Dear Teacher Lisa: Sleep trouble

Dear Teacher Lisa,

We are really struggling with getting our son to sleep. I’m wondering if you have any advice for us.

We have always laid down with him until he goes to asleep, and he has always taken a long time to actually let himself relax and actually fall asleep. Lately though he has been hitting, kicking and pinching, especially with me. It’s becoming a really unpleasant for all of us.

I feel like maybe he would do better if we left him to go to sleep on his own, but each time I leave him alone, he only stays in bed a minute or so before getting up to find us.  I was thinking of asking him tomorrow about how he felt about going to sleep on his own, maybe coming up with a plan together, writing a book about it, steps we could take and maybe practice it during the day?

I read an article recommending only leaving him alone for a minute at first, then increasing the time I leave him alone a minute every night, and praising him profusely if he stays in bed.  I’m also tempted to give him something special for breakfast if he stays in bed. I’m at my wits end, but am not sure if rewards and bribes are the way to go.

I would really love to figure this out before the new baby comes, but also worry about just traumatizing him, then him associating it with the new baby. Any advice would be welcome.


Sleep Troubles

Dear Sleep Troubles,

I’m sorry to hear you are struggling. My guess is that your son is subconsciously anxious/scared about the imminent arrival of the baby. It’s a big deal and he knows it’s happening soon, but he doesn’t know exactly what that means for him. Sleep is a time of day that brings out those big feelings–in addition to fear, he may be feeling angry or upset with you that things are changing, or just out of control on top of being tired. 

My suggestion is not to leave him alone in this time when he is about to have a big transition. But, I do think that your partner should take the lead. I think you should start to mark time during the day as your “special time” with him (even if you spend all day together already, just labeling it and paying extra attention to playing with him during those 15 minutes and talking about how each day you will look forward to this special time where he gets to guide the activity for the two of you), but that night time should be your partner’s domain. I’m sorry to say, but when this baby arrives, you will be needed with the baby all night, so it is best if they start to establish their own bedtime and nighttime routine whether that is sleeping together all night, or an extended tuck in. I recall it as one of the hardest transitions as a mother to let go a little of my older child to focus on the younger child, but it is natural and necessary. I think it is very important for the second parent/other extended family member (in families that have this option) step up to fill the older child’s needs during this transition period. It ends up being very bonding for them, and helps the older child adapt knowing they have a point person. 

I was also wondering if tiring him out a little more during the day might help him fall asleep faster. I’m curious if school/outing days will be easier than non-school days. Or maybe you want to get something like a trampoline in the backyard if your partner is at work and can’t take him for a bike ride or hike or something. 

You could talk to your son about what he thinks is going on at bedtime like you said, but I’m not sure he would be able to articulate the feelings causing the behavior. When kids are tired and emotional, they thrash around without much control. Maybe you could plan a calming pre-bed activity with his input–listening to classical music, getting a back rub, taking a bath, a cuddly lovey… maybe he would have suggestions of what makes him feel relaxed?

That’s all I’ve got for now. (I don’t think the bribes or leaving him are going to work because it’s not logical premeditated action that he’s taking at bedtime.)

Sending sleepy vibes,

Teacher Lisa

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