Helping a Restless Child Sleep Well
by Stephanie Dodd
Sleep is a skill that can be developed over time, and like any ability, has a learning curve with several paths to the same end. Some families choose to encourage a child’s restful sleep early in life through behavior modification, while others take a wait-and-see approach, helping with transitions through sleep cycles until these skills naturally develop. Neither approach alone, however, guarantees a peaceful night’s sleep.
According to the American Psychological Association, up to 70 percent of children experience sleep disturbances that affect their emotional and physical well-being. When a child’s sleep is disrupted, the impact ripples out to affect the entire family.
Parents that choose to wait are often awakened by their child’s interrupted slumber through the night. Sooner or later, they are torn between hope that the child’s sleep situation resolves on its own and concern for their own health. The goal is achieving a middle ground that meets everyone’s needs. According to Sheila Pai, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, author of the e-workbook Nurturing You, “The need for self-care includes rest and well-being; a parent running on fumes will unlikely summon the empathy and presence needed. Parents that model self-care help their children learn to care for themselves.”
Heart-centered sleep solutions are less about what parents do to or for a child than about what the parent and child can achieve together as partners. Mentoring a child in learning to sleep well works best if the parent is emotionally equipped to continue to feel empathy for the little one and secure in their choices, regardless of setbacks or delays.
Such an approach to both resolve sleep problems and increase self-care begins in uncovering the real reasons that a child stays alert at bedtime or wakes during the night. Troubled sleep may result from inconsistent timing of sleep cycles, excessive fatigue, insufficient physical activity, hunger, pain, anxieties, inadequate downtime or a desire for continued interaction with a parent. With so many variables, potential solutions can seem endless, typically creating an often fruitless cycle in which parents jump from one tactic to another, trying everything they can think of in the hope of discovering a magic cure.
A successful path to restful sleep for the whole family occurs when a parent is able to filter solutions and focus on one at a time. Parents can reclaim their ability to intuitively hear the specific needs behind a child’s nighttime struggle with the added gift of quieting their own inner chatter. Repeated practice increases confidence in employing these skills.
One Easy-to-Use Tool
One method parents have successfully used to improve sleep quality is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It uses light tapping on specific points along the body’s energy meridians, often with attention to thoughts and feelings, in order to restore balance within the body.
Karin Davidson, of Media, Pennsylvania, co-founder of the Meridian Tapping Techniques Association, says, “Including tapping with an already supportive nighttime routine can be a godsend for parents and children. This easy addition to a bedtime routine can relieve distress, whatever its source, increase feelings of security and promote a peaceful transition to sleep.” In clinical studies from the National Institute for Integrative Healthcare, EFT has been shown to counter the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, resulting in decreased sleep disturbances.
A second solution relates to parental focus. Law of Attraction Specialist Cassie Parks, of Denver, Colorado, advises, “When you focus on the feeling you desire rather than the feeling you want to move away from, your chances for success greatly increase.” Parents attuned to the feeling they desire at bedtime can ask themselves at each step in the process, “What am I feeling and what am I needing?” Such language, rooted in the philosophy of Nonviolent Communication, empowers parental self-care and unflappable confidence, attitudes then passed on to a child.
When a parent takes the time to plan each step toward their goal of complete sleep in a way in which they feel secure in following through, they can create a bedtime routine that is consistent from day to day, strengthened by an emotional stability that helps assuage any struggles. Supportive bedtime routines create a sense of safety for children when they both know what will happen in each step of the bedtime process and feel heard and tended to.
By affording children the ability to naturally develop sleep skills in an expectant heart-centered approach, we gift them with a daily skill having broad-reaching lifelong benefits.
Stephanie Dodd is the author of the international bestseller, Good Baby, Bad Sleeper. She blogs at HeartCenteredSleep.com