Q: Lately, I have been having trouble sleeping at night. I get into bed early because I am so tired from my long day at work and taking care of my children, but I cannot sleep. My mind races and I start to think about all the things I did not get done and all of the things I need to do the next day. The problem is that I cannot do anything the next day because I am just too tired from not sleeping. Please help me stop worrying so that I can get some sleep.
A: It’s sounds like your anxiety is keeping you awake at night – and then your sleep deprivation is not allowing you to accomplish important things during the day. This is a vicious cycle that occurs when we have trouble controlling our anxiety. There are some easy steps you can take to minimize the anxiety and allow yourself a restful night’s sleep.
The Mayo Clinic, a prestigious research institute in Minnesota, suggests exercise to help reduce anxiety. They explain, “Exercise may also boost feel-good endorphins, release muscle tension, help you sleep better, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” Picking a physical activity, like swimming or walking with a friend, can have positive benefits for both your body and mind. Additionally, when you exercise, your body is more tired and will more easily relax into sleep.
But, if you are still lying in bed and cannot fall asleep even after you have done some physical activity during the day, make a list. Keep a pad of paper and a pen on your night table, so that you do not have to get up. If the thoughts that are keeping you awake are tasks you need to complete, write them down. This way, you know you won’t forget.
When you wake up, take that list and label the things you have to do in order of importance. What needs to get done that day? What can wait until tomorrow or next week? Making a list of your priorities will allow you to see your concerns in perspective so you can focus on the big picture.
Q: I just cannot control my seven-year-old daughter. Whenever she doesn’t get her way – in the supermarket, in shul, on the street or at home – she throws a huge tantrum. She begins to kick and scream if I say no to her smallest request. Aside from being embarrassing, it is starting to affect my other children. They notice that she gets more attention when she acts out. How can I get my daughter to stop her tantrums?
A: From what you’re saying, your daughter seems to be testing boundaries to determine what she can do to get your attention and her way. Children who throw tantrums are both asking for attention and expressing themselves in the only way they know how to at that moment. Ross Greene, the author of The Explosive Child, explains that when children get frustrated, they often lose their ability to communicate in a productive and civil manner.
The key to reducing or eliminating these tantrums is teaching your daughter that tantrums do not help her get what she wants. Additionally, it is important to coach your daughter to communicate in a constructive way.
So, how can you show your daughter that she will not get what she wants when she throws a tantrum? The answer, though simple, is anything but easy. As embarrassing and inconvenient as it is, you have to avoid giving into the tantrum. If you are in a public place, this often means leaving (even when you are in the middle of the supermarket with a full shopping cart) and taking your daughter home to calm down. Once home, allow her to sit and play in her room until she stops her screaming and kicking. Leaving the supermarket without the thing she wanted is the punishment, not placing her in her room. This time alone should simply allow her to figure out how to relax on her own. Once calm, you can talk about why you left the supermarket and explain to her how that could have been avoided. However, do not give in to the request that began the tantrum.
The second important element in controlling tantrums is teaching your daughter how to communicate her frustration. She might feel that the only way anyone listens is if she screams. The authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk suggest that you show respect for your child’s struggle. It might be hard to understand why she gets so upset over something as small as not being able to climb the shelves in the supermarket. Regardless, empathizing with your daughter and telling her, “I understand that you are really upset that you cannot do that because it is dangerous,” will show her that you will pay attention to her even if she doesn’t scream. She will be more willing to calmly share her frustrations if she thinks you are going to listen and understand.