If anyone ever asks me: “What is the most common problem that you regularly treat with children?” apart from eating disorders, I would have to say it is SLEEPING! Several times a week I get calls from mums or dads, saying “Please can you help us – we are desperate – my child won’t go to sleep!”
So, my first question is: “Do you mean he doesn’t want to go to bed? Or go to sleep. Or…do you mean he CAN’T go to sleep?” You see there are so many variations on this – perhaps the child CAN’T get to sleep because he’s anxious, or maybe he doesn’t WANT to go to sleep because he’s frightened of the dark. Or, perhaps, (and this is the most common one) he simply doesn’t want to go to bed.
Firstly, take a big deep breath because you are not on your own with this! Bedtimes don’t have to be disastrous, but they very often turn out like that don’t they! The first thing I ask parents is “What kind of sleep hygiene/routine do you have in place for the child?” Having a steady and consistent bedtime routine is one of the most important things to keep children healthy, so that they have enough energy to cope with all the learning they will be doing at school the following day!
Children Need a Routine
The bedtime routine needs to start quite early. Around two hours before bedtime, electronics and techno objects should all be turned off to enable the brain to slowly unwind. Then, try to have a consistent dinner time, and after dinner, the child can have a certain amount of time to play or do homework etc.
With a demanding child, give him options like: “You can either have a bath now, or skip the bath and just have a quick wash.” Or, do you want to have a bath first and then clean your teeth”
By giving the child options you are letting him think he has a certain amount of control.
If your child has been used to you laying on the bed with him until he goes to sleep, you can start the changes by just sitting on a chair by the bed whilst you read him a story. When the story is over, explain that you are going downstairs now because its time for him to go to sleep.
This is the crucial time isn’t it? This will be when he will cry, scream, want to come down- stairs with you, want a drink, want a wee wee, but all this boils down to HE DOESN’T WANT TO GO TO BED AND BE ON HIS OWN. I am sure you already have a night light for his room, and you’ve got the room nice and cosy, and he’s got his soft toy or blankie to hold, but no matter what else you do – he will not give up wanting to come down or wanting you to lay with him!
So, what do you do?
The sleep protocol is very good, but you DO HAVE to follow it to a T and not give in, for it to be successful. It may take a full week of spending several hours a night up and down the stairs but it sure will be worth it. It’s all about boundaries and mum and dad both ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’, both working together and being persistent, consistent and patient (my three favourite words!)
Those of you who don’t know what the bedtime and sleep protocol is – do message me, and I will talk you through it, and for any other bedtime advice if you need it. Also, if you think your child has some anxieties that are preventing him from going to sleep or sleeping through the night, a children’s hypnotherapy session will soon sort that!
Hypnosis is, as they say…child’s play!