Talking about worrying about going to sleep.
This morning I went live in my Facebook group: Katie's Classroom - Honest Parent Chat talking all about how we can help our children, who worry about going to sleep. (Please join my group - would absolutely love you to be in it!)
I want to reiterate that many of my live videos are definitely not a case of me just lecturing you all on how to parent and give you all the impression that we have nailed parenting and in this case sleep. We really are not nailing sleep! I often choose topics that are personal to me at the moment and in this case we are having a bit of a rough time with our second eldest son, who is 8. He believes when he goes to sleep it is basically like a mini death. So I try and pick topics that will (selfishly!) help me and hope in turn that when I do my research around them that they will help you in turn too!
So yes please don't think for one minute we have 'sleep' nailed. We certainly are not nailing it at the moment. We have four children and I don't think in all my 10 years of parenting have any of our children consistently nailed sleeping. Sleeping is such a massive parental issue. Have you ever heard a parent not talk about it?!
In this email I'm going to outline what I spoke about this morning in my video - which you can watch here. I'll talk about the issues we are currently facing as a family with regards to sleep, reasons why children worry about going to sleep and most importantly how we can help them.
Sleep - probably the biggest parental issue out there - am I right?!
Sleep is a huge parental issue isn't it? Not surprising though as we as parents know how vital it is. We want to sleep. We want our children to sleep and it's really frustrating and stressful when our children don't and when we don't.
However, it's not surprising that children worry about going to sleep. Often our worst fears come out at nighttime, when there is little distraction for our brain. As we know our anxiety will often tell us our worst fears and these fears will come out in the silence of darkness.
What are my children like at sleeping?
Our eldest son, who is 10, has always struggled to get to sleep. He was diagnosed with autism last May, which I think for him explains a lot of his sleep issues. He has always been an anxious child and often his anxieties come out when he is being put to bed. Beetle, my husband, will often be reading the boys a story at bedtime and will often let me know that when he's looked up at our eldest, he'll be staring wide eyed up at the ceiling thinking about something scary that is going to happen usually in the future like going to school, or a spelling test or swimming.
Our second oldest, who is 8, is the reason why I decided to talk about sleep today because he has a fear of going to sleep. For him he's afraid of dying and sees going to sleep and being asleep like a mini death. I will talk about this more later in the email.
Alice, who is 5, doesn't like to go to sleep on her own. She has to be read to sleep with the light on. Similarly, Freddie, who is 3, only goes to sleep at the moment with me by his side. Sometimes this can take 20 minutes and sometimes two hours! He will then often wake in the middle of the night, freak out that I'm not around, and come into our bed.
5 reasons why your child is afraid to sleep:
1. Worried that someone is going to hurt them.
Many children worry that something is lurking in the dark and that there is something out there waiting for them or is waiting to hurt them. Remember children don't have to have a bad experience to have a fear. Most of our child's anxieties are not reality based. A children's imagination can create their fear.
2. Worried about the day they have just had.
Many children worry about the day they have just had. It's very common for children to struggle to switch their brain off at nighttime and their brain almost goes into overdrive. When we're in a quiet room where there are no screens, there is nothing but silence and darkness, this is when your child's anxiety often wants to talk.
3. Worried about the future.
Many children will worry about what is going to happen in the future. Some children worry about all the what ifs. What will or could happen.
4. Worried about not waking up.
And this is our second eldest son's worst fear at the moment. He is afraid that when he goes to sleep it is like dying. If we think about it, yes we shut our eyes for 8 or 9 hours and usually when we wake up we have no recollection of what has happened and this for my son is really really scary at the moment.
5. Worried about their health.
Many children worry about their health and feel like they have something physically wrong with them.
How can we help your children?
1. Ask them - what is their biggest fear?
In able to help our child we need to truly understand what is worrying them. What is their core anxiety? What is their core fear? What is worrying your child the most? What is the worst thing they fear at bedtime? We then need to then really listen to them and validate their worries. You can start by simply saying "I understand." when they tell you. This is the start of reframing and rethinking their worries, which is really important.
2. Tackle their anxious thoughts.
Once we truly know what is our child's core fear, we can then start to fight back and tackle their anxious thoughts. I like to think of the brain having two parts - the red side of the brain that tells us our worst fears and the blue or green part of our brain that creates good/rational thoughts. We have to fight against the red thoughts with blue/green thoughts. It is also very useful to personify our children's anxiety, for example, introducing Mr Worry - urgh is Mr Worry bothering you again?
3. Make your child's room look and feel safe.
You might be thinking but my child has a lovely room. Yes, to you but maybe not to your child. So have a look in their room. Is there anything that might look ok with the light on but cast dark shadows when the light is off? Check with your child inside their wardrobes and under their bed. This is all really good for reframing your child's thinking. Showing the red part of their brain that they are safe.
4. Fix lighting, sounds and thoughts.
Lighting: Think about what is the light situation with your child. If darkness is freaking your child out then maybe they should have a nightlight on? Maybe the landing light should be on? Children don't have to sleep in complete darkness.
Sounds: Sounds come out at nighttime so check for sounds your house makes at nighttime and tackle these with your child. You could both close your eyes during the day and listen out for the different sounds. Again this helps to fight back against the fears.
Thoughts: Night time is very difficult for everybody not just children because it is often when our brains whizz and our brain tells us our worst fears and this is because we have no distractions. There is nothing around us that is giving us other than our fears so distraction helps! Sometimes it's helpful for your child to go to sleep listening to an audio tape or thinking about their incredible imagery world they've made up. We are trying to do this with our second eldest son, who has the fear of dying when he is going to sleep. We tell him to think of his favourite football team - it's his world so he can make up whatever he likes. He can be the manager or a player and draft in all his favourite players.
5. Explain we need to fight back.
Remind your child that the more they avoid their anxieties, the bigger they grow so we have to tackle them face on. You are safe. We are safe. This house is a safe space.
6. Start with small steps.
Sleep is a huge issue and one that can't be fixed overnight! Take things slowly and in small steps. You could, especially with older children, create little challenges that you could reward. With Freddie for example I'm not going to lie next to him tonight but try and sit at the end of his bed.
Even though we will hopefully do all of the above and your child will be armed with incredibly positive thoughts...they'll still want to sleep with us because they ultimately feel the safest with us.
So remember this is a long game and we have to do things in small steps and things that feel right for your family. It helps to be really predictable when we're talking to our children about bedtime anxiety.
There you go! That's my worrying about going to sleep chat! I hope it was useful. I would love to hear from you! Do you have a child, who worries about going to sleep? What do you do that has helped? I would honestly love to hear your chat.