Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sleep Training, Part Two...Night 1

This will be long...I apologize now...

The sleeping thing with Ainsley has not gotten any better.  For the last week, one of us has been sitting on her floor while she falls asleep.  Then to add to the sleep issues, she's been waking up and joining us in our bed.

So I've been searching for an answer.  I got a lot of ideas and advice and I've tried them ALL. 

Her biggest issue seems to be that she's scared.  She can't really tell me why she's scared.  Sometimes she says she has bad dreams.  So I've ordered a dream catcher.  Should be here today.  Sometimes she says she's afraid of shadows in her room.  So I've spend lots of time trying to eliminate anything that may be scary.  Sometimes she says she's scared of a bad man coming in the house and taking her.  So I've told her about special angels watching over her and how mommy and daddy will never let that happen.  Sometimes she says she's scared of a random thing on her floor.  So I've tried to pick all those things up before bedtime.  Sometimes she's scared of monsters and witches coming in her door or out of her closet.  So we got a special "magic" stuffed animal that takes away bad things.

None of this has worked.  So I was starting to believe she was making it all up.  I decided this week that I would not sit in her room and she'd have to fall asleep on her own.  Well, it didn't work either.  There were lots of tears, lots of screams, lots of late nights.  I'm pretty sure, before last night, she wasn't asleep before 11 since last week.  That's really late for a 4 year old who has to get up at 6 AM.

On top of that, she was still scared...but still, no real details.  Just vague references to a shadow or a dream.

People...I thought I might lose my mind.

Then a friend at work gave me a book about sleep issues.  I did not read the whole thing.  But there was a whole chapter about childhood fears and anxiety.  Whoever wrote this book, pretty much convinced me that she did have some anxiety around bed time.  She was not making this up to get me to stay or push limits.  She was sincerely afraid of something.  The writer suggests that some kids at that age are just anxious about life in general, and even though all day they're perfectly fine, at night those anxieties manifest into creepy monsters and scary witches.

He suggested a few things.  First, move her bedtime back.  The more tired she is, the faster she'll fall asleep, and the less time her mind will wander to all those terrifying ideas.  Second, be absolutely strict with bedtime.  When it's bedtime, it's bedtime.  There's no bargaining for more time, no crying, no fighting.  Stick to your guns.  For the most part, I do this...but he said something that totally hit home with me.  I'm paraphrasing here, but basically - You need to be your kid's rock.  Your kid needs to know what happens next so anxiety is lessened.  If one night she asks for 5 more minutes and I allow it but the next night she asks and I get upset, I'm sending a mixed message.  Mixed messages = Anxiety = Monsters in her closet = No sleep for any of us.  Well duh, Jaime!  Be consistent, that's what we're supposed to be right?  I know this, but him laying it out like that made me realize that I definitely had some work to do in that department.

Third thing he mentioned happened earlier in the night.  Not at bedtime, talk to her about her fears, her needs, her wants.  We did this at dinner.  Again, the fears were pretty vague...shadows, dreams.  No real detail.  But we agreed upon a bedtime routine and also agreed that I would check on her every minute until she fell asleep.

That's right...every MINUTE.  This also was a suggestion in the book.  Most of the time, kids are scared because they don't know where their parents are.  So they lie awake wondering and worrying if they've gone to bed or if they're still watching TV or whatever.

Finally, the writer thinks you should give rewards for small accomplishments.  Again, I know this.  Success leads to more success.  However, in my sleep deprived, frustrated haze...I think I forgot it.  I assumed that because Ainsley had been sleeping on her own for awhile, that we could jump right back to that spot, and I would accept nothing less for a sticker on her sleep chart.  I need to take a step back and reward her for the small things.

So at 8:30 last night, her alarm went off and it was bedtime.  She did ask to finish her show, I said no...but I didn't get upset.  She protested, but I stuck to it.  We went upstairs, brushed teeth, read one book, cuddled and talked for 5 minutes, and then said good-night.

She cried as I left her room, but only for a minute, because then I popped back in.  She didn't cry again.  Once she understood that I would appear every minute, and how short a minute is...she was fine.

I left at 9:00.  At 9:35 I walked in and checked, she was asleep.  I think she was asleep around 9:25, but since I was just "popping" in, I couldn't tell for sure.  She didn't really move during those last 10 checks.

I know what you're thinking...EVERY MINUTE!!!  I was stressed about this idea too.  But once I just accepted the fact that during this time I wouldn't be able to clean the kitchen, do laundry, read, or watch TV, it wasn't so bad.  It was basically the same as sitting on her floor...only we're one step closer to her doing it on her own.  And falling asleep at 9:30, is way better than 11:30.

I plan on doing this for the next few nights and then lengthening the time to 3 minutes between check ins.  I'll let you know how it goes.

I've been frustrated and angry with the situation, but it's really important to me that she not be scared.  So if there's anything I can do to fix that, I'm going to try.  I was always so scared to sleep alone as a child, and I really remember that panic in my stomach and chest.  I slept with my siblings until I was 12 or 13 because of that awful feeling of being alone and vulnerable.  I don't want that for her.  I want to fix this and give her only sweet dreams.
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