Anxiety in children is usually symptomatic in sleep disruption. Therefore, it is a good idea to attend to their sleeping patterns, which will help improve their anxiety in the process. Here are 5 expert tips to teach your kids how to put themselves to sleep.
#1 – Teach Your Child to Self-Soothe
From birth on put your infant down in her crib awake or slightly aroused. She will develop and strengthen her muscles (capacity) to self-soothe each time she wrestles with tossing and turning to relax and fall asleep.
#2 – Use a transitional object
Encourage her interest and attachment to a Transitional Object that may include a pacifier, soft cuddly blanket or pillow, or stuffed animal toy. A Transitional Object aids your baby in the self-soothing process. It is a more advanced or mature level than dependency on Mommy’s skin.
#3 – Wean Your Child Off Nighttime Feeding
After age 6 months (when your baby’s stomach is mature enough to hold food through the night), do not feed or pick up your baby when she cries in the middle of the night (unless she is sick, teething, or physically hurt). If you continue to offer her milk/food in the middle of the night, you are teaching (conditioning) her stomach to wake up at that hour from hunger pangs. The best way to wean her is when she wakes up at that witching hour, offer her a bottle of water with a tiny splash of milk diluted for taste. When she rejects it, you will quickly see that her crying and need in the middle of the night is not for food, but rather for comfort. She wants to be picked up and held/soothed back to sleep. By age 6 months, she is old enough to learn how to toss and turn herself back to sleep. Remember, we do not want to foster your infant’s dependency on Mommy’s/Daddy’s skin for calming down. To be a good parent, you must be comfortable balancing two things at the same time – loving/nurture and boundary setting/holding. You are there with her (nurture), but you will not pick her up out of the crib (boundary). This is an opportunity for your child to grow.
#4 – Don’t Over-check on Your Child
Do not go in and out of your child’s bedroom checking. This is very confusing to young children. If your baby lets you leave the room without crying, cheers! If she cries, sit on a chair in full view and position yourself as a supportive, disengaged (no chatting) companion.
#5 – Stick to a Nighttime Routine
Create a nighttime routine that prepares your child to unwind, settle, and let go of the day. Repeat this sleep routine every night before bed. Perhaps your routine includes dinner, bath, bottle, and books/songs. Create a Book Corner in your child’s bedroom where she drinks her bottle cuddling with you while looking at picture books. Make sure everything in your routine is quiet, calming, and cues your baby that sleep is coming. Once you put her in her crib, chat time is over.
By following these simple tips, your child will develop regular sleeping patterns and be less dependent at night, which usually reduces their anxiety levels.
Dr. Fran Walfish is a leading couple’s relationship and family psychologist and author in Beverly Hills, CA. In addition to a private practice where she treats many celebrities and their families, she was on clinical staff in the Department of Psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for 15 years. Dr. Fran was a school psychologist and recently completed her 4-year term as Chair of the Board of The Early Childhood Parenting Center founded at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles. She was trained by the world-renowned psychoanalyst, Saul L. Brown, M.D., Director of the Department of Psychiatry, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She is also a regular on-camera expert contributor to CBS2 News and FOX News in Los Angeles, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, The DoctoCBS-TVS TV), CNN i-report, The Wall Street Journal, NPN national syndicated network, ABC 7 News, Turner Broadcasting Network, Ladies Home Journal, Parents magazine, and People Magazine, among others. Visit her website at www.DrFranWalfish.com for more information.