SLEEP PROBLEMS IN BABIES & CHILDREN
SLEEP PROBLEMS IN BABIES
If your baby is having trouble with sleep the first thing we suggest is that you check with your pediatrician. There can be many physical conditions or complications that affect a baby's sleep and they ought to be checked out thoroughly whenever necessary.
Then, check out the environment where your baby sleeps. Is it properly comfortable for him? Soothing and cozy enough? Dark and quiet enough?
If you cannot control the noisy atmosphere outside baby's room, you might find a white-noise machine calming for the baby.
Does baby have enough little soft animal friends around her - to comfort her when you're not there? These soft, cuddly toys or rag dolls play an essential role in a child's development, as she learns to separate into a unique person, distinct from her care givers.
Is the atmosphere in your home primarily tension-free? Of course life presents many problems and it's not possible to lead a problem-free life - but if your baby is subjected to a tense environment, it's no wonder he's having trouble sleeping. We urge you to try to get the troublesome issues resolved whenever possible. If necessary, seek professional help in this area.
We assume you always make sure that the baby is well-fed and dry before you put him down to sleep. It's also important that your infant be coddled and cradled and comforted adequately throughout this early developmental period.
Before putting him down to sleep you might try some soothing activities - like the time-tested use of lullabies and nursery rhymes along with gentle, lulling back rubbing and/or cradle-type rocking. We've seen babies practically turn into butter when given a superb, masterful back-rub by a practiced Grandmother of our acquaintance.
Avoid highly stimulating games and physical play just before putting the baby down to sleep but instead, institute wind-down activities before bed. If you establish a regular routine - with pleasant, comforting, gentle, easy-going rituals - in which you do these wind-down, gentle, loving activities just before bed, you help the baby prepare for sleep so he'll more likely be ready when you put him down.
You might try tapes of lullabies and soothing music. And of course there's the old standard technique of pushing baby in his stroller or driving him around in the car ‘til he falls asleep. There's nothing like repetitive lulling motions to do the trick - like the simple rocking cradle our great grandparents used.
When the baby is very young he should not be left to cry on his own for very long. Always keep an eye on him and see if you can determine why he is crying - so you can fix the problem. (And of course you know that Doctors no longer recommend putting baby down to sleep on his stomache, but instead on his back as this helps to prevent SIDS.)
When he's a bit older, there are two schools of thought as to whether to leave the baby to cry or not. One is that it's important to comfort him so he learns how to do this for himself. And also so that he knows his caretaker is always there for him. It's a fundamental human need to know that - through experience.
[When you disappear from your baby's room, he really doesn't know whether you'll ever return - until he's had the experience, over and over again, of your actually returning - and being there for him. This teaches him to be capable of trust and to have a sense of goodness and security in life. It's a crucial part of a child's healthy emotional development.]
The other school says that he can't learn to comfort himself adequately if you always rush into the room and pick him up as soon as he cries.
Perhaps the best path lies in-between these two measures. Surely we learn to comfort ourselves by first being adequately comforted by our loving, gentle parents, who ceaselessly watch over us in our earliest months. No baby can learn to comfort himself without first experiencing plenty of parental comfort.
But, at a certain point, maybe the baby is ready to start doing some of this on his own. And as a good parent, you want to help your child learn the coping skills that will help him manage on his own - because those skills are the ones that will help him throughout his life. If we don't learn adequately to self-soothe early on, we might turn to food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or other unhealthy modes of self-soothing, later on. In order to learn to self-soothe properly, though, we must first experience soothing by our loving, caring parents - before we can even begin to learn to do it for ourselves. And of course you never, ever want to give your baby the message that he's been "abandoned" - even for a moment - that you are not there for him when he needs you.
So you walk a thin line - trying to be the perfect parent. Well, nobody said it was going to be easy!
We wish you luck!
For more detailed information, we suggest you consult an enlightened parenting guide such as Penelope Leach's "Your Baby & Child," which seems to us to present excellent advice.
Of course every baby is unique. You know your own child best. And experience is a great teacher.
GETTING CHILDREN TO SLEEP
As to children who are difficult to get bedded down - Once again, first, you must check with your pediatrician to be sure there's no physical or medical problem present that needs attention.
And again check out the sleep environment. Is it adequately quiet and dark and comfortable for your child? Is it possible that there's too much tension in the air? If so, those issues need to be addressed.
Click for information about SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.
If your child is hyperactive at bedtime you might learn from this example we witnessed years ago. Friends had a bright and adorable, very active little girl who had trouble getting to sleep at night - and then trouble waking up the next morning. When we happened to be at their house one evening around the child's bedtime we saw clearly where the problem came from. Just before bedtime the parents were allowing - you might even say encouraging - the child to go wild with activity - running about the house, singing, dancing, jumping on her bed - the kid was practically flying through the air!
And then her parents expected her to get into bed and suddenly go to sleep. Ha! The kid was so wired and overstimulated it's a wonder she got to sleep before midnight.
She really needed to expend her energy much earlier in the day - and then to have a very elongated, wind-down, buffer-zone time - when her loving and doting parents could read to her or tell stories and talk to her calmly or do other quiet activities they treasured - activities that would have been more calming and more effectively preparatory to going to sleep.
In his well-written book about sleep, called "Sleep Thieves," Stanley Coren tells how his grandmother helped him to relax and fall asleep as a little boy on nights when he seemed agitated. "Why are you so restless tonight?," she asked him and then answered her own question, "It's probably just the dybbuks having fun with you."
"What are dybbuks?" he asked.
"They are little devils that like to pester people and keep them from sleeping. Whenever you can't fall asleep, you just get out of bed and turn your shoes over. That's where the dybbuks hide at night, you know. If they don't have a place to hide when they are teasing you, they'll go away and bother someone else," she explained.
He followed her advice, dutifully turning over his shoes and found this prescription helpful throughout his childhood. We found this story charming and imagine the cure would work well for children today - that is, the ones who aren't too world-weary and cynical.
Of course rituals are very important to children, as any parent knows who has regularly had to read the same story over and over and over again - and then gone through all the requisite good-nights to the resident toys and animals - and then fetched the required glass of water and left the door ajar - just so. Friends of ours recall - fondly, now that it's all in the past - their daughters' nightly ritual that included the story about the teeny, tiny lady who lived in a teeny, tiny house, with a teeny tiny dog and a teeny tiny cat and a teeny tiny mouse and...
- Well, just be grateful if your kid has chosen a different story to be read over and over and over again!
THE IMPORTANCE OF RITUALS
Rituals are important because there is a passage we must make from wakefulness to sleep. It's scary being left alone in the dark - to fall into unconsciousness. Perhaps you too can remember those palpable fears about going to sleep, as a child.
The rituals we develop help ease the way through that passage - and so they are truly important.
If your kid is scared of monsters in the closet, it's important for you to calmly dispel his fears - by opening the closet and searching it with him - so he can see there's nothing in there. That way he experiences reality - and learns to distinguish between reality and fantasy. And he experiences your calming him and comforting him - and your caring for him - in a close and intimate fashion - which is perhaps the most important role you play in his life - after feeding and sheltering him.
The one thing you don't want to do is tell your child that there's no such thing as a monster - because your kid knows there are terrible things in the world - and the monster in the closet represents for him all of those possibilities. He knows he's vulnerable to bad things in the world. Be grateful he understands that - because that will help to protect him - now and in the future.
This just in from the pediatrician's report:
TURN OFF THAT TV SET!!
The more kids watch tv - and the more violent the material they watch - and the closer to bedtime they watch it, the more likely they are to have sleep disturbances - and nightmares. People have been saying for a while now, there's too much violence on tv. Of course that's true. Now there's evidence that it's messing kids up in a very profound way - disturbing their sleep and their peace and sense of well-being and security. Protect your kid from this kind of invasive hurt. TURN OFF THAT TV SET!! -
if not early in the evening - at least two hours before s/he goes to sleep.
And keep violence - and over-sexualized material (which is terrible for children!) - out of the picture all together. That's our advice.
Here are some cute poems for you and your kids to read - and perhaps memorize - at bedtime. [We found them in a book called 365 Ways To say Good Night (By Susan Ring - Published by Dutton Children's Books.)]
I LOVE BEDTIME
When bedtime comes, I push away the time to say good night.
I'm really not too pleasant, and I put up such a fight.
But no one really knows that it's just a game, you see,
'Cause once I'm in my bed, there's no place I'd rather be.
How I love to snuggle in with my stuffed animals around
And listen to the crickets chirping their familiar sound.
But please don't say to anyone that going to bed is great,
'Cause I'm still going to try my best to get to stay up late.
I'M READY NOW
Yes I am, I'm ready now,I think I can go to sleep,
Oh, wait, there's somethg I forgot.
Oh, never mind, there's really not.
Yes, I am, I'm ready now.
See? I've closed my eyes.
But wait, oh please don't go away.
I forgot to...what did I just say?
Yes, I am, I'm ready now,
I'm almost fast asleep.
But wait, can you turn on that light?
Oh, never mind.
MY FAVORITE DREAM
If snow wasn't snow - wasn't snow at all-
But ice cream mounds instead,
I'd go out to play, and be gone all day
Till it was time for bed.
I'd slide down vanilla, build a strawberry fort,
Make angels in chocolate fudge.
But you'd have to pull me back home on a sled
'Cause I'd be too full to budge!
The first thing we want to stress is that bed-wetting is not about a kid being "bad" or a discipline problem. Never shame your child over this. Don't force him to wash his own sheets, as some backward, punitive people have suggested. No, no, no! What an awful way to treat a difficult problem!
Bed wetting is one of those conditions that probably mixes physical and psychological components - and therefore is best treated on both those levels.
We know from our experience as a camp counselor with 7 and 8 year olds - several of whom came to camp with bedwetting problems - that these steps pretty much took care of the problem:
1. Make sure the child voids before you put him/her down to sleep; and
2. Wake the child up a few hours later - just before you turn into bed - and have him/her void again.
Bingo. Next morning the kid will most likely be dry. Ok, it's not 100% - but it can be close.
If your kid is hard to wake up, you might try a little rehearsal game. Have the child close his eyes and pretend he's asleep. Then have him imagine that he has to pee, but he's still asleep. Then have him picture waking himself up, getting up and going to the bathroom. This little rehearsal can help him be successful with resolving this problem, together with you.
Very often, bedwetters are sensitive kids who simply need a bit more understanding, support, attention, affection, confidence or an extra pat on the back. Your spending time with your child on this issue and gently counseling her/him and encouraging her/him - and rehearsing her/him for a successful resolution to the problem - and then your being sure to wake her/him up before you go to bed so s/he can pee in the bathroom in the middle of the night - these steps might well resolve the problem for you. - And also, by the way, give the kid a nice shot of confidence - and a sense of success. And that's something that will help any kid.
HERBAL TEA FOR A KID
Believe it or not, catnip tea is supposed to be especially helpful for kids who have trouble sleeping - as it's mild and gentle - and calming, of course. You might try a bit with some honey and see if it helps in your situation.
Of course there's also the time-tested classic, milk and cookies.
Or, a banana shake (milk frothed up with a banana - and maybe a strawberry or two - or a peach - or an apple - (not necessary to add more sugar or syrup - it's plenty sweet on its own!). We know that works for us.
Good night. And Sweet Dreams to you and your young one...
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