Setting Limits Allows Restful Sleep

Bad Dream
photo courtesy of christopher eriksen

I could tell my 6-year-old daughter had something on her mind.

She had been talking about something that had troubled her at school, and while I had listened empathetically, it didn’t feel like she had gotten the feeling out.

Close to bedtime, she started giving me her usual off-track signals: being a bit rough with me, not wanting to do the usual routine of brushing or settling down for snuggle time.

And then it came – she started insisting that 8 o’clock was not a suitable time for her to go to sleep, and that she should get until 8.30pm.

I moved in close and set a limit: “No honey, your bedtime is at 8. Let’s go to bed.”

She began bargaining: “I will get into bed at 8 until 8.30 and then you can switch off the lights at 8.30.”

When I stuck to my limit, her response went up a notch. She started screaming and crying and hitting me. At this point I held her hands softly and reminded her that I couldn’t let her hit me, but that I was there for her.

She didn’t like this. She started to try and run away, saying that I couldn’t make her go to bed, and she wasn’t going to let me. At this point I reached out to her and held her close, while letting her struggle and push against me. She kept screaming for me to let her go, but I said that I wanted to be with her while she felt this way, for just a little while.

After a few minutes, I did let her go, and I followed her to her room, where she climbed on to the top of the bunk bed. I climbed up too, but I stayed on the other side of the bed. I just focused all my attention on sending her my love and warmth, as she tried several different tactics to try to make me go away—making faces at me, shouting, trying to read a book.

When she opened the book, I got in a bit closer and gently put my hand on it and repeated my limit, and told her it wasn’t reading time and that she needed to sleep.

She then tried hiding under the blanket. At this point, I played with it, looking for her as if she had disappeared, then peeking underneath and being surprised that she was there.

She laughed, then went back to anger; for a little while, her mood swung back and forth between being angry with me and laughing with me. I kept at it until she had calmed, and then suggested we go down and into bed, and she readily agreed!

We got into her bed and snuggled, and then she started talking about what had happened at school again – the root of what had been behind this need for emotional release! I snuggled and listened, and then left her in bed. She settled to sleep as per normal!

I was grateful that I had been able to recognise the need for setting limits to help her release her frustration at what happened, and that my listening had allowed her to process it fully. The next day, I asked her about the situation with her school friend and she seemed much more at peace with it all.

— a parent from London, England

Get a free guide to setting calm limits here. If you need help with your child’s aggressive outbursts these five podcasts will help. 

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