In an earlier post, we talked about separation anxiety, what it looks like, and some basics as to how to handle it. Now, we want to look at a specific instance, notably, the bedtime anxiety that many children experience.
First of all, it’s very important to establish good bedtime routines if you haven’t already. This includes some traditional sleep hygiene recommendations such as setting a firm bedtime, stopping electronic media 30-60 minutes prior, taking a bath or shower, brushing teeth, etc. Routines help with predictability, and this alone can help to settle some stress that the child is experiencing.
For kids with some separation anxiety who don’t want their parents to leave or end up in their parents’ bedroom, it’s sometimes helpful to systematically establish independence through increasing the distance between the child in bed and the parent.
The series may start (after the child is tucked in) with a number of times that the parent is lying in bed with the child, then a number of times sitting on the bed, then sitting on the floor, then sitting by the door, then sitting outside the door, etc. This process may take several weeks. This sounds pretty simple, but in fact, this can be quite difficult, depending on each situation and each child.
You also will be reducing the time spent in the child’s bedroom during the bedtime routine, then you’ll come back and check on the child every few minutes. This should occur much more often early on, then lengthen the time.
Parents will want to reinforce the child for successful efforts, and this could be as simple as verbal praise. Or it could include other small rewards after the child wakes the next morning, or a way for the child to earn points towards a larger reward.
There will be set-backs. This is normal, and you might have to briefly move back to a prior step in the process, but you continue with the procedures.
Bedtime anxiety can be a significant challenge for families, but as is the case with many types of anxiety, it can be successfully treated.
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