Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Techniques for Bedtime Separation Anxiety

In most homes infants sleep in their parents room especially if they are breast fed. This is convenient for both mommy and baby and generally will continue until the child sleeps through the night. Separation anxiety usually occurs when the child is in their own room or even in a bedroom they share with other siblings. A panic response arises out of a feeling that they are not safe as parents are considered their protectors and separation from them heightens the child’s nighttime fears of abandonment.

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In human history, our cavemen and women used to hunt and gather during the night leaving the children alone and vulnerable to predators. This innate feeling has been past down from generation to generation. One thing is for certain nighttime fears and separation anxiety should be taken seriously as anxiety leads to bad dreams, nightmares and sleep disorders that turn into bad behavioral problems and other health related issues. If parents treat the child’s separation anxiety at an early age it will help them avoid emotional problems later in life.

To deal successfully with bedtime fears and separation anxiety a child needs to develop a sense of time when they will see a parent again, gain control of emotional impulses, not make conclusions that are misleading sensory information (shadow on the wall looks like a monster) and distinguish appearances from reality. Most children will develop these physiological capacities when they reach 5-6 years of age and even then they can’t be expected to create their own effective fear management therapies. Children that are younger than 5 and more timid than others are more frightened when left to fend for themselves as they don’t know how to calm themselves down.

Temperamentally-inhibited children have higher resting heart rates and higher levels of stress hormones. Timid children are more sensitive and become trigger-happy when it comes to fears and anxieties. What these children need is someone to provide security and teach them how to overcome their fears.

Techniques for Bedtime Separation Anxiety:

• Often parents leave distraught children alone at night to work things out for themselves. Children lack the ability to do so and many experts agree that the “cry it out” approach is unsuitable for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and shy children who are particularly fearful or nervous about parental separation. See easy sleeping methods for baby for more information on how to put your child to bed.

• Some children who experience stress from daytime separation from their parents are more likely to do so at night. Try to help your child cope with daytime anxiety as this may reduce their nighttime fears of the dark and sleeping alone.

• Establish a sleep routine that allows them to calm down and get their mind and body ready to fall asleep easy. Avoid television shows or stories that are scary, even Dr. Seuss’ Pale Green Pants with No Body Inside Them which is suppose to tell children that what might appear to be scary actually isn’t can seem frightening to a young enough child. Also try to limit caffeine and sugar before bedtime. Going to bed when they are all wound up will result in a child that is left awake in the dark with more time to think about being alone.

• When my daughter was three she had separation anxiety and at first I gave her a back rub to calm her enough to fall asleep. Eventually I sat on the floor next to her bed and every other night I gradually sat closer and closer to the door until she understood that Mommy was still around even though I wasn’t in her room anymore. So try to be patient with your child’s fears as it is important for them to know that you are not angry with them as this will only add to your child’s nighttime stress.

• If your child has bad dreams it is important that you try to wake them or respond to them quickly and tell them that it wasn’t real so your child can get back to sleep. If your child is afraid to fall asleep because they have bad dreams or feel that the boogie man is under their bed or in their closet a night light may help assure them that they are safe. As part of their nightly routine you may want to check under the bed or in the closet to confirm that their fears are unfounded.

• Some experts believe that breathing exercises can help reduce anxiety. Teaching older children to take slow, deep breaths have shown to reduce stress by 40%. Another technique might be visualization. If you child appears to be anxious have them think of happy thoughts which could be a friend, pet or place they have enjoyed. Role playing or role reversal has also been affective teaching children coping skills. You or their favorite toy can play the child’s part and have them be the comforting adult. Create stories to teach them to overcome their nighttime fears. If they like Elmo or Batman, have them be the hero in the story that successfully overcomes the frightening elements. As the hero over comes the bad guy or thing your child will develop fear management techniques and gradually your child’s fears will be desensitized. You can record your voice by offering soothing words or even a lullaby to help them fall asleep. I wrote a lullaby for my daughter when she was a little girl and now she sings it to my granddaughters.

Go to sleep, go to bed
Close your eyes, you sleepy head
Your days be long, you've played so hard
And I know that you're very tired
I'll see you in the morning light
So for now lets say good night

repeat slower
repeat slower and softer

The content provided in Techniques for Bedtime Separation Anxiety is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for you or your families sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.

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