PCA News

Lights Out: Establishing a bedtime routine for healthy school habits.

It’s not uncommon for some students to struggle with anxious thoughts leading up to bedtime. Providing structure and reassurance is key when bedtime feels scary to children and tweens. But how do we do this without actually fueling the anxiety more? Here are a few tips to restart the training process if bedtime has become more like a nightmare so your student can begin to sleep well and be more prepared for the next day. Take heart, you can teach your child to push back against anxious thoughts and make new neural pathways that retrain the brain to dampen the fear that drives them to irrational responses at bedtime.

●  Get an agreed upon plan in place by the adults who will be holding each other accountable. It can be very tiring after a long day of work to stick to any plan. If you are implementing an official night time routine, explain it when the child is calm and several hours before bedtime. Calmly make clear the parents’ agreed upon expectations. For example, you might say, “Mom will read one story tonight followed by prayer time. After that, it will be time to go to bed.”

●  Address fears well before bedtime while your child is calm. Prepare them for what to do when worry shows up to challenge the new routine. It’s also an important time to remind your child why you can’t continue to sleep on the floor of his bedroom, for example, because you need your rest too. This will make no sense once he is dysregulated.

●  Use language that addresses the worry as something that can be a normal feeling but can’t be an all controlling feeling. Teach your child to talk back to fear and challenge thoughts that seek to control. “Worry has shown up again doing what it does best… trying to make you miserable.” Your child likely won’t get this concept immediately or in the throes of the stressful moment, so these ongoing conversations are important when everyone is calm (and not during the bedtime routine).

●  Watch out for words intended to push your buttons. If your child is furious you are no longer participating in the way they want the bedtime routine to happen, remember, you can’t always rationalize with big emotions. Wait until the morning to review things that might have been hurtful, inappropriate or just plain not true. This is your shining hour to be the leader in your child’s life and show them a confident, loving, and measured response (when everyone is calm). It also holds them accountable and becomes a time to reflect, not combat. Remember, worry and anxiety would love to get you back in the bedroom for “just one more story”.

●  Start new routines leading up to a weekend or a break. You or your child could be tired the next few mornings settling into the new normal so a couple days to recover may be ideal.

●  Provide assurance without a hook. Avoid staying in the room to help your child fall asleep (laying in the bed beyond story time, hanging out in the doorway). Instead, assure your child you will check on them every 3-10 minutes, depending on their age, and that you are just in the next room.

●  Be careful making deals or offering prizes. The reason being, anxiety can have a big appetite. An ice cream cone today may turn into a pony tomorrow just \to get the same response a month later.

●  Remind your child he can and will fall asleep. Just like you don’t tell your lungs to inhale, your child has likely fallen asleep every day of his life.

●  Help settle their mind. After your routine, allow some books, a journal, a drawing pad, or a favorite stuffed animal to help the brain unwind. NO SCREENS. Help your child memorize key scriptures verses during the day. Suggest counting backwards. Teach them to pick a category like names of cities, animals, or Bible characters. Then for every letter of the alphabet, give a name.

●  Stay committed to the change. Be prepared for a few good days and then a relapse. Breaking and replacing old habits takes time, and this is where many parents understandably grow weary. By having your game plan, it takes the emotion out of the temptation to cave.

For more tips on reframing anxious tendencies in students, check out psychotherapist Lynn Lyons: Lynn Lyons: Helping Anxious Kids and Families Manage Anxiety Disorders