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How To Help Child With Anxiety Sleep

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The Bedtime Hero Program

How to Help Your Child Sleep When They are Experiencing Anxiety

Bedtime Hero is an interactive online therapy program in which my voice guides your child through a series of steps with Disney-like animations. Your role is to assist and support your child as they work through the process.

Bedtime Hero uses the same series of therapeutic steps that I use with children in my office. My clinical research revealed that over 90% of my child patients with bedtime anxiety achieved significant improvement within 6 sessions using this method.

The Bedtime Hero program ..

Other websites may talk about the importance of involving your child in the solution, but the strategies they describe often put the onus on you, the parent, to make things happen.

The key to this program is that it engages your child in actively solving the problem themselves. They become invested in the process and own their success. When an idea comes from within a child it has a much stronger effect than any idea coming from a grownup.

When Do I Need To Worry

Although it may be difficult to hear a child cry, remember that separation anxiety does have a positive aspect: It indicates that a healthy attachment has bonded a caregiver and child.

You should still watch your child to see if her separation anxiety appears extreme, says Julia F. Heberle, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. Dr. Heberle recommends analyzing the situation surrounding your child’s feelings. Is there parental conflict, divorce, or something wrong with the child-care setting? If so, the symptoms of separation anxiety may be amplified. If a toddler is showing excessive symptoms, such as vomiting or unrelenting worry, contact your pediatrician.

Get Them Moving During The Day

If youve ever thought that your child seems to sleep better after an active day at the park or in sports, youre not mistaken. Regular exercise is not only good for physical health, but it can also provide an outlet for frustrations and release mood-enhancing endorphins, which can help ease your child into a deeper sleep. Yoga can also be a relaxing pre-bedtime activity.

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Stick To A Consistent Bedtime Routine

Children thrive on routines because while so many things in life are unexpected, routines are predictable and safe. A significant bedtime routine also signals your child that you are in the wind-down stage and gives them adequate time to do so.

We do our bedtime tasks in the same order every single night: bath, pajamas, brush teeth, bedtime story. The girls love knowing and calling out the next step. We finish with a bedtime story which is of course the favorite part.

Our girls actually love getting ready for bed because we have made the routine fun and it is something in which they are active participants.

What Are Persistent Sleep Problems

Bedtime Anxiety In Children

Persistent sleep problems affect your childs ability to sleep or settle over a long period.

Not all sleep problems are persistent. A sudden change in your childs sleep might be a short-term sleep problem, rather than a persistent one. You can sort out many short-term sleep problems by encouraging good sleep habits.

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Acknowledge Your Childs Fears

If your child agrees to sleepovers only to be filled with panic in the hours leading up to the event, they’re not alone. Many kids experience fear and dread as the sleepover looms.

The stress of being away from home also can take a physical toll on a child. An anxious child also may report somatic concerns too, like headaches or stomachaches, which serve as tangible evidence of their emotional turmoil.

When you notice your child is nervous, you might be tempted to say something like, Its just one night,” or “Its not a big deal.” But to your child, it is a big deal.

Instead, validate your childs feelings by saying something like, I know youre a little scared about being away from home for the night, or I wonder if your tummy hurts because youre feeling a little nervous about the sleepover. Normalize your childs distress by saying something like, A lot of kids get nervous before a sleepover.

Then, help your child identify exactly what’s causing the nervousness. Most kids worry that theyre going to experience uncomfortable emotionsin essence, theyre afraid theyre going to be afraid. Sometimes kids worry that they wont be able to fall asleep or that they’ll be scared. Or, they might be nervous that they’ll feel homesick.

Labeling emotions and naming the things they’re worried about can decrease some of the discomforts they’re experiencing.

What To Do When Your Kid Has Nighttime Anxiety

Gone are the monsters that lurk in the dark. Now its stress keeping your big kid awake. Heres how to help.

A mist of monster spray before bed worked wonders when Julie Freedman Smiths toddler was afraid of the dark. But that kind of magical solution may not be quite right for tackling older kids sleep troubles. People focus on sleep training babies and dont realize that issues can crop up later on, too, says Freedman Smith, co-founder of Parenting Power in Calgary. But its never too late, she says, to give kids the tools they need to doze off on their own.

What keeps kids up at nightMany older kids may have trouble sleeping because they never learned to sleep as babies. If they couldnt fall asleep on their own when they were little, it isnt suddenly going to happen now, Freedman Smith says. Then there are others who slept soundly at six months, but suddenly refuse to go to bed at six years. In this case, Alanna McGinn, founder of Good Night Sleep Site in Burlington, Ont., says stress may be the culprit. By this age, children are experiencing life changes that can lead to anxiety and trouble sleeping, she says. Theyre in school full-time, they have homework, activities, and less reassuring one-on-one time with their parents.

McGinn recommends keeping bedtime between 7:30 and 8:30 with a relaxing routine beforehand, which might include a bath, reading or colouring.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2016 issue, titled Up at night, pg. 62.

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How Can I Help My Anxious Child To Relax

Teaching your child to relax can help them to fall asleep at bedtime. Below are some ideas of how to do this. Giving them something else to think about while lying in bed can help to distract them from their fearful thoughts. Remember, it is impossible to be relaxed and scared at the same time!

Relaxation ideas for your child include the following.

Provide Your Child With A Night Light

Parenting Anxious Kids | Episode #8 Tips to Help a Child Afraid to Sleep

As you and your child works through her nighttime fears, you can switch to progressively dimmer lights . But word to the wise: Find a nightlight that gives off dim light, and light with a soft, warm hue.

Studies indicate that both bright light and blue light inhibit the production of melatonin in the brain, and thus may prevent your child from feeling drowsy at bedtime. Read more about it in this Parenting Science article.

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Why Does Behaviour Get So Difficult At Bedtime

If children cant put words to the feeling, the feeling will still push for action. If the feeling is anxiety, it will push for safety through fight or flight. Anxiety at bedtime might look like anger, aggression, arguing, restlessness, defiance, tears, clinginess, ignoring you so many things. Its not bad behaviour its anxiety. Its a brain that feels unsafe because its away from the important big person who has been assigned the very important job of keeping this young person safe.

Sometimes children might become especially controlling at bedtime: I want/ I wont/ You cant make me . Again, this isnt about being difficult, but about trying to control the environment so they can feel safe. they might do this is by trying to take the lead they might defy you, resist you, try to control you, or scream at you when things dont go their way. Aside from the potential to bring the most loving, patient parent to their knees , there are two problems with this.

The first is that eaders never rest. As long as your child is taking the lead, they will not be able to relax and find the rest they need. The second problem is that children do not tend to make great leaders, especially when they are tired, and especially when they are trying to lead adults. The more we surrender the lead, or aggressively assert the lead, the more we feed the problem.

Be A Model Of Calm Confident Behavior

When your child comes to you in a fearful state, be warm, sensitive and responsive. Tell him you understand that he is scared, and that everybody gets scared sometimes. But dont let sympathy turn into overprotectiveness. ]

Many animalsranging from birds to monkeysare sensitive to social cues about fear . They pick up fears by watching others model them. Kids are no exception. If your child believes you are worried or anxious, he may become more fearful.

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Anxiety Rule #: Use The Tools


  • I taught Maxine how her brain works and how her amygdala works to keep her safe. Lyons calls this frontloading and its a crucial part of the project. Maxine learned that when she couldnt sleep because she was scared, this was because her Worry Brain had shown up and taken over.

Coaching and Practice

  • Talking back to her Worry Brain: Maxine learned to talk back to her Worry Brain and practiced when she wasnt scared. Lyons recommends that a child externalizes their Worry Brain and talk back to their Worry Brain. When she wasnt hijacked, Maxine knew that her fears were unfounded. But when the Worry showed up, it was hard to remember. So we came up with a list of phrases that Maxine could say to her Worry Brain to give it the all clear, such as I dont need you here, Worry Brain or Go back to sleep, Worry Brain, Im safe.
  • Expect Worry to show up. Maxine would also say to Worry, Here you are Worry, you always show up at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Go away! Thanks!
  • Replace the scary thoughts. You know the exercise Dont think of pink elephants? Its impossible to NOT think a thought. Instead, acknowledge the thought and replace it with something else. We brainstormed other things she could think about.

Over the next little bit, Maxine did improve in the area of going to sleep by herself, but she was still coming and getting me in the middle of the night.

Pack Some Transitional Items

Sleep Anxiety in Children

Wearing favorite superhero pajamas, using the same toothpaste they always use at home, and having a favorite teddy bear to sleep with could go a long way toward helping your child feel secure in a friends home.

Identify a few items they can take along that will help them feel more at home. They might even want to pack one of your T-shirts to remind them of you.

If they’re embarrassed that their friend will think they’re babyish for bringing a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket, remind them that they don’t necessarily have to use it. Instead, they can keep it hidden in an overnight bag. Simply knowing its there may be helpful.

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Childhood Insomnia Causes And Treatment

Most parents picture a crying baby when they think about kids and sleep problems. Many older kids and teens have problems sleeping too, including trouble going to sleep and waking up frequently in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, not getting a good night’s sleep can affect your child’s mood and behavior during the day, leading to school and discipline problems.

Persistent Sleep Problems At Different Ages

Children of all ages can have persistent sleep problems, but different problems are more common at different ages. Below are some examples of persistent sleep problems at different ages.

In preschoolers , common persistent sleep problems include:

  • night-time fears
  • the need for something or someone to go to sleep with for example, a bottle of milk in bed or a parent
  • resisting bedtime for example, calling out and getting out of bed
  • nightmares

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Overhaul The Sleep Environment

Sometimes the bedroom is either over-stimulating or contains items that cast unsettling shadows. Checking out the room from the childs perspective and/or asking a child whether there is anything in the room that they would like removing are good starting points but be careful not to plant the idea that there is anything scary that ought to be removed! Younger children may be afraid of monsters lurking and a common parental response is to check and reassure that there arent any. Unfortunately, this often reinforces to a child that the risk of monsters is real so a more honest explanation that monsters only exist in stories, founded in logic, can be more effective. For children who are anxious about the dark, a dim nightlight can help it is worth knowing that a red bulb will cause the least interference with sleep.

Should I Let Me Child Get Out Of Bed If They Are Scared

Anxiety relaxation for kids – Help your child to relax and sleep!

Let your child know that they can always talk to you about things they feel worried about and together you can work out a solution.

Encourage your child to stay in bed. They should stay in bed and find out they are safe, which will help them get over their fears. Letting your child leave the room sends the message that their bedroom isn’t really safe. If your child is too scared to stay in their room alone, it is OK to sometimes stay by their bed until they fall asleep. Do not do this too often because they may come to depend on you being there. If your child is anxious about you leaving, check on them. Begin by briefly checking and comforting them, and then increase the time in between checks until they fall asleep. Leave the bedroom door open and think about using a nightlight to decrease your child’s fears.

If your child wakes up during the night and can’t go back to sleep because they are frightened, go and reassure them that they are safe. If they leave their room and come into yours, take them back and put them back into bed. Tell them again that their room is safe.

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Create A Calm Environment

Reducing the chaos in your childs room can help reduce their overall stress. My daughter likes things to be very orderly and in their place. When her room is messy, I have noticed that she is uneasy, so every evening we tidy up and put things where they belong. This ability to control her environment is so important in creating a sense of empowerment that will counteract anxiety.

Another contributor to chaos is the presence of electronics. There are no televisions, computers, etc. in our childrens rooms because these are all distractions to sleep.

How Common Is It

Fears at bedtime are very common1. A study by Gordon, King, Gullone, Muris and Ollendick2 found that 64.2% of children and adolescents reported having nighttime fears. Another study reported the prevalence of significant sleep problems in children to be 37% in the general population. These are HUGE numbers. It means that 2 out of 3 children will have fears at bedtime at some point in their lives, and that 1 out of 3 children will have significant issues about going to sleep.

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Creating A Night Time Routine To Reduce Anxiety

Having a night time ritual is one the single more important things parents can do to help anxious or worried children sleep. The night time ritual should be very consistent. I tell parents that it should be a routine you can set your watch to, despite how hectic the day may have been. Routine helps create safety and predictability, both of which help children with anxiety or nightmares relax before bed.

How To Help Children Cope With Anxiety

How Can I Help My Anxious Child Sleep?

Human Behavior, Parenting, and Education Expert, Speaker, Author. Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed.

Imagine you are on an airplane and suddenly, the seatbelt light goes on. The pilot’s voice tells you to prepare for turbulence up ahead. In one moment, your heart starts pumping faster, your stomach drops and you’re breathing rapidly. These are the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety.

Children, as well as adults, experience anxiety and stress all day long. If left untreated, anxiety and stress can lead to long-term debilitating, emotional and physical problems. Even the loss of sleep can stress your child and lead him or her to become anxious.

Strategies to help your child cope and manage anxiety:

However, if your child’s anxiety and yours can no longer be addressed in a healthy way, reach for psychological help and counseling before the problem becomes habitual and a lifelong struggle with anxiety. By teaching your child how to skillfully cope with anxiety, you are giving him or her the potential to cope with anxiety. This will make a healthier, happier child, and therefore, a healthier and happier you.

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How Can I Comfort My Child When They Are Scared

It is important to comfort children who are scared. When your child holds onto you as they are being tucked in, or calls out in fear, you should go back to their bed and find out what is wrong. Be sure to tell them that they are safe.

You could say something like this:

“You are safe we are here to make sure you stay safe.”

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