My son has never slept in his own bed.
He has been sleeping with my husband and I practically since he was born. There were times when he was younger that we could sneak him in his bed and he would stay there through the whole night, but 99% of the time he was with us.
We were both frustrated with it in part because we had no idea how to fix it. As he has gotten older we’ve come to realize that much of the problem was his anxiety.
He was afraid.
He has told me many times that he has bad thoughts in his head; scary visions of something happening to him or me and it keeps him awake. Laying in the dark, alone, has a tendency to do that when you have anxiety. I know that first-hand.
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I knew we were moving in June this summer and I decided that when we moved, I would try to get him on a better sleep routine. I would finally put in work and conquer this problem we’ve had for six years.
Some may say just to let him sleep with us, that it doesn’t harm anything, and you may be right. But he was staying up too late and had a hard time if I was ever not around. I felt like he really needed to be empowered to sleep alone.
So the first day we moved in we started a new routine and but by the grace of God, it worked. I’m still shocked by it if I’m being honest.
He has not slept with me one single time since we moved here five weeks ago.
I’ve been saying for years that if I ever figured out how to get him to sleep I would share it. So that is what I’m doing. The sleep experts may not agree with what we did and it may not work for you like it did for us. I’m just sharing the things we did that led to transforming our scared, restless sleeper into a little boy who goes to bed and stays there all night. He is so proud of himself.
Ok, so what did we do exactly?
My instincts were telling me that I needed to create a nighttime experience that was relaxing and also distracting. I wanted him to a) be focused on something besides his anxieties and b) feel safe.
1. The first thing we did was something a lot of people may disagree with, but hear me out: We put a TV in his room. To be clear from the beginning, he does not sleep with it on or even fall asleep with it on.
What we do, is offer him a way to settle into his bed, relax and focus in on something. He gets to watch about 30 minutes of a movie that has been chosen by me. I am very particular about what watches during this time. He gets no television shows (you never know what commercial is going to pop in) and the movies are only animated with zero violence or anything I deem may be upsetting in any way. There may be movies I would let him watch during the day, for instance Goosebumps (he loves that movie), but I would never let him watch it during this “chill time” before bed.
2. When movie time is over, the television is turned off, we turn on white noise, a soft blue night light (the white noise machine we use has the light on it – click here to get one) and a little light that projects the stars and moon onto the ceiling.
White noise is very important – here is a great article that explains why.
3. My husband and I watch TV in the living room down the hall so that he can hear us and knows we are close by. We keep the volume down so it isn’t distracting, but we don’t want the whole house to go completely silent. I think he finds comfort knowing I’m just a few feet away.
4. The first night that I turned off the TV and told him to roll over and go to sleep was obviously rough. I expected it to be and was prepared for it. We decided that I would check on him every one minute – that was the interval of time he felt he could stay in bed by himself. I agreed.
So every one minute I would walk back there to him, remind him that I am here, that he is safe, and I would be right back in another minute. All he had to do, was just make it ONE minute.
One minute turned to two, and two minutes turned to three, and he very slowly learned that laying there alone was OK and he was perfectly safe.
The next morning after he woke up, having slept in his own bed all night long for the first time in years, we made a BIG deal out of it. We went on and on about how proud we were and made sure to tell every family member what he had done.
After a few nights in a row we took him and his sister to pick out a toy as a treat for being such great sleepers.
5. Last but not least is that he is sharing a room with his little sister now (not a bed). I really don’t believe that has played any part in him sleeping so well, but it’s important that I give you all the full picture. She likes to talk to herself as she falls asleep and it drives him bananas. He is always asking her to be quiet.
Having a solid nighttime routine for both of our kids is good for them (my daughter never had a problem, she has been a great sleeper from day one) and also good for my husband and I. For the first time since being parents, we have a small window of time each night that is just for the two of us. We can watch a movie or talk without being interrupted.
I hope if you have a child with anxiety that has trouble sleeping some of these ideas can help.
Check out this amazing new course called Crush Anxiety that will give you the skills to conquer your children’s anxiety from child therapist Natasha Daniels. If your kiddo is struggling with anxiety this course is crucial.
Looking for more sleep resources?
- How To Help Your Kids Fall Asleep After A Nightmare
- 5 Quick Sleep Hacks
- From Coos to Snooze – Baby Sleep Course