* Promoting Better Sleep Habits With an Anxious Child

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, Courier & Press, January 16, 2018 –

Child:  “I can’t shut my brain off.”

Parent:  “But you have to get to sleep.  Quit stalling.  You have school tomorrow, so shut your eyes.”

In households with an anxious child this can be a common bedtime conversation.

There are many forms of anxiety, but one shared characteristic is overwhelming thoughts. These thoughts often start out as rational worries and fears but over time can become irrational and all-consuming.  An anxious brain has difficulty letting go and moving on from these thoughts, and nighttime can be one of the most challenging times.

To promote optimal health, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children ages 6 – 12 get 9 – 12 hours of sleep and teenagers ages 13 – 18 get 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night.  Following these guidelines on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and improved mental and physical health.

The typical reasons children are not getting enough sleep include phone or computer usage, video games, homework, jobs, extra-curricular activities, etc.  These things can usually be managed with some parental guidelines.  Anxiety is less obvious and harder for a parent to help with, often leaving both the parent and the child at a loss.

Here are some strategies to think about to help your child manage their anxiety and still get the right amount of sleep each night.

  • Establish a “before bed” routine. Give your child at least 30 minutes before bedtime to wind down. This means turning off all electronics and phones and spending some time getting ready for sleep.  It could include reading a book in a quiet room, taking a bath or shower, listening to music in a dim space, or journaling.  Work with your child on what this might look like for them.  This is a proactive way to set them up for success before they hit the pillow.
  • Have white noise in the room. There are plenty of options that are quiet but effective at drowning out the thoughts in your brain, including a fan, music, sound machine, or an app on your phone.
  • As a general rule try and help children avoid caffeine and snacks before bed. Often the snacks chosen are high in sugar, which does not help the body and mind wind down. Snacks that promote sleep may include bananas, oatmeal, yogurt, cheese with whole grain crackers or bread, or a glass of milk. These all have natural components that promote sleepiness.
  • Have your child keep a journal. Encourage them to spend time reflecting on their day and writing down all the worries and fears they have bottled up. Getting it out of their head and on paper can relieve some of the tension they are carrying to bed.
  • Don’t be afraid to allow them to get up and do something different for a short period of time. If you find they are still struggling after tossing and turning for 30 minutes, let them get up and do something relaxing and calming. They may be swirling those overwhelming thoughts in their head and can’t break the cycle just lying there.

Anxious children can get a good night’s sleep; you just have to find what works for your child. Hopefully some of the suggestions above will help them leave their worries behind before their head hits the pillow.

Helping Your Toddler Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleeping toddler

By Whitney Eaton, LCSW, Courier & Press, May 17, 2016 –

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night to little eyes staring at you or the quiet whisper of, “Mom?” For some little ones, getting a full night’s sleep is a tall order.

But for the parents who care for them, the struggle may be to function without sleep the next day. Starting the day sleep-deprived is not good for parent or child.

Toddlers bring so many joys, as they can now talk and are showing so much personality. Sometimes part of “self-expression” involves balking at bedtime.

Common bedtime challenges include battles with routine, not staying asleep or getting up way too early. All of these issues can be frustrating.

Equally problematic is the fact that it is hard to make rational decisions as a parent when you are sleep-deprived. Let’s face it, after a full day of work or caring for little ones, it can be a struggle to stick to a bedtime routine that will promote healthy sleep habits.

Some babies sleep like a dream initially and then develop problems with sleep patterns later. Why would a toddler suddenly have difficulty with bedtime when they have had months, or even years, of successful sleeping?

Any major transition such as having a new sibling, getting a new bed, or moving into a new home can cause sleep disruption.

Going from a crib to a toddler bed can also cause changes. A toddler learns they have freedom to get out of bed, explore and roam.

A toddler’s sleep patterns also typically change. As infants, most children take longer naps in the middle of the day that may last 1 to 3 hours. However, toddlers typically only need 1 to 2 hours for naptime.

So what can we do? We have all heard that routines and schedules are very important when it comes to bedtimes for infants and toddlers.

Coming up with a calming bedtime routine is definitely a great place to start. A warm bath, quiet time in your little one’s room, or reading a story before bed are just a few things you could incorporate into your bedtime schedule.

The key is to make bedtime a relaxing routine, one that “winds down” rather than “winds up” their day. Overstimulation before bed can cause difficulty with falling asleep.

Now how do we keep the little ones in bed? A sound machine or white noise machine can work wonders. Sometimes just having something to block out other noises can be beneficial to help your little one stay in bed and sleep more soundly.

A monitor allows you to listen or see if your child wakes up without actually going into the room. As long as your little one is safe, it is OK to let him cry a little before going into the room. In fact, it can be normal for your little one to wake up occasionally through the night. The best thing is for him to be able to soothe himself back to sleep.

Developing a rewards system can also be motivating for your toddler. Purchase a few low-cost items your child likes, such as stickers, bubbles, chalk or a book. If your toddler can stay in her room all night, then she can chose something from your prize basket.

If you incentivize the behavior, your toddler will soon put together that sleeping in his bed all night makes mommy and daddy happy. Then you will be able to slowly remove the tangible rewards and just offer praise each morning.

These are just a few ideas you could try to help your toddler (and you) sleep better. For more tips on parenting and building healthy habits, visityouthfirstinc.org. Sweet dreams!