Please watch my video below to learn what to do if your baby is scared of bedtime.
To ask a question about your child’s sleep, just leave it in the ‘Comments’ section below! I’ll choose one and create a new video answer each week!View the Video Transcript
Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program. If you’d rather read than watch, I’ve transcribed the text of this video below.
This week’s question comes from Stephanie. She writes:
“My son used to go to sleep fine on his own. This past weekend our neighbors were doing fireworks, and every night since, he’s been scared. He starts to cry when it’s bath time, and he keeps crying every time he thinks I might leave the room. He’s crying so much that he’s vomited. What can I do to get him back on track?”
There were a number of people who wrote in about similar problems. One in particular was about a mother going back to work—her child being in day care—and now there was lots of anxiety around bedtime caused by the day care. So I thought it was worth exploring a little bit with you today.
That is totally fair and valid on his part. The fireworks were scary, and he’s having some anxiety now. So what can you do? It’s similar with day care. Lots of changes have gone on in his life, you are now gone a lot, and day care is brand new. Of course there’s going to be a period of adjustment. Some children handle it better than others, just like adults, and these are going to be reoccurring themes that happen as your child grows. Even starting school can be a bit of a trauma the first few days, and even going into grade one can be a tough transition. So, they’re going to definitely come up, and it’s worth validating the fact that this child’s having some anxiety and fear.
I would start by explaining fireworks to him. Maybe you want to show him what fireworks are or show him some pictures of fireworks just so he knows what they were and what they are. Yes, they’re noisy, but they’re not scary. They show off beautiful lights, and that’s why people use them. And then, because he’s so worked up, I would suggest—and I’m not sure how old he is, but I’m guessing he’s at least two or three—you might decide to put a reward chart in, just to make it a positive thing. He doesn’t cry through the bath, he has a good time, he reads his story, he gets into bed, he doesn’t cry, and therefore, in the morning, when his clock says seven, he can have some sort of reward. Set your intentions—what you want is for him to go to bed cooperatively and not to cry—just so he knows what you expect from him.
And then, because it’s been so tough on him and he’s working himself up to such a state, I would suggest you do the stay-in-the-room method again. I hardly ever suggest that, because I don’t want a toddler to think, “All I have to do is kick up a fuss and you’ll come back and work your way out of the room again, and then we can play this game every month, and you’ll keep coming back.” I really suggest once people have done it, you’ve done it. You don’t revisit. But because this has been so tough on all of you, just to get him comfortable with the idea that he’s fine and there’s nothing to be scared about, I would do the stay-in-the-room method, but just expedite the whole thing. I’d maybe do one or two nights right by the bed, one or two nights in the middle of the room, one or two nights by door, and then you’re gone. So, basically, in about five nights, you’ve just reestablished your routine and you’ve cut the anxiety level. You can stay until he’s asleep, and you can tell him that and work your way out. And treat the night wakings, if there are any, in the same manner—you’re fine and he’s fine and you’re going to work your way out. By night five it should be back on track.
The good news is, he was a good sleeper in the past, so we know he can do this. He knows he can do this. It’s just a matter of reminding him. It’s similar with any kind of day care trauma or adjustment period. You can go back to speeding your way through the stay-in-the-room method. Don’t stall out, though. I’ve already warned in earlier episodes that you really shouldn’t stall out somewhere and start staying in the room every night, because it’s just going to cause lots of problems down the road.
So, five nights, speed your way through it. If there’s still some crying after night five, you’re going to leave him five or ten minutes, and you can go back and remind him that it’s nighty-night. You can even say to a toddler that you’ll come back and check but only if he’s quiet. If he’s crying and kicking up a big fuss, you’re not going to come back. If he’s quiet, you can go back every minute at first to really reinforce it: “Thank you for being quiet. I’ll be back. Thank you for being quiet. I’ll be back.” And then, as the nights go on and he’s getting more comfortable with it, you’d just start spacing out your going back. It was a minute, now it’s three minutes, now it’s five minutes, now it’s ten, until he no longer needs you to keep coming back to check on him.
I hope that helps with that problem, Stephanie. Thanks for your question. Sleep well!
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