My son has problems sleeping due to anxiety. How can I help him besides using medication?
My 9 yr old son has always had a hard time at bedtime. He takes so long to actually fall asleep, and has always complained of 'hearing things'. He's afraid of someone breaking in, robbing or kidnapping, harming us....He gets so scared he sometimes is too afraid to move, or get out of his bed to come get us for help. Sometimes he'll sit out in the hallway, waiting for one of us to come out of our bedroom. He never wants to be alone, he feels so much safer when he's with one of us. A doc. prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, but i'm reluctant to give it to him. Somehow I keep holding out that we can get past this. But visualization techniques, mind-over-matter, music, nothing seems to help. Any suggestions as a last resort before medicating him???
Medication can often buy time for other modalities to work. Discuss your concerns with the physician who prescribed it to be sure it is right for your child and family.
Getting him to talk to a counselor would also be a good idea. This is the age for sleep overs, camps etc and it may socially isolate him. Consult Dr. Ferber's book on sleep or check with your local university for a psychologist dealing with children's sleep issues.
Many parents and teachers have successfully used special stories to help children overcome problems. You make up your own story, about a girl (not a boy) who overcomes her fears. The fears in the story should not be exactly the same as your son's, but perhaps something like, afraid a wild bear might come into the house at night. She might bring a soft animal friend to keep her company while she plans how to meet and overcome the bear, maybe with a song. She hears the bear, but then sees it is really a little mouse who is scared too. Together they draw a picture of being scared, and then put it in a special box because they don't need it anymore. Make up different stories, each day and night. Your son might soon help make up the stories too, and after just a little while the fears lessen.
A soothing bedtime routine is also helpful, with no media anytime near bedtime (or at all). A warm bath, a candlelit story, a special verse for bedtime, all will help sleep come. Rather than medication, if all else fails, see a developmental child psychologist, perhaps one who uses sand tray therapy for children. Best wishes and good luck.
My son is 8 and we are in a similar situation. He has had bedtime anxiety since we stopped co-sleeping at 4. He is absolutely sound asleep and fine once he falls asleep and this usually takes about 5 or 10 minutes, but the anxiety that builds up right before and right after I leave his room is heartbreaking. He has a long list of fears we go through every night and a very set specific routine that has to be adhered to for him to fall to sleep. He has been in therapy, more on than off, since he was 5 after an umbilical hernia operation where his therapist suspects he may have awoken during the procedure. What started at that time was an intense fear of anything shrinking and going inside his body or him shrinking and going inside someone's body. At about the time of his surgery, his kindergarten teacher showed the class a Magic School Bus video where the bus did go into the body. It became a huge phobia for him and up until this year (3rd grade) we had to request each teacher take all of the Magic School Bus books out of the classroom and not show or excuse him if they were going to show a MSB video. He's an extremely bright, social, loving, very well-liked, active, awesome kid with zero discipline issues. I don't think he's ever even had a timeout. We have had issues with a custody battle with his dad asking for 50/50 custody but solely to pay less support. That was two years ago and it has been a mess of a 5-2-2-5 schedule where we have tried working on sleep here, but then his dad would let him co-sleep at his house. Finally, about a month ago, his dad got a new GF and decided he didn't want his son 50/50 and we are now back to only every other weekend with his dad. That has helped some with continuity and generally less anxiety overall, but those ten to twenty minutes surrounding about to go to sleep are torture. It's so hard to watch him so worked up about being safe. I would be happy to post his routine/list if it would be helpful. It's pretty intense. We have talked with his therapist about a reward system to start to slowly remove one thing at a time. My son likes the idea during the day, but at night he says he can't do it. We, too, have tried many, many relaxation techniques, meditation, tapping, etc. I have considered melatonin, but his issue is not staying asleep. His issues is clearly fear of being alone to go to sleep. I'm at a loss, too, and am wondering if anyone has had success with EMDR or brainspotting.