Friday 26 December 2014

Our daughter's poor sleep habit is affecting all of us

Published 04/02/2014 | 02:30

Sleepless night
Sleepless night

We have two children. Our older daughter is three and our younger daughter is just 12 months old. Our older daughter was breastfed until she was two. We also co-slept.

When I quit breastfeeding, I was seven months pregnant. My husband then began settling her to sleep in his own way. He read to her and lay beside her. In time, he was happy he could settle her to sleep in her own bed in five to 10 minutes. After birth, the baby was in our room for six months before we moved her into her own room.

However, I still feed her at night so usually end up sleeping in her bed from about midnight till morning.

At the start, our older daughter seemed to adjust really well, going to bed around 8.30pm and sleeping until 8am. But, over the last three months, she has started waking regularly and insists on me or my husband sleeping with her all night.

Last night, for example, she got up 11 times before my husband gave in and let her sleep with him.

Not sleeping is really getting to us! We're cranky with the kids and fighting with each other. Plus we both have to do a day's work! We would be so grateful for any tips or help to get our older daughter to stay in her own bed and sleep or self-soothe.

David says: Gentle approaches to giving children the skills to self-soothe and settle, when they have been reliant on parental help to sleep, can take time but are very effective.

Firstly, though, think of the habits you have given her to date. For two years she was used to you or her dad either being right beside her or very close (in the same room). Since then, someone has always lain beside her to help her settle.

So this physical comfort is what she then seeks any time she wakes up. Remember that children need to feel secure, safe and comfortable in order to sleep. She also sees her little baby sister getting your physical comfort throughout the night.

One option you could consider is to just allow her to have your physical presence and comfort through the night by continuing to co-sleep with her, either having her in your bed or in your room on a mattress on the floor.

This will give everyone more sleep in the short term, and might just revive your energy levels enough to make changes at some point in the future.

If you'd rather not wait, then the alternative is to change things slowly for her. This is, essentially, weaning her off having a parent beside her in the bed.

This is typically done in stages and you need to give her enough time to become settled and relaxed with the new way of things at each stage along the way. The first step is to stop lying beside her while she falls asleep.

Perhaps read a story to her, sitting beside the bed, and then stay sitting beside the bed, holding her hand, maybe, or stroking her head. Initially it might take her longer to fall asleep but typically, within about four to seven days, she will get used to the new routine.

You might also want to introduce a particular cuddly toy she can snuggle with instead of snuggling with you.

Importantly, she will also need the person sitting with her to remain calm and relaxed, even if she is unsettled, whingy or upset. Any frustration or agitation on your part will make it harder for her to relax too.

If she wakes in the night, then you apply the same routine of sitting beside her and stroking her (if that is what you did at the start of the night) until she falls back asleep.

When this is firmly established and she is back settling relatively quickly, you can try to move the routine again.

The next step might be to sit with her but not touch her. Again, the new routine must be repeated any time she wakes in the night.

A next step might be to sit in the room but not near the bed, then a further step to be outside the room but checking her every two minutes. Then further extended to checking every five minutes and finally moving to checking her every 10 minutes.

At each stage of moving the routine it is vital to ensure she has settled and accepted the new way of doing things, falling asleep within about half an hour or so, with no distress.

This may seem like a very labour intensive way of giving her the skills to settle herself to sleep, but I believe it is also the most gentle and respectful way to approach things.

The time and energy involved, on your part, is also likely to be no more disruptive to you and your husband than the current waking of your daughter.

As she becomes more used to soothing herself you will find she wakes less during the night and in time she will return to her old pattern of sleeping a full, uninterrupted, 11 hours.

How do I handle my daughter's boldness?

I'm married with three children. We have two boys, aged seven and four. Our daughter is two and has Down syndrome. I would describe her as being "on the right side" of Down syndrome, meaning she is doing extremely well.

She walked at 20 months, her health is really good, she has a great diet and even though her speech is delayed, her speech therapist is very happy with her progress. The only issue that I have is how to handle her boldness: namely, pulling hair.

After having two boys I don't know if it's a girl thing? She will be starting playschool soon and I would love to be able to help them in dealing with the problem if it arises. She pulls the boys' hair on quite a regular basis, both provoked and unprovoked. We have put her on time-outs, pulled her hair too, made her apologise etc. Recently, we have started to sing, "If you're happy and you know it" to get her to release the hair and it works.

However, I'm afraid that this could be confusing her, as mammy and daddy are singing to her even though she's doing something wrong. I don't expect it to go away quickly but I would love some advice on handling it better.

David says: Hair-pulling, biting or screaming are some of the potentially disturbing, but entirely normal, habits of two-year-olds.

Irrespective of your daughter's Down syndrome, she may have developed a habit of hair-pulling. In most cases hair-pulling, biting, or the like, is borne out of frustration. It is often a very instinctive response to things not going a child's way.

It can be helpful to realise that this is not necessarily "boldness", as you describe, but rather just a typical developmental stage that many children go through.

It may be exacerbated for your daughter by her delayed speech. I am not sure what her receptive speech is like, but if her expressive speech is delayed then she probably struggles to make herself known and understood.

This can be exceptionally frustrating for children. Typically they are frustrated by the issue (like wanting something their brother has) and then further frustrated when nobody seems to recognise or understand what the problem is as they can't explain it in words.

Reactive behaviours, like hair-pulling, are often their chosen way of showing that frustration, disappointment or upset.

Time-outs and like-for-like adult responses (pulling her in return for example) are always likely to be ineffective as they don't acknowledge her frustration, but may make it worse as she may feel unjustly punished!

A first step in responding to these kinds of behaviours, then, is to empathise with the likely frustration that your child has. Even if her receptive language is delayed, your daughter will pick up the understanding tone of your voice.

So, you might say, simply, to your daughter something like, "You seem cross your brother was talking to me", or "You look upset that dinner isn't ready" or whatever you guess the source of frustration might be.

This, in time, will help her to realise that you already understand how she probably feels and so she doesn't need to keep showing you by pulling hair.

Then, following on from your empathy about her frustration you can say, very firmly, "No hair-pulling." Do disentangle her hand from whoever's hair. It is fine to sound cross or firm as you say this.

Depending on her level of understanding, you might just leave it at that.

Simple repetition of the phrase "no hair-pulling", along with swift action to separate her from the person whose hair she has pulled, should be enough to help her learn, in time, not to pull hair. If her language understanding is good enough, you might also add a phrase like "Even if you feel cross, you may not pull hair".

The main thing, however, is that your response to her hair-pulling is very consistently firm but understanding and that she gets removed from the person whose hair she is pulling. It is the consistent repetition of the same reaction that will help her to learn not to pull hair.

I also think that as her speech and language improves, you will find that she gets less frustrated generally and hopefully you will see a corresponding reduction in hair-pulling.

Do advise the playschool that she has this tendency to pull hair and how you respond to it. This allows the playschool teachers to be vigilant and to adopt the same consistent approach.

Irish Independent

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