Tag Archives: parenting

Sleep Stealers: The Fears That Make Bedtime Challenging

There are many reasons that bedtime is terrifying for a child.  Darkness, monsters, night terrors, nightmares, separation anxiety – the list of possibilities can seem daunting to a new parent.  It is incredibly easy to give up and allow your child to stay awake until he is too tired to resist sleep any longer.  However, building good sleep habits when children are young is not only one of the best things a parent can do for their child’s health, but it also helps to ensure that children will be successful in school later.  According to a random sampling of kindergarten teachers surveyed, 10% of all kindergarten students fall asleep in class (www.med.umich.edu).  Here’s a quick guide to the most common bedtime menaces, and more importantly, excellent tips from experts on the best ways to tackle the perils of nighttime.


1.  Night terrors.  Night terrors are very different than nightmares.  Night terrors typically happen within the first few hours of falling asleep, when a child reaches the deepest stage of sleep before REM sleep kicks in (www.nightterrors.org).  Night terrors are abstract snapshots that cause fear and are most common among children between the ages of three and five.  Whereas children will remember a nightmare after waking, they will not remember the subject of a night terror.  A child will typically wake up screaming.  There is no cure for night terrors, they will usually just go away.  It is perfectly safe to wake a child when they are having a night terror, and the best thing to do is just hug the child and reassure him.  Don’t yell at a child when he wakes from a night terror, and keep in mind that he will be disoriented and upset for five to twenty minutes after waking.

5363751208_0f4459eb1c_z2. Nightmares.  Nightmares occur during REM sleep, and unlike night terrors, usually tell a story.  Nightmares can be remembered the next day.  The good thing about nightmares is that when they are properly dealt with, they can help a parent to better understand their child.  The key to dealing with nightmares is a four-step approach, also called “The Four R’s” (www.athealth.com).  The Four R’s consist of:

  • Reassurance
  • Rescripting
  • Rehearsal
  • Resolution

Reassurance is most important for helping the child to understand that it was just a dream, and cannot hurt them.  Offering your child your shoulder to cry on after they wake from a nightmare shows your child that you love them and that they are safe.  Reassuring your child after a nightmare can serve a dual purpose in helping to build a deeper bond between your child and you.

During rescripting, you are collaboratively brainstorming with your child to rewrite the nightmare.  Try to give the nightmare a happy ending, or make the scary characters in the nightmare less intimidating in creative ways.  For example, a two-headed monster becomes much less daunting when it is hopping along on one leg and it’s best friend just so happens to be your child’s favorite cartoon character’s best friend.  Perhaps the two-headed monster (whom you can rename Fred) could take your child to his best friend’s house so that they can meet.  Now the cause of the nightmare has become a hero rather than an antagonist.

Rehearsal includes coming up with ways that your child can thwart the villain in the nightmare.  Act out the rescripted storyline with your child.  Make it fun.  Create “sets” in your living room and let your child jump around and slay the demon.  Once he sees he can do it while he’s awake, he will think that slaying the demon in the nightmare is a piece of cake.

Resolution includes reminding your child of the new, fun, storylines that came from their nightmares before they go to sleep.  Help your child to resolve to use his new strategies after he falls asleep.

images3.  Fear of the Dark.  It is normal for toddlers to begin to fear the dark around two or three, when cognitive abilities develop.  Quakeroatmeal.com suggests adding a night-light, searching for monsters and securing the bedroom before lights out, and not watching violent television, especially before bed.  One interesting suggestion is to comfort your child, but don’t overdo it.  It is always a good thing to cuddle your child and to whisper comforting words.  However, if you give your child too much of that, he may begin to think that there really is something to be worried about.

good_morning_by_egyptian_sands-d59xcyu4.  Separation Anxiety.  Again, this is a very normal stage that babies and toddlers experience.  When your child feels separation anxiety before bed, the best thing to do is to give your child some much-needed cuddle time.  Spend extra time nurturing and having fun in the hour before bedtime.  At bedtime, read a story and sit with your child for a few minutes.  Tuck your child in to bed slowly.  Do not, however, stay in your child’s bedroom until he falls asleep.  This only exacerbates the problem (www.babycenter.com).

Sometimes, the symptoms are so slight that it is easy to miss them.  Sleep deprivation is not only unhealthy for a child, it is usually the biggest way that these fears manifest themselves in your child’s daytime routine.  The most common indicators of sleep deprivation are falling asleep in the car whenever it begins to move, needing to be waken almost every morning instead of waking naturally, seeming irritable, cranky, overtired, aggressive, overemotional, or hyperactive, and “crashing” much earlier than the usual bedtime on some nights (www.med.umich.edu).  If you detect any of these symptoms, chances are good that one of the above fears isn’t too far behind.

Many of a child’s fears center around nighttime, but the recurring theme for curing your child of these fears is one of love.  Cuddling and showing your child that he is loved and cared for is the best medicine to cure most of the common fears that children experience.  However, always talk with your doctor when things don’t seem right.

NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when my older son was having night terrors.  Now that I am having a hard time getting my younger son to sleep in his own room, I pulled it back out and thought I’d share.  Funny how these things come back around!  If you are dealing with this stuff for the first time, please know- this too shall pass. 🙂



My Video Game Experiment

Alternate Title: Yes, all of the crap they say is true.


About two years ago, the peer pressure in my neighborhood got to be too much for me.  Not the kid on kid peer pressure- the adult parenting type.

A little background on me: I am a technology geek.  I love my gadgets.  I can’t imagine life without my iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, or my Kindle.  I am working on a doctorate in Ed Tech.  I was a video game store manager for five years before I became a teacher.

But.  When parents came to my counter to purchase GTA: Vice City for their kids, I would give them “what’s wrong with you?” type lectures.  You did not buy an M game from me for your little kids without a side of shame.  The idea of kids playing violent, inappropriate video games just made me uncomfortable- even in my childless early 20’s.

Fast forward a few years.  When my son was eight (!) years old, he was the only kid in the neighborhood without an air soft gun.  He was the only kid in the neighborhood without Call of Duty on the XBox.  We didn’t even have an XBox.  We stuck with the Wii because it was more kid-friendly.

The other parents in our neighborhood started to roll their eyes at me.  I had to pull my son from one friend’s house because I walked in to find him playing Call of Duty.  I felt trapped.  I started to wonder: is it me?  Am I turning into one of those helicopter parents that I find insufferable?  I want my kids to find their own way, make good choices without my input, etc., etc., right?

So finally, when my son was at the point where he wasn’t allowed in any neighborhood friend’s house, I caved.  I feel ashamed to admit it now, but I did.  And for two years, I allowed him to play James Bond games and Halo games.  I still didn’t allow Call of Duty.  I felt like I had compromised.

It still felt wrong, though.  I would be sitting in the family room reading while he sat like a zombie in front of the television- Xbox Live with Halo Reach.  The sounds I was bombarded with were enough to make me squirm.  When I would look up from my book to see what was going on on-screen, I didn’t like what I saw.  The multiplayer campaigns were downright brutal.

Over the past two years, my son has become more aggressive.  Just fourth grade boy stuff, right?

So.  Sandy Hook happened.  I was a wreck.  I know I am not the only one, but I just felt pain to my core for those parents and teachers.  I felt like I needed to do something productive in the face of what happened.  Something that had been needling at me for two years.

I sat my son down and we talked about his games.  I told him how I was feeling.  We didn’t talk about Sandy Hook, but we did talk about the fact that I messed up when I copped to neighborhood pressure.  I apologized to him, and I took every M game in the house (aside from my copy of Alice and my hubby’s copy of Skyrim- we hid them) to GameStop and traded them in.  I added money to the total and let my son go on a $100 shopping spree to make up for all I was taking from him.  I told him that he could choose E games and T games that did not include violence.  Music and language in skateboarding and racing games don’t bother me.  I have a pretty bad mouth, to be honest, so I’d be a hypocrite.

The change.  Oh my goodness.  I can’t even begin to explain it.  His aggression has all but disappeared.  The video game addiction is still there, of course- Minecraft has ensured that.  But at least he is being creative rather than destructive.  And yes- I do limit his video game time.

There is research out there now that shows that more video game playing equals more aggression.  Also, even in adults, when people spend time as an avatar, they start to take on the characteristics of the avatar in their real life.  If their avatar is tall and muscular, adults will be more confident in real life.  For real.

So, my unscientific test was successful, which is scary.

I am reading an excellent book right now that explains this better than I can:

Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution by Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson

If you have had experiences like this, I would love to hear about them…

Have a great day!