My three and five year old kiddos are fantastic sleepers. But what do I do with an almost 8-year-old? She’s killing me. Each night is something different: spiders, the dark, snakes, tornadoes. Help!
Before anything else, we must acknowledge your daughter’s night wakings may come from real, genuine fears, so it’s very important not to negate those fears and not to ignore her feelings. As I’m sure you know, it is so important in our role as parents to ensure our children always feel safe and heard, however unrealistic some situations may seem to us (when is the last time you couldn’t sleep at night for fear of a tornado?). It is also equally as important for your daughter to know that she can express herself to Mommy and that she has an open, loving place where her Mommy is there for her, listening to her fears and emotions.
Your daughter feels it when you are frustrated and knows (even on a subconscious level) that you are done and just want her to get back to sleep! Therefore it’s critical not to fight her. Show your presence and your prioritization of being there for her. This starts from your confidence and messages that she non-verbally gets from you. Make it clear to her that she is loved and understood, while giving her the tools to navigate the world she lives in. Here are some ideas:
1. Talk when she’s not scared. Try addressing fears during the day when she in a positive place (through discussion, while spending time on the couch, at the park, etc.) Don’t do it at the time and place of fear at bedtime before her fears creep up on her. Talk about those fears–are they practical, applicable, can they really happen? Help her understand why some are farfetched and ensure she feels safe in her home…and explain to her that it’s just as safe at night while she’s sleeping.
2. Keep lights dim–all night. Keep the bedroom environment consistent. Is the light ALWAYS on? All night? Just at bedtime? If she falls asleep in one environment (with the lights on) and wakes up with lights off, this can be confusing for her and can set her off. Keep things the same. Use a nightlight at bedtime and throughout the night so she can expect a certain cue to resettle back to sleep if she does wake up.
3. An early bedtime! Often when a child is over-tired and not getting enough sleep, they wake up while transitioning from sleep cycle to sleep cycle, which results in them having trouble settling back down. To avoid this, make sure bedtime isn’t too late and that she’s getting enough zzzz’s!
Israeli sleep coach, Batya Sherizen is taking questions from Kveller readers. Send your problems to firstname.lastname@example.org