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 time 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:
- For more on solving sleep issues read Helping Children Sleep, Moving Your Child To His Own Bed to Sleep and How I Got My Daughter to Give Up the Pacifier and Settle in to Deeper Sleep
- Want to stop yelling and start connecting? Get to know Hand in Hand's Five Tools to transform your parenting
- Buy the book! Listen: Five Simple Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges
~ 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.