Child has problems sleeping alone

Question: My daughter has recently started getting up at night and will only go back to sleep if a parent sleeps with her or if she is allowed to sleep in our bed. She is 10 years old and has been sleeping through the night since she was only a couple of months old. We’ve questioned her on what wakes her up and keeps her from getting back to sleep but are not getting anywhere with it. Is this normal behavior for a child this age? What can we do to reassure her and to make her feel comfortable about sleeping in her own room by herself again? Denise

Answer: Repeat after me: My daughter will go back to sleep in her own room by herself again … My daughter will go back to sleep … My daughter will…

Your daughter is a capable, independent sleeper and you are reassuring her every time you convey to her that her room is a safe and comfortable place to be. The question now becomes: does your daughter need to return to her own room by herself quickly or in due time? That is a question that you can answer whatever way is most fitting to your needs and goals. Take a moment to reflect on your expectations. Plan your actions consistent with your expectations. If children teach us anything, it is that there is no “normal.” Normal is whenever reality and expectations are in harmony.

Speak to your daughter during daytime hours to let her know you will be phasing out the new nighttime waking arrangements (that is, sleeping with her or sleeping in your bed). Very matter-of-factly explain you will be there to reassure her but these “new” arrangements are not working for everyone (namely, you and dad). Ask your daughter for any ideas she has to make it easier on herself. For example, you may come to her room for 5 minute “snuggles” if she calls you; you may rub her back for 10 minutes to help her relax and fall back asleep; she may have a flashlight next to her bed; she can play a special sleep CD. Any strategy you chose must be something you can live with for an extended period of time. It must also be relaxing and calming (even boring) to ease your daughter to sleep. Your response will be most reassuring if it is predictable and methodical.

Anything could have provoked the initial waking. Fears are not conquered by logic but are conquered by a sense of power and efficacy. Your daughter may not know why she is waking up. It may simply be a habit formed by new interruptions at that point in her sleep cycle. You can begin to articulate for her simple descriptions of the events by saying things like: “I see you are not sleeping like you used to but it is really important that you are rested for a new day.” “Everyone wakes up during the night and we to have to keep our minds and bodies quiet and peaceful to fall back asleep.” If there is anything troubling your daughter, you will have opened a conversation for her to add her perspective when she is ready.

Ultimately, if you reestablish her options so they work for everyone involved, reassure her that you are nearby, and remind her that she is safe; she will return to the capable sleeper that you know and love

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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