routinely wakens in the night and does so more than one time?

If your child wakes up too frequently, consider the following tips:

Babies Naturally Wake Up Often
Newborns and infants wake to feed every 90 minutes or so. There’s not much that can be done for this age group; they’re SUPPOSED to wake up in the night every couple of hours. The best solution for tired parents is to try to catch a few naps in the daytime. Sleep when the baby sleeps in those early weeks and for as long as you can manage it. Some people are able to afford night nurses so that they can sleep through those night wakings, but many cannot. Some couples trade off in the night, so that each one only loses half the sleep. Some people take the newborn into bed with them, finding this less exhausting than having to get out of bed and walk down the hall to another room, or even to get out of bed and go to the baby’s cradle in the same room. Some folks can afford daytime help that allows them to take a generous snooze in daylight hours. Those who have only the one baby or other kids in school, can and should try to nap when the baby naps. The good news is that this stage of life eventually passes and babies will sleep for longer stretches. Some babies will actually sleep right through the night from 8 or 9 months of age. Some will accomplish this later – say at 14 or 16 months. And some, will not sleep right through the night until they are 6 years old!

Toddlers Still Seek Parental Comfort at Night
While some toddlers sleep through the night without interruption, there are many who don’t. In this latter group, some children awaken just once and then settle back to sleep for the night. Some want a little parental presence, while some want a lot (i.e. they want to climb into the parents’ bed). If parents provide that presence (either by letting him in their bed or by patting him back to sleep), some of these little ones will just go back to sleep for the rest of the night. If you are fine with that, go ahead and let it happen. All kids eventually outgrow the need and desire to sleep in their parents’ bed. However, if you prefer to train your child to stay in his own room for the duration of the night, you will have to do a bit of nighttime sleep training.

To begin with, you need to understand that parental touch and presence is comforting and pleasant for small children. When little kids enter a light sleep cycle, they often call out for this touch or presence. If parents are willing to pat the child back to sleep, or talk to him or hold him and rock him, then the little night-waker may expect this service each time he wakes up in the night. In order not to have to provide it, you will want to create a scenario in which the child must soothe HIMSELF back to sleep. Once you accomplish that, the little one will put himself back to sleep after waking in the night.

Parental Consistency is Key
Put your little one to bed in the usual way. Provide a night light, soft toy and other comforts and then leave the room. If the child wakes up and calls for you, you can come to the room – but do not pick up the child or touch him. Simply tell him that it’s late and he should go back to sleep. Then leave. If he calls again, wait a bit and then come back and tell him the same thing. Don’t stand too close – it’s best to stand in the doorway. Each time he calls for you, wait a little longer before coming. The idea is to provide reassuring presence without providing reinforcing contact. When the child figures out that he’s not going to get much out of this and it’s getting to be hard work for little payoff, he usually stops calling for parents and just stays asleep. Keep in mind that if you decide to do this with your child, you cannot interrupt the process by taking the child into your bed. Some parents make exceptions and let the child come into their bed when he is sick or when he has been crying for a long time or even when THEY are just too tired to deal with it. Providing these exceptions causes the child to learn that it’s worth staying up and screaming for as long as possible because it might just yield some positive results! If you take the child into your room even once in awhile, it can become impossible to get him to stop waking up in the night.

School-Aged Children Wake for Different Reasons
When bigger children are waking up frequently in the night, there is something wrong. Some kids are fearful of sleeping in their own room or being separated from their parents. Whereas such feelings are common for two and three year-olds, their existence in kids over six might indicate the presence of some anxiety. A mental health professional should be consulted. Some kids wake up because of various health problems. Always have a pediatrician do a full workup to determine if a physical condition is causing the frequent waking. For instance, it is possible that the child suffers from a breathing difficulty known as “sleep apnea.” If doctors have agreed that there is no emotional or physical cause for frequent nighttime awakenings, then you can safely use behavioral interventions to help the child. As for younger children, make it clear that you expect the child to stay in his or her own room. Let the child know that YOU need your sleep and you will NOT be tending to his or her needs once it’s night. Provide the child with books, crayons or puzzles to entertain him or herself with, should awakening occur. Make it clear that no one can be disturbed, including other children in the house. When the child sees that everyone is sleeping and no one is coming to look after him or her, the child usually decides to stay asleep. However, if your child insists on coming into your room and disturbing you, feel free to inform him or her that causing you to wake up will result in a (significant) negative consequence the next day. If necessary, be sure to apply the consequence (show the child you mean business!). Be consistent. Apply the consequence each day that follows night time disturbance. Hopefully, the child will soon get your point. If he or she fails to learn, see a professional counselor for further suggestions.

Sleeping Issues

There are many sleeping issues that babies, children and teens may have. Many of them are the “normal” sleeping issues that almost all parents deal with in the course of raising children: in one way or another, the child isn’t sleeping enough. Perhaps the child isn’t sleeping right through the night, or isn’t going to sleep early enough, or is waking too early. It’s true that some kids wake up too late, but those children usually went to bed too late also. (It’s also true that some kids go to bed on time and get up late, meaning they are getting too much sleep, but this is a relatively rare sleeping problem that is usually attended to by the child’s medical doctor.)

However, there are other fairly common sleeping issues that youngsters may have includiing some of the following:

  • suffering from night terrors (screaming with fear without dreaming, can’t be consoled, forgetting it happened)
  • suffering from nightmares (experiencing scary dreams, usually remembered upon waking)
  • experiencing insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • suffering from restless leg syndrome (painful or uncomfortable sensations in the limbs that disturb sleep)
  • breathing problems like sleep apnea (interrupted breathing that causes snoring and/or waking throughout the night)
  • sleep-walking
  • experiencing unrestful sleep
  • tooth grinding

There are also other, more rare, disturbances of sleep that can affect people of all ages. If your child has any sleeping problem whatsoever, consider the following tips:

Common Causes of Sleep Issues
The “normal” sleep issues are caused by childhood! Babies just want to be with their parents 24/7 and suck and snack throughout the night. Toddlers also want to be with their parents and tend to wake with the sun. School-aged and older don’t like to go to bed – they are too enthused by life and all its stimulating activities. Adults also often have that problem! In our modern society, light bulbs give us the opportunity to keep  active all hours of the day and night and with the exception of a small number of children, adolescents and adults, most people want to stay up too long.

In addition, dietary factors may affect sleep. Having too much caffeine in the evening (available in soda as well as chocolate, coffee and tea) can cause excessive wakefulness at bedtime. Sugar can do the same.

Many sleep problems can be caused by physical and emotional issues. For instance, depression, anxiety and ADD/ADHD are just a few of the many disorders that can affect a child’s ability to sleep well througout the night. Depression can cause wakenings between 1 and 3a.m. or early termination of sleep around 4:30 or 5a.m. Anxiety in the form of “separation anxiety” can prevent children from sleeping happily in their own rooms or their own beds. ADHD can cause problems in settling down to sleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested by sleep. Physical conditions such as chronic pain, itching, breathing problems, endocrine and metabloic diseases, neuromuscular disorders and many other conditions can interrupt sleep.  There are also substance-induced sleep disorders caused by alcohol, illegal drugs and medicines.

What can Parents Do?
The normal sleep issues are best addressed by healthy sleep routines (see the articles on “bedtime problems” on this site). Understand that babies and small children normally wake many times in the night and eventually outgrow this practice (with or without help from their parents). You can read all the sleep books you want, but if your child still has waking issues, keep in mind that this is normal in kids up to around 5 years old or so. Nonetheless, always describe your child’s sleeping difficulties to your pediatrician just to rule out medical causes.

Helping Them Fall Asleep
Some babies, kids and teens have trouble getting into sleep mode. They cannot settle down either emotionally or physically or both. It’s as if their “on button” is stuck in the “on” position! These children can benefit from a wide range of interventions that your pediatrician, naturopath and mental health professional can suggest. Be prepared to spend time and effort in experimentation – it takes professionals awhile to diagnose the cause of sleep-onset disturbances and it takes parents time to see which interventions will make a positive difference. Don’t blame your child for having this sort of trouble. He’s probably not very happy with the situation either. Older children and teens may be able to participate in their “cure” by learning relaxation techniques (meditation, visualization, breath work) or modifying their habits (to include more exercise, dietary changes, quieting activities in the evening). Even so, the “how-to” of good sleep hygiene may have to come from a professional rather than the parent. Somehow kids take outside “authorities” more seriously than Mom and Dad.

Getting Them Back to Sleep
It would be less of a problem if those children who woke up didn’t wake their parents up! If they would wake up and then just turn over and go to sleep, it would actually be a totally normal process – humans don’t actually tend to sleep 8 hours straight without interruption. Rather, they wake up frequently during the night but then go quickly back to sleep. Parents work hard to help their youngsters stay asleep all night, but their efforts would be better directed to helping children soothe themselves back to sleep. Again, a team of professionals may be helpful in this regard, offering self-help strategies ranging from relaxation strategies to sniffing essential oils that have been prepared for the occasion. Breathing problems can contribute to frequent waking, as can other physical health conditions, so it is important to talk to your child’s doctor about this symptom. In fact, be sure to tell your child’s doctor everything you can about your child’s sleeping problems. Even if everything checks out fine on the physical front, parents will want to do something up their child’s night time wakefulness. Naturopaths may be of assistance: professional herbalists, for instance, can sometimes create a special tea for the child that will strengthen the youngster’s ability to sleep deeply and steadily through the night. Homeopaths may be able to address the condition as well. Sometimes hypnotherapists or child therapists will have expertise in this area as well. Sometimes nothing will help the child stay asleep, but parents can still help the child to stay in his bed – mental health professionals can provide techniques ranging from positive reinforcement to negative consequences.

Consult a Professional
In any case of sleeping issues, do consider consulting your child’s pediatrician for further advice and guidance.

Sleep Routines While Travelling

A holiday or vacation with children is not always completely relaxing. One of the challenges in travelling with kids is their reaction to the disruption of their normal sleep patterns and routines. Children are often even more sensitive than adults to sleep cues – like their own room, their own bed and their regular times for lying down and getting up. All of this is gone once they leave the comfort of home and many kids find it very hard to settle down to sleep as a result. Add to this the normal challenges of travel such as change in diet, the stress of travel itself and adjusting to changes in time zones and you often find yourself with a crew of cranky, sleepless kids!

How can parents help their babies, toddlers and children adjust to sleep disturbances during holidays and vacations?

Minimize the Changes in Their Sleep Routine
In all situations, adjusting to change is easier when change is kept to a minimum. If they nap in the afternoon, then plan activities around their afternoon nap. If they sleep until 10 am, then don’t travel until ten. If they like to sleep with lots of pillows and toys around them, make sure you pack those extra pillows and toys. The less change, the better.

Prepare Them for the Change
Infants can be gradually desensitized to changes in routine, so that the vacation or holiday is not a shock for them. For example, if your destination has a warmer climate than where you live, then turn the temperature in their room a fraction of a degree higher in the days before your trip. If they will be sleeping in a large bed at a hotel instead of a crib, then transfer them to your bed the week before the holiday. If your children are old enough, show them pictures of the place you are travelling to including the city and the place where you will be staying. If you have a picture of the bedroom you’ll be using, all the better! Sometimes you will be able to provide actual photos (for example, when you pick a hotel on an Internet travel site or when you are staying with relatives and you have photo’s of their home and town), and sometimes you’ll be able to use pictures of the city garnered from computer or travel books.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
The Bach Flower Remedy Walnut can be given to a child 4 times a day starting the week before traveling in order to help the child adjust more easily to changes in routines, foods, and environment. Walnut is the transition flower, increasing a person’s flexibility and making change easier on the body and mind. Bach Flower Remedies are available at health food stores and on-line. Two drops in a small glass of liquid, given 4 times a day, is the optimal dosage. You can find more information on the Bach Flower Remedies online, in books, and throughout this site.

Expect Over-Excitement at First
Many adults have trouble sleeping in a new environment and travelling kids usually have more trouble. They are often overstimulated by the new experiences they are encountering and overexcited about the trip. This affects their brain chemistry, making it much harder for them to relax their little bodies and minds enough to settle into a quality sleep. If they’re too “wide awake” the first night or two of travel, don’t insist that they go to bed; they’re just going to lie awake for hours waiting for their adrenaline to settle! Let them stay up a little later, but wake them at the regular time in the morning. After a couple of nights, they should be good and tired and more able to sleep despite continued feelings of excitement.

Bring the Usual Gear
The place may not be familiar to your child, but the bedding, pillowcases, blanket and huggable toys can be the same. If you can bring stuff that kids associate with their sleep routine at home to your holiday or vacation, it won’t hurt and it just might help!

Be Flexible
If your very young children wish to sleep with you (in your room or in your bed) while on a short vacation, it’s fine to let them do it. They’ll be home soon and you can get them back into their normal routines in their own rooms. However, vacation stays can be so disorienting that small children really need the comfort and stability of their parents near by. This isn’t the time to insist on independence. Try to provide the kids with the security they need. You can (and should be) firm, once you get home.

Gradually Ease Them Out of the Holiday Routine Upon Getting Home
Kids don’t just need to adjust during your holiday proper; they may also need to adjust upon returning home! This is especially true if the vacation is bit long, like the entire summer. Upon getting home, be flexible. If your child is still attached to the vacation routine, just try to wean him or her out of it slowly. It helps to allow a week’s transition time between the vacation and daycamp or school, just so that the child can get used to going to sleep and waking up on a stricter, probably earlier, schedule.

Difficulty Awakening or Remaining Asleep

Most parents won’t be surprised to learn that babies and young children don’t always sleep through the night. In fact, even older children and teens may wake up before dawn.

If your child wakes up in the middle of the night consider the following tips:

Waking Up After Being Put to Sleep
This problem is very common among babies and some toddlers. A very new baby may wake up only minutes after being put to sleep. Older babies may wake an hour or two after “going down for the night.” And toddlers are notorious for waking up 4 or 5 hours after going to bed.

Children, like adults, drift in and out of various sleep cycles. When they are in a light stage of sleep, they may wake seeking food, comfort or both (i.e. babies may wake up to nurse). These small humans may wake several times throughout the night, disturbing their already exhausted parents.

Most people keep very small babies close to them at night (in their bed or in a cradle or crib in the parent’s room or nearby) in order to minimize the amount of energy nighttime parenting will take. It’s easier to roll over to take care of a baby than to get up, paddle down the hall, tend to the baby and then return to one’s own bed. However, many people do the latter even with newborns and certainly with older babies and toddlers. At a certain point, a parent may stop responding to the waking child in order to train the child to sleep through the night. Many people wait until the baby is around 9 months old before starting to withdraw nighttime attention in a gradual process. Some wait until the child is 14 months. Some just wait until the child stops waking up all by him or herself. Whatever works for the parent is fine. Parents know the limits of their own energy and they know what parenting style works best for them. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to solving nighttime waking problems. However, as long as a baby is permitted to nurse at night, he or she will tend to wake up many times in order to do so. Nighttime weaning therefore is a necessary step on the way to stopping nighttime waking.

Some school-age children also wake in the night. Usually, some sort of health problem (like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or nightmare disorder) is responsible. However, anxiety can also be a culprit; when an anxious child goes into a light sleep cycle, he or she may wake up for a moment and discover that he or she is alone – this can cause the child to wake up fully, get out of bed and run to the parents’ room. Teenagers can also wake up after going to sleep. Like school-age children, this indicates some sort of physical or emotional issue. Teenagers may have sleep disorders caused by, caffeine, drugs or alcohol as well as mental health issues like anxiety or depression, that interrupt sleep. When children and teens wake up in the night, a trip to the doctor for a complete check-up is recommended. If everything checks out fine, a trip to a mental health professional is then indicated. Even when the child does not have a mental health diagnosis, a psychologist can teach the child self-soothing and relaxation skills that can help him or her fall back to sleep independently and quickly and/or stay asleep throughout the night.

Difficulty Waking Up in the Morning
A totally different type of problem is having trouble waking up. This issue doesn’t seem to affect babies or toddlers! School age children usually have trouble waking up when they have not had enough sleep. This can happen because the parents haven’t established a consistent, appropriate bedtime or because the child cannot fall asleep at the appropriate time. Sometimes a child’s system is too active and he or she just can’t wind down and go to sleep. Some kids lie awake for hours after being put to bed. Of course they’re tired in the morning! Teens who can’t get up may have the same problems but they are likely to be short-changed on sleep for other reasons as well. This age group likes to stay up on their computers late at night or stay up with friends into the wee hours of the mornings. They can’t get up because they just don’t go to bed on time.

Children who can’t fall asleep at night may benefit from medical and/or alternative treatment. Medications, herbs and supplements are available that help the nervous system settle down at the right time of night. Melatonin is one such treatment but there are many others; ask your doctor and/or naturopath for assessment and treatment. For children who CAN fall asleep but choose not to, more structure and discipline may be required. Consequences for failing to be up on time can help motivate a youngster to get into bed earlier. A teen who wants a ride to the bus stop can be deprived of that ride if he isn’t out of bed on time. Or he can be deprived of his allowance or some other privilege. Children who can’t get up on time may have to go to bed a half hour earlier the next night or lose some privilege. If you are having trouble finding consequences that matter, consult a psychologist or parenting specialist for ideas.

It’s important to establish some sort of reward or consequences system to help kids get up on time – do not use anger as a wake-up tool! Sometimes, waking up is as simple as finding the right alarm clock (i.e. something very loud and very funny is good for kids). Teach kids NOT to use the snooze alarm, as this just teaches them to sleep through the alarm.

Remember too, that the parental model is important – if you sleep in, your child is more likely to do so as well. And keep in mind that most kids do grow out of the “sleeping in” stage eventually. Those who don’t generally find careers that allow them to sleep in! Try to guide your child but don’t stress too much about it. The consequences that life presents are usually sufficient to encourage morning wakening (i.e. detentions at school, job issues, parenting responsibilities and all the rest).