QUESTION: I am a stay-at-home mother; my husband works shift work. We have a five-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. My daughter has become impossible to please lately with her bedtime routine and during the night. She will start crying and overreacting when storytime and prayers are over at night.
The past two months, she has started calling out for me in the night and starts shouting when I try to leave her once she is in bed.
Last night, she screamed the house down and both my husband and I lost our patience with her. There was no reasoning with her last night, she didn’t calm down when I told her not to wake her brother.
Previously, we have worked out issues with removing toys, treats and privileges. But lately there is no getting through to her. Even seeing her brother’s perfect star chart and hers full of sad faces is not working this time.
She has just started school, which is going well, although she refuses to go on play dates. Nothing traumatic has happened and we are totally at a loss.
Please give us your advice on what to try next.
ANSWER: Disruptions at bedtimes, when children had previously been in a settled routine, are often caused by big changes in their lives. While starting school isn’t a huge transition for some children, it is undoubtedly a major change for others.
It may be that your daughter is struggling with the social aspect of school, trying to get to know a big group of boys and girls. This seems clearer in her reluctance to go on play dates. It may well be worth talking to her teacher to find out how she is getting on at school.
Getting cross with her and punishing her for being upset at bedtime won’t work. She doesn’t need the threat of losing toys, treats or privileges. She needs lots of understanding and emotional support.
As an aside, star charts and other behavioural reward systems should always be based on a positive focus, not a negative focus. So discard her chart that collects sad faces. Being negatively compared with her “baby” brother is no incentive to make positive changes either!
She needs to know that you understand that even three months into school, she may still be finding the transition challenging. Let her know that you could understand that she might feel tired, overwhelmed, anxious or stressed by her school days.
Then, when it comes to the night times themselves, you can change a few things about how you approach bedtime and that initial settling-down phase. Even your own attitude is important. If you are expecting a drama, it is more likely to occur.
Have a very structured and consistent pre-bed routine. The constituents are less important than the fact that the same routine is followed, calmly, every night. But you will probably include things like getting into pyjamas, brushing teeth, washing her hands and face, and then storytime and prayers.
When this is consistently carried out, it creates its own safety and security in its predictability. Then, when the time comes for bed, I would suggest that you stay with her for five minutes after she gets into bed to reassure her with your presence. This will help to soothe her panic and distress at the thought of you leaving her alone in bed.
Then when you do go, you need to promise her that you will return to check on her every three minutes. By visiting her you also eliminate the need for her to get up (which is more disruptive to her sleeping) to come and find you.
Tell her that she needs to stay in bed and that you will come to her. It is important to stick to this visiting schedule (so set yourself a repeating alarm) even if it seems it will soak up lots of your precious adult time. When you think about it, you have to give her so much time and attention anyway (mostly being cross while she is distressed) that your time is absorbed long after she should have gone to sleep.
At the start, you may find that you are camped near to her bedroom for that initial half-hour after she goes to bed so that you can visit regularly. What you should also discover, though, is that she will feel more secure and probably fall asleep quite quickly.
At that point, you can increase the timing between checks such that, over a three to four-week period, you will probably be able to say your final goodnight and then just need to check on her once before she drops off to sleep. – Irish Independent