Dear Dr. Yael,
I am having a very difficult time putting my children to sleep at night. Our four-year-old son finds a variety of reasons to come out of bed for an hour after he has been put to bed. I have tried rewards and punishments, but nothing works. Our eight-year-old daughter has a hard time falling asleep – there are times when she is still up at midnight. I try to help her relax and tell her to focus on positive thoughts, but it doesn’t seem to help.
As a result, my relationship with my husband is incredibly tense as there seems to be no time for us alone. Do you have any suggestions to offer?
Your sleep issue, while challenging for you, is not unique; many children have a difficult time going to sleep. For many children this is a stressful time as they see it as a form of separation from their parents. In addition, some children feel as if they are missing something when they go to sleep. And there are those who are afraid that if they go to sleep they will not wake up in the morning.
Here are some thoughts:
First, it may be possible that you are putting your son to sleep too early. If he goes to sleep an hour later and wakes up in the morning on his own, he may not need more sleep.
If putting him to bed an hour later doesn’t work for you, put him to bed at the same time, but let him play quietly in his room. Then when the hour is up, go in to tuck him in.
Think about your bedtime routine. Do you read him stories, speak to him in a loving way, listen to him talk about his day or engage him in a pleasant conversation before he goes to sleep? The time before a child goes to sleep is precious and should be used wisely. If you don’t have a routine, create one: let him get ready for bed, brush his teeth, say Shema and spend some time with you or your husband talking, reading books or telling stories. This will help him separate from you in a more pleasant manner. You can even make a tape on which you tell him how much you love him and the things he does that make you proud. Let this play in his room after you leave so that the separation process is easier. I would also recommend storytelling tapes. Often a child will fall asleep easily while listening to a story before bed. But do not threaten him; making this a combative time will not accomplish anything.
Your daughter seems to have a more serious problem. You should investigate what she is actually afraid of. And, though she is older, create a positive bedtime environment for her as well. Even teenage children should be spoken to before they go to bed. Often a child’s worst fears emerge right before sleep. Taking the time to speak with her then might help you uncover the source of her fear.
If that doesn’t work, I would consider seeking professional help to get to the root of her phobia.
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We very often address what has been termed our community’s shidduch crisis in this column. At different times, we have even shared information about a particular person who was looking for a shidduch, and, Baruch Hashem, two couples met in this way.
This week, we present a lovely young woman who lost her special husband at an early age. If you know of anyone who might be appropriate for her, please email Yrresponses@gmail.com.