Getting to sleep can be a nightmare for many kids and for their parents. In “What to Do When You Dread Your Bed,” Dr. Dawn Huebner provides a guide to help kids overcome their anxiety. An excerpt.
Introduction to parents and caregivers
“Good-night. Sleep tight. I love you.” We all have this image: of whispering our final, loving words to our children and tiptoeing out of their rooms. Of finishing the dishes or turning on the TV and finally, finally having a moment to ourselves as our children drift off to sleep. But in many households, it doesn’t go that way at all.
Instead, bedtime becomes battle time. We fight about when. We fight about where. We fight about who’s going to put them to bed and how many stories and whether or not to allow one more hug, just one more, please. We fight until we’re exhausted, and they’re exhausted, and no one is asleep. And then we give in. And we lie down in beds that are too narrow, or we take them into beds that used to be ours, and we fall asleep and so do they. Eventually. But not the way we wanted. One of three children has trouble falling asleep, impacting on just about everything else in their lives, from their mood the next day to their ability to focus at school.
Sleep-deprived children are more vulnerable to a host of problems, from anxiety to uncontrolled rage to physical illness.
And sleep-deprived parents don’t do so well either. There are many reasons why kids have trouble at night, why they (and we) don’t get enough sleep. Nighttime fears top the list, followed by competing demands (homework, TV, too little family time) and the inability to settle down at night. Bad habits are quick to form yet seemingly impossible to break. And being short on sleep leads to physiological changes that actually make it harder to fall asleep the next night, creating a downward spiral of nighttime problems.
You know all that. And you have undoubtedly tried everything you can think of to get your child to sleep in a reasonable way, at a reasonable time. But as you know, there is no crib to contain your determined 8-year-old, no logic to appease your frightened 11-year-old, no routine to fully solve the problem for your restless 10-year-old. You, as a parent, play an important role in helping your child develop good sleep habits, but by the time your child is 6, 9, or 12 years old, you no longer have the ability to solve the problem on your own. You need your child’s help.
Without dread. Without tears and call-backs. Without nighttime awakenings and little bodies slipping into bed next to yours. Your child will have learned skills that can be used over the course of a lifetime. Because really, this is about more than just sleep. It’s about tackling fears. It’s about relaxing bodies and quieting minds. It’s about setting goals and achieving them. And the extra time at night, it’s a gift to you. Enjoy!
Chapter One: A Little Magic
Wouldn’t it be great if you could climb into bed, snuggle under your covers, close your eyes, and fall asleep without any fuss or fear? Without listening for noises or thinking about bad guys? Without an extra drink, or an extra hug, or an extra trip to the bathroom? Without feeling too hot, or having twitchy legs, or lying awake for hours with your eyes wide open, knowing you’ll NEVER get to sleep? Maybe you’re a kid who’s had trouble sleeping for as long as you can remember. Or maybe your sleep troubles started more recently but aren’t going away.
So let’s create a magic wand. Start out by drawing one here. What is a magic wand, anyway? It’s just a stick of some sort, right? It can be a twig, a chopstick, a pencil, or even your own finger. Anything long and narrow can be a wand. But what about the magic part? Actually, anyone can create magic, because magic is really just a series of optical illusions, something that tricks your brain into seeing something that’s different from what’s really there. So go find something you can use as a magic wand, and grab a rubber band. You’re about to create some magic of your own.
Try this magic trick called “The Jumping Rubber Band.”
- Hold your right hand up, with your palm toward your face.
- Place a rubber band around your ring finger and pinky.
- Curl all of your fingers [but not your thumb] in toward your palm.
- Stretch the rubber band around just the tips of your index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. The rubber band will now be tight against the back of your ring finger and pinky.
- Keep your right hand curled in while you pick up your wand with your left hand. Wave the wand over your right hand, and say some magic-sounding words.
- Let your right hand spring open. Watch the rubber band jump from your ring finger and pinky, where it started out, to your index and middle finger.
Practice a bunch of times until you can quickly tuck your fingers and make the rubber band “jump” every time. So you see, magic is about learning a bunch of steps, and then practicing over and over until you can do them smoothly. Falling asleep is like that, too. Just a bunch of steps you do in a certain order and then — VOILA! — you’re asleep.
You might be thinking, “A bunch of steps? All you have to do is close your eyes!” But as you know, it isn’t always that easy. In fact, it can be really hard. One of every three children has some sort of sleep problem. That means that in your class at school, there are probably six or seven kids who have trouble at night, who still sleep with their mom or dad, or sleep alone but feel scared about it. Kids who take hours to fall asleep, or wake up every night with bad dreams.
So if you’re reading this book because you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. There are kids all over the country, and even all over the world, just like you. And just like you, there are thousands of kids reading this book, thousands of kids learning to fall asleep and stay asleep without a hitch. Because really, there’s more to it than just closing your eyes.
There are a bunch of steps, and each one is important. Think about the rubber band trick. If you decided to skip one of the steps, like tucking all your fingertips in, the trick would be a dud. No matter how many times you practiced opening and closing your fist, the rubber band would always stay on the same two fingers. If you don’t follow all of the steps, it simply doesn’t work. It’s the same with falling asleep. You need to do all the steps, exactly as they are described, to make it work. But then it will work, because even a problem that seems huge, like feeling scared every night or not being able to get to sleep on your own, can be solved pretty easily once you know the right steps. Anyone can do it. Even you.
Reproduced with permission from "What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems with Sleep." Text copyright (c) 2008 by Magination Press (American Psychological Association). Illustrations copyright (c) 2008 by Bonnie Matthews. All rights reserved. No further reproduction or distribution is permitted without the written permission of the publisher and the illustrator. For additional information please visit http://www.maginationpress.com/441B011.html.