THE BEDTIME BLUES
Instead of twinkling stars, gentle lullabies, and sweet dreams, does bedtime in your household seem more like a combat zone?
Many bedtime battle-weary parents bring their anxious child into treatment out of pure desperation…for some down time and a good night’s rest.
Do you feel like your child is holding you hostage with their rigid bedtime demands?
This can easily happen when your child is being held hostage by their anxiety.
Is your child refusing to sleep alone in their bed?
Either demanding that you let them sleep in your bed or that you sleep in theirs…or perhaps a mish-mash of the two...like a nightly game of musical beds.
Is it difficult for your child to fall asleep?
Does your child’s mind swirl with worried thoughts…of anything from what goes bump in the night to that spelling test tomorrow…?
Devoid of the buffer that the distractions of the day provide, worry is only too happy to jump in and fill the void.
Has your bedtime routine devolved into a major marathon session…with seemingly endless curtain calls?
One more story…one more kiss…another rub…more water…a missing stuffed animal…bathroom ploys…and the list goes on.
And as the list grows, your patience shrinks…
As that rare and precious commodity, known as your down time, shrinks right along with it.
Does your child have sleep performance anxiety?
Worried about not being able to get adequate sleep, fueled by the perception that dire consequences will certainly follow if they do not get to sleep by their self-imposed time.
The pressure they put on themselves to get that quality sleep ends up making it hard for them…well…to get that quality sleep…making it a self-fulfilling prophecy...
The pressure is akin to someone holding a gun to their head demanding, “Go to sleep or else.”
Not exactly conducive to getting those quality zzz’s.
Do you sometimes get swept up in the wave of your child’s anxiety?
Mirroring your child’s anxiety or having a sensitive guilt button…
Which makes you cave into your child’s bedtime demands…
Perhaps you can’t bear the thought of your child suffering with fears of those imaginary nighttime bugaboos…or of imminent abduction?
Just Go to Bed...I’m Exhausted
Whatever form your child’s bedtime blues takes, this bedtime madness can incite anything from frustration to fury…depending upon the degree it is affecting your family’s time, sleep, and relationships.
After a long day of attending to the kids and the home, or of that and work…
Whatever the configuration, you’re exhausted and need time to recharge…before waking up to do it all over again.
By the time your child’s bedtime rolls around…
You’re feeling like a character straight out of The Living Dead.
What you want most in the world is to have a smooth bedtime transition…consisting of a story or two, a tuck-in, an I love you, and a goodnight smooch…and then you want it to be O-V-E-R.
A pleasant AND time-capped routine that will finally bring you to that much anticipated and well-deserved downtime…
And then to your very own bed for an uninterrupted and comfortable night’s sleep.
You think to yourself,
“Well, other families seem to be able to pull this bedtime thing off just fine, right?
So, what the heck is happening in my home?
I mean, in my house forget about sweet dreams…bedtime is more like a recurring nightmare…
As the lights go down, my child’s anxiety revs up.
And, of course, right at the time that I’m least equipped to deal with it.
Out of utter desperation, compounded by sleep deprivation, I end up giving in to my child’s demands.
Well, it’s not for lack of trying...
Every time I attempt to lay down the bedtime law, my child freaks out or raises holy hell…with pleas, debates, meltdowns…
It’s just too much.
I’ve been at it from sunrise to sunset.
I’m exhausted…I need a break and I need it now!
So, I utter the magic words to make my child stop... “Okay, I’ll stay with you!”
I get it. You’re exhausted.
And when you and your child’s horns lock in a bedtime battle, things can get real ugly real fast.
So, what’s an exhausted parent to do?
It might seem as if your child has permanently “won” the bedtime battle.
It just seems so much easier to go along with the current program...giving in to your child’s bedtime demands.
But, is it really?
A hypothetical Scenario...the Case of the Dreaded Musical Beds
Okay introducing our hypothetical mom…
This mom has resigned herself to staying in her son’s bed until he falls asleep each night...
And then when he wakes up in the night, she allows him to hop into her (and dad’s) bed.
Because of this, there’s no active or overt nightly drama…
But, that’s only because our hypothetical mom has given up.
There is, however, a growing “dis-ease” and agitation on the part of both mom and dad.
They have completely surrendered to their son’s bedtime demands…
And the dreaded game of musical beds is now a nightly family affair.
So, next, let’s break things down into a cost-benefit analysis...viewed through the lens of our hypothetical family:
Child stays calm…in other words…there’s no nagging, arguing, crying, meltdowns, or explosions…
So parents stays calm as well.
Child gets proper rest for the most part.
Child opens up to mom as he falls asleep with her by his side each night.
Child will probably grow out of it…well…eventually…they hope…
Mom often ends up falling asleep in child’s bed, missing downtime and time alone with dad.
It gets in the way of the couple’s intimacy…as they can be interrupted at any moment.
It makes it difficult for the parents to get a babysitter for a much- needed night out.
Points 1-3 cause resentment and frustration for both mom and dad…which compromises the couple’s feelings of closeness.
Parents sometimes have trouble falling back to sleep when son wakes up and comes into their bed.
Child is being inadvertently sent a number of unhealthy messages:
1. Child is being given the message that he is not not capable of sleeping on his own.
2. Child’s fear that their home isn’t safe is being reinforced.
3. Child is being given the message that inappropriate behavior (i.e., nagging, arguing, crying, melting down, or exploding) pays off.
4. Child is being given the message that his preferences supersede the family’s needs.
So, at least in our hypothetical situation, the costs seem to be outweighing the benefits.
And since you are reading this, I guess that you too are singing the bedtime blues in one form or another.
So, what are you, as an exhausted parent, to do short of drugging or tying up your problem-bedtime child???
Luckily there are healthier (and non-criminal😉) alternatives!
Now by healthier alternatives, I’m not saying that the retraining process is going to be easy…especially if what you’ve been doing has been going on for a long time.
Retraining the Amygdala
If that’s the case, your child will be quite wed to the current way of doing things and might aggressively resist any change…
As though his or her life depended on it.
Because if it is the fear response that is driving your child to cling to the current routine (as opposed to a mere bid for extra attention), it might very well feel that way.
This is because any change to the existing pattern will indeed set off your child’s amygdala, the fear center of the brain...at least initially while the amygdala learns.
And the amygdala only learns via repeated experience that the feared situation is safe and tolerable.
So, it’s a rare child who will welcome a bedtime training program.
Your child likes the bedtime status quo!
So, at first, it could be rough going for all involved.
There’s a psychological term for this, known as an extinction burst...or sometimes an extinction explosion.
Put in plain language, this means your child is not going to be happy when you try to change things up.
But, the only way past it is...you guessed it...through it.
So, what’s an exhausted and desperate parent to do?
Well, you can read my detailed sleep guide.
A Free Sleep Guide to Help anxious kids
My sleep guide, Banish the Bedtime Blues: Sleep Tips and Strategies to Help Your Anxious Child is chock full of concrete, hands-on information that will put you back where you rightfully belong…in the bedtime driver’s seat.
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