According to new research from Signify, a whopping 83 per cent of New Zealand children are suffering from bedtime anxiety and sleeping issues. Clinical psychologist and behaviour expert, JAIMIE BLOCH, shares some advice for parents.
We all know how important sleep is and how it’s difficult to function when you haven’t had enough, so how do you know if your child has sleep anxiety and what can you do to help them sleep soundly?
The signs your child has bedtime anxiety
Jaimie says to take notice of children who become regularly stressed at bedtime and struggle to fall asleep, as well as if they are frequently waking throughout the night. She says it’s good to ask your child’s teacher if they are noticing whether your child is sleepy and distracted during the day.
“Other signs may be, finding it hard to rise in the morning, having a short fuse and being unusually unmotivated or restless,” says Jaimie.
Help your child to communicate with you
Your child needs to know they can talk to you about any concerns. “A great way to help your child open up about any specific worries is what I like to call ‘over-communicating’”, says Jaimie.
“For older kids, you may want to say something like ‘I feel like something is happening, and I have noticed bedtime is hard for you.’ For younger children, you can use a book to communicate and discuss different worries that are normal for children to have, especially at night.”
Encourage relaxation before bedtime
Your child needs to be able to wind down in their bedroom.
“Meditation and calming music can be beneficial for some. Remember different children find different things relaxing, so it is important you find these things and trial them together with your child,” advises Jaimie.
“The use of security items, such as a snuggly toy, can be part of your child’s sleep routine. This may be a special teddy, blanket or even pillow. Security items help children feel soothed, connected and calm. It will also signal to your child that it’s time for bed.”
Establish a routine
For parents with children suffering from sleeping issues, it is vital to establish a regular sleep routine. As Jaimie explains, it will allow your child to develop the optimum circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural sleep, wake and rest cycle.
Set the scene
Use gentle lighting in the home. Light filtering into our eyes is what helps set off specific chemicals in our bodies that trigger the sleep/wake cycle, and can be negatively affected by harsh lighting.
Keep calm and be patient
When your child refuses bedtime it can be frustrating, but it’s important to make sure you remain neutral and relaxed. “Use simple words and non-verbal cues to direct your child back to bed or back to engaging in the calming activities. When we get frustrated and raise our voice or have anxious and annoyed energy, our children can pick up on these cues.”
When to seek professional help
If you are worried about your child’s bedtime routine, it is best to consult your GP or another health professional, like a psychologist. Other signs it may be time to consult a health professional are:
- When there is an observable and persistent change in your child’s mood or personality
- When your child is very rigid in their thinking and not open to experimentation
- When they become overly withdrawn or avoidant
- When they are more reactive or sensitive than normal
- Being mean and nasty to others, and this is out of character.
Sleep safe, my baby
SIDS and Kids New Zealand is dedicated to saving the lives of babies and children during pregnancy, birth, infancy and childhood and supporting bereaved families. The organisation delivers on its vision through world class research, evidence-based education and bereavement support, and advocacy.
Remind everyone who cares for your child:
- Sleep baby on their back
- Keep head and face uncovered
- Keep baby smoke-free before and after birth
- Safe sleeping environment night and day
- Sleep baby in safe cot in parents’ room
SIDS and Kids provides a range of safe sleeping education and support services as well as a national 24-hour sudden infant death helpline 0800 164 455