Setting Limits Around Sleep Struggles

English

The night before last, my three-year-old, awoke at 4:30 am crying and very scared. He kept asking, “Is someone gonna come?” He had watched Kung Fu Panda with us earlier that day, a movie that he’s seen many times and likes, but this sleep time strugglestime it seemed to get to him–at least subconsciously.

I had gone to sleep very early, and actually wasn’t so tired when he awoke. Something similar had happened about a month earlier where after watching something that didn’t seem to scare him in the moment, he awoke scared in the night. It was a week where I was not rested, so when he woke up and came to our bed, I just cuddled him up and we both fell instantly back asleep.

The problem was that this went on for several days, and I was starting to feel resentful – not to mention exhausted. And my husband was moaning about how he was falling off the side of the bed. All in all, this “solution” was not working for 3/5 of the household.

So, the night before last seemed the perfect night to put my limit setting to the test. When my son woke up and wanted to come to our bed, I said in a loving tone, “No. I’m going to go sleep with Dad, and you are going to stay here in bed with your older brother.”

The terror and tears came flowing out. “No! I want you to stay with me all night!” I tried laying him down in bed and laying across the bottom of the bed, holding his hand. This quieted him, but no matter how long I waited before gently removing my hand from his grip, he would sit bolt upright, call my name, and grab for my hand. I realized this was not going to get me anywhere. A couple of times, I did “escape”, but no more than a minute later, he would show up at my bedside again wanting to sleep with us. I took him back to his bed and repeated that he was going to sleep in his bed and me in mine, and, again, the tears flowed.

I sat on the edge of his and his brother’s bed and held him as he screamed and cried that he wanted to sleep with me. Then he quieted down and explained very creatively that I should get in bed with his brother and that he would go sleep with Dad. Uh, nice try! Again, I set the limit and he cried and screamed. He actually woke my 7-year-old in the bed next to us (and my kids don’t usually wake for anything), and he was very sweet. He said, “He can come sleep with me.” But the youngest would have nothing of it.

I just kept holding him and he kept crying and screaming for a whopping two hours. At 6:30am he fell asleep in my arms, I laid him in his bed, and went back to sleep. I felt great knowing that he had been able to shed all that fear, and even greater when last night he slept right through as he usually does!

Why it Works

When you sit with your child and gently comfort them as they cry, without shooshing or judgments, they are able to emotionally release tensions and fears that get stuck inside and cause off-track behaviors – in this case, fear of being left. Hand in Hand calls the tool Staylistening.  Although the approach can be challenging for parents at first because so many of us were raised to not cry openly,  staying with your children through these storms raises your connection. You are effectively saying you’ll stick by them in good times and bad.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:

 

Tosha Schore, Parenting by Connection, California~ Tosha Schore is a Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor and Trainer and the Co-Author of the book Listen: Five Simple Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges with Patty Wipfler. You can join Tosha for her next online Parenting by Connection Starter Class. You can also connect with Tosha through Your Partner in Parenting.

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Setting Limits Around Sleep Struggles

  1. My 21 month old son has been doing this for several nights now, waking 2-3 hours after going to bed in considerable distress and refusing to settle unless Daddy stays with him. (He’s much more attached to his Daddy than me, which may be because he’s a twin with a sister who is very clinging with me). I’ve tried to set limits and use staylistening as he lets out his fear and upset, which last night involved 2 hours of howling. But it seems to be getting worse rather than better, he’s getting more and more upset each night. Am I doing something wrong? Any advice would be gratefully received, as I’m very new to the ideas on this website

    • So glad you’re reaching out for help! I feel your pain. Those early years of sleep deprivation are so so hard!

      Without knowing all the details, here are a couple of suggestions I’d make:

      1) Be sure to balance these big emotional times with sweet times. If you’re not doing Special Time with your son, I would highly recommend starting to warm the relationship between you two that way. (There are lots of articles on the HIH website about how to do it.) Especially since you mentioned that his twin sister is clingy with you and, I’m imagining, getting more of your attention. Things will go better when he’s getting more sweet, loving, playful attention from you.

      2) Be sure that you’re resourced and rested enough so that when you’re listening to him cry in the night you are able to maintain a sweet, calm tone. So often we’re exasperated and they feel it. (I’ve been there.) But that type of listening doesn’t help. We’ve got to be in a space where we feel connected and loving.

      If you’re interested, I write about all sorts of parenting challenges like the one you’re facing in my blog on my website at http://www.toshaschore.com/blog. I invite you to read and, hopefully, find comfort there as well.

      Appreciating all you do as a momma, and sending a virtual hug!

      Tosha

  2. Pingback: Talking To Children About Violent and Shocking Events | Madeleine Winter

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