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Parenting HacksPeaceful parenting 42 comments.
My 11 year old daughter, Maxine, slept alone in her own room for years and years with no trouble. Until last year… Halloween She has given me permission to share our journey with you. Maxine has never been an anxious kid, but she does have a rich imagination and a low tolerance for scary things. She knows herself pretty well so she knew to avoid listening to scary stories.
But last year at school on Halloween she decided she was old enough now and she could handle them. Some nights she could fall asleep on her own just fine, and some some nights she even slept through the night without issue. Some nights she did manage to fall asleep on her own, but then she would come and wake me up to sleep with her in the middle of the night.
I would sleep with her. This was my first strategy: Time and comfort. In fact, her anxiety got worse as we avoided what was making her anxious. She became dependent on me to feel safe. I learned two things:. When I asked her during the day what she was afraid of, it was pretty dark. The most common thing was that someone would break into our house. She told me that when she woke up in the night and the house was quiet, she thought it was because someone had broken into the house and killed everyone but her.
I reassured her. I showed her the locked doors. I reminded her how big and strong her dad and her brothers are, and that no one could get past them. We talked about how our neighbours were so close that they would surely see someone trying to break in and call the police. I reminded her that our dog barks like crazy every time anyone comes to the door. Nothing worked. For struggling with anxiety, no amount of reassurance will allay their fears.
We tried being tough. We just all felt bad. It broke my heart to hear her crying herself to sleep. We only did that once! I knew how hard Maxine was trying. She knew that it was causing a strain on me and her dad. She really wanted to be able to do it. But every night, her Worry Brain took over. I should know better, right? I help parents of children with anxiety! I finally realized I needed to use the tools that I teach parents of anxious. Anxiety is a normal human emotion.
We all feel a measure of anxiety, for example, before a big exam or a first date.
We know how to calm ourselves, or we can feel the fear and convince ourselves to proceed anyway. Anxiety becomes a problem when the part of our brain that is responsible for keeping us safe, the amygdala, is overactive and too sensitive and it causes us to respond in ways that interfere with our lives or makes us miserable.
The amygdala is an area deep inside our brains that is responsible for sensing danger and moving us into action when there is a perceived threat. When it senses danger, the amygdala takes over from the thinking part of our brain the prefrontal cortex and moves us into fight-flight-freeze to keep us safe. It makes neurochemicals and sends them to our bodies to get us ready to fight the tiger, or flee from it. These chemicals are what are responsible for the physical symptoms of anxiety: shallow breath, fast heart rate, feeling sick, etc.
This happens unconsciously and in a split second! And the more the amygdala is activated, the more easily it gets activated: pathways in the brain get laid down in patterns of fear response. We all need our amygdalas. They keep us safe. In an anxious person, the amygdala senses danger where there actually is none- like a smoke alarm that goes off every time the toast burns. The key to managing anxiety is to recognize that the alarm is a false one.
Push the button on the smoke alarm! We can actually rewire our brains. Over the next little bit, Maxine did improve in the area of going to sleep by herself, but she was still coming and getting me in the middle of the night. I realized we still had more work to do. How i got my sister to sleep with me needed to lead her back to her bed and leave her there ALONE, ramp up the efforts to get Worry to leave her alone, and also give her a reason to to use the tools.
Maxine started to keep books under her pillow and I told her if she woke up and she was scared, she could turn on the light and read. She maybe only did this once or twice, but knowing she could do something other than lie there and be scared made it easier to keep her Worry Brain quiet and go back to sleep.
Sometimes with anxiety, there is intrinsic value for to want to use the tools.
In our case, Maxine needed something to work toward so she could help herself stay in her bed. We devised a point system. Every time she fell asleep on her own she got a point, and every time she slept through the night without waking me up she got a point. When she got 5 points we had a treat maybe some cookies or french fries out- usually food now that I think about it! And of How i got my sister to sleep with me, I gave her a ton of empathy about how hard this was and how much I understood that she really wanted me to sleep with her.
In some cases though, children will not be able to see the intrinsic reward so we need to add an extrinsic reward. Tonight I read this post to her to make sure she approved. Want to be part of a larger peaceful parenting conversation? us in my peaceful parenting Facebook group or follow me on Instagram.
Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids ages 14, 17, and Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy.
at: www. Congratulations, both of you, on handling such a challenge so beautifully and courageously! And thank you so much for such a valuable, helpful article. Great advice! I have one question. How do I get my 9 year old daughter to stay in her room? She refuses to stay in her bed despite talking to her, standing near her bed, night light with books. The second we leave her room she follows and refuses to stay in her bed alone.
We are exhausted. Last night this lasted 4 hours until we gave in and let her in our bed because she needed to go to school In 7 hours. Hi Nicole! That sounds so tough. Have you tried the steps in the blog post? Is there something she can work toward? How i got my sister to sleep with me she wants to have a sleepover, or maybe even you can set up a reward system like I did.
Hang in there! I must try this with my 10 yr old daughter. She is so anxious at bed time and she told me she doesnt like being alone and is frightened something bad will happen, reassurance never works. I have a 9 year old who really struggles with anxiety in general and has never slept well. She gets so mad with herself which in turn keeps her awake, no matter what I do or say it is so hard to calm her down and often takes quite a few hours. Do you have any tips on how to re-focus her and get her calm enough to enable her to relax and fall asleep?
She has books to read etc, but as soon as she put the book down, she just starts getting mad again and the cycle begins again. HI Jemma! So tough! Good luck and hang in there! I am facing a this exact situation with my 8 year old daughter right now. Did you ever find a strategy that worked? I intend on trying these Worry procedures, but curious if anything else worked for you in addition to it.How i got my sister to sleep with me
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The Night It Went Down