Jenny's five-year-old daughter wakes up every night crying "Mommy, I need you." Jenny's terrified to ignore her, plus she walks right into the bedroom. How can she make this stop? We asked momlogic contributor and parent educator Jill Spivack, LCSW to help.
1. Moms first need to assess whether there's anything troubling their child
Any major transition or issue that's affecting a child during the day can affect their nighttime sleep. Anxieties tend to crop up when a child is lying still and is undistracted. If so, she'll need a little bit more support at night from her mom and dad, temporarily, until she moves through the transition or issue successfully.
2. If the child simply loves a nighttime visit, it's important to encourage better sleep at night.
Her waking at night not only affects her parents, but it also isn't good for her either. When school age children become sleep deprived, exhaustion can negatively affect nearly every facet of their lives.
3. If it seems that this little night visit has become a habit and is not happening due to any fear, follow the following steps:
a) Have a family meeting with the child.
Tell her that when she wakes up at night, it makes it hard for the whole family to get the important sleep they need. Give the child examples of why sleep is so important ... (so she can have fun and go to the park during the day, etc.). Also explain that just like eating good nutritious food, good mommies and daddies need to make sure the child gets good "sleep nutrition" too.
b) Tell the child that mom and dad have made a new plan for nighttime.
After bath time, pjs, stories and kisses, it's time for the child to go to sleep until the sun comes up in the morning. Remind her where you'll be when she's sleeping and that you are very close by.
c) Tell the child that if she wakes at night, mommy will take her immediately back to her bed.
You want to avoid reinforcing the wakings too much. Don't do too much tucking in and talk as little as possible (no rationalizing, begging or pleading, etc). Simply calmly and lovingly walk the child right back to bed. Be aware that on the first night, this may happen 72 times, but if parents stay EXTREMELY consistent and calm, the limit testing will pass within a day or two.
e) In the morning, even if the night was very tough, be sure to tell the child how proud you are that she made it through the night.
f) Make a strong effort to play in the child's room during the day so it is not just associated as a "Separation chamber."
g) Also during the day, make sure you have some uninterrupted quality time.
If you don't invest enough special time with the child, she may be waking at night to have that time. Filling the child up with quality time in the daylight hours may help.