Relaxing Stories and Dream Discs

Give credit where credit it due:  Riley took one of my sleep strategies and renamed it…and even added one important feature!

 

When we have infants, we are conditioned to believe that once those infants reach a certain age they will magically start sleeping through the night.  And once they do, we will never even remember the sleepless nights.

 

But then they become toddlers and things like growth spurts, developmental milestones, and teething keep them awake at night.

 

And once we conquer that, they become preschoolers.  Now they have real fears, like the dark, monsters, and ghosts.  And even though they separate beautifully at preschool, they suddenly need us by their sides at night.  And let’s not forget about the nightmares that result from the combination of active imaginations and a constant stream of new information.

 

Yes, preschoolers do their best processing at night.  In the dark.  When they are the most vulnerable.

 

Enter the Relaxing Story and the Dream Disc.

 

Riley is no stranger to nightmares, and she tends to get nervous when the lights go down.  We have a very specific routine in place to help give her some control over her nighttime worries.  The Worry Box, in particular, works wonders for an anxious mind.

 

But the Relaxing Story and the Dream Disc have given Riley a new feeling of control over her nighttime fears.  They go a little something like this:

 

Each night after I turn off Riley’s lights, wrap her in her quilt, and give her hugs and kisses, I lie on the floor next to her bed and tell her a relaxing story.

 

She chooses the destination.  It might be a walk on the beach, a trip to the duck pond, or a picnic at the park…whatever makes her feel calm.

 

In a very quiet and somewhat boring voice (never loud voices after the lights go down) I make up a story for her.  I cue her to take deep breaths along the way.  I point out relaxing stops along our journey (a waterfall, a rose garden) and mention relaxing activities (burying our feet in the sand, noticing a cool ocean breeze on our cheeks).

 

The story lasts about five minutes, sometimes less.  I end each story with the words, “and now it’s time for Mommy and Riley to go to sleep.”

 

And for a long time, I would lean in close and whisper, “let’s think of a great dream for you tonight.”

 

Until Riley invented the Dream Disc.

 

She approached me one morning, her eyes brimming with pride, and exclaimed, “I have a great new idea!  It’s called a Dream Disc!”

 

And this is how it works:

 

She imagines that all of her favorite relaxing stories are stored on compact discs on an imaginary shelf above her bed.  She can list them off without stopping to think.  It’s fascinating, really.  When she needs a good dream to help her get to sleep she simply chooses a disc and plays it on the disc player in her mind.

 

Do you love the imaginary thinking of a 5 year old?!!!

 

The dream discs give her some control over her nighttime worries.  Not only can she choose to have a good dream, but she can choose which good dream to have.  She feels a little less alone this way, and she drifts off to sleep without any worries.

 

The Dream Disc.  Genius.

 

Go ahead.  Tell a relaxing story, have your child choose a dream disc, and enjoy a calmer bedtime experience tonight.

 

You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

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Belief

“”I believe in you.  I know you can do it’, I whisper as I wrap her back up in her butterfly quilt and give her yet another hug.

But how do you know?”she whispers back with eyes closed tight.

“Because I’m your mommy, and I believe in you.”

With that she drifts back to sleep.

I trudge back to my own bed, being extra careful not to hit the creaky spot outside of baby brother’s door.  He sleeps peacefully every night.  Completely unaware of big sister’s fears.  Too young to worry about things like shadows, ghosts, and loneliness.  He knows that he is safe from harm.

She worries.

She wonders when daddy will travel again.  She worries about being left alone (she will never ever be left alone).  She’s convinced that every runny nose will lead to croup and leave her gasping for air in the dark of the night.  She struggles with transition and, although she hasn’t yet verbalized it, she fears leaving preschool and entering Kindergarten.  She wants nothing more than to freeze time.  Just like her mommy.

In the darkness, when she wakes from a dream and the quiet consumes her, she calls to me.  Her requests are simple.

“Please wrap me up, Mommy.”

“I feel scared.  I need just one more hug.”

“Tell me again that I can do it.”

In a haze, I comfort her every night.  I know what it feels like to feel afraid.  I know what it feels like to feel alone.  She has slept before; she will sleep again.  But right now she needs extra care.  Right now she needs her mommy…”

Please stop by moonfrye  to continue reading “Belief”.

Sleep Tight! (Tips for ending the bedtime battles!)

My husband has a busy job.  When he’s home, he’s in one music studio or another making records.  When he tours, he really tours.  In October of 2009 he set out for a one-year tour with John Mayer.  As far as good news goes for musicians, this is about as good as it gets.  For the wife and two kids waiting at home in LA, not so good.  The Hurley house is a fairly well oiled machine so, although we missed him terribly, the routine didn’t change much.  The first nine months seemed to move along pretty quickly.  Until the summer.  And that’s when my good little sleepers suddenly stopped sleeping.  Riley is a sleep walker (thanks Daddy!  Sleep walking is genetic) and a bit of a restless sleeper under normal circumstances.  She is literally all over her bed all night.  When Sean left, she started having nightmares occasionally.  By the time summer rolled around, it was almost nightly.  She began visiting me a couple of times a night when she woke up scared and lonely.  In the meantime, Liam spent the summer in teething mode and woke up at 5:30am every morning for eight weeks straight.  It was time to put my skills into practice!  Bedtime issues are the most common complaint among parents of toddlers and preschoolers, and for good reason.  We think that once we get through the infant sleep training, we are in the clear.  Not so much.  Toddlers and preschoolers are constantly learning new information, and with that come new fears and new sources of over-stimulation.  There are several great books on sleep issues, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child” by Marc Weissbluth being one of the most popular.  I will say that many “sleep trainers” might disagree with my tips.  My tendency to focus on the psychological means that I’m not necessarily of the “let them cry” mentality.  That said, I often find myself helping people with this very topic, and a few simple strategies seem to work for many kids.  The important thing to remember is that every child is different.  Some strategies might work really well for you, while others fall flat.  That’s ok, you just need to find what works for your child.  The second most important thing to remember is CONSISTENCY!  You can’t expect an overnight miracle.  Below are some tips to help you ease your child into sleep, and make it through the night!
1.Bedtime Routine:  I know. I’m a broken record with the routine thing!  But only because it works!  Children who know the order of operations when it comes to going to sleep tend to have fewer problems going down.  Here’s how it goes around here:  Milk while watching Dora after dinner, upstairs for a bath, pajama time, story time (two each), “bed chats” (children often need special time to process what they learned each day.  Liam especially loves making a list of who loves him), hugs and kisses (Riley requires three hugs and three kisses each night!), and lights out.  As I mentioned last week, a checklist taped to the door (with pictures!) often helps them feel like they are in control of their bedtime routine.  Your specific routine is not what matters, it’s that you do it at the same time and in the same order each night.  People often ask if a bath each night is necessary.  While I don’t think that it’s technically “necessary”, it is a calming part of the routine.
2.Avoid Over-stimulation:  As discussed last week, kids tend to be over scheduled these days.  They have a lot going on each day, which means processing new information and just getting worn out in general.  In general, toddlers need about 11 hours of sleep per night in addition to their naps.  Preschoolers (who have dropped the nap) need 11-12 twelve hours of sleep per night.  Consider an early bedtime.  If a child starts the day around 6:30 or 7am, try getting them down as close to 7pm as possible.  Staying up later does NOT mean they will sleep later in the morning.  In fact, it’s often the opposite when kids get exhausted.  And cut down on a few activities if over scheduling seems to be a problem. One to two classes in addition to school is plenty for a preschooler.
3.Fears:  Toddlers and preschoolers begin to develop specific fears (generally between ages 2-3) because they are bombarded with new information.  Dogs (Riley), monsters, ghosts, and the dark (Riley, again!) are common fears.  Some kids suddenly feel less comfortable swinging high (Liam) or zooming down the slide.  All normal and time limited, but please don’t ignore them.  A little bit of empathy goes a long way.  Riley will often ask, “did that scare you when you were a little guy?” when confronted with a new fear.  More on tackling specific fears another week, but for right now we’ll stick to bedtime!  Nightmares are often the result of new fears, and feeling alone and scared in the dark causes many bedtime battles.  Try a “worry box”:  Have your child decorate an old shoe box however they choose.  Try to block out 5-10 minutes at night to devote to the worry box.  Explain that this is a place for your child to put his/her worries each night, and that YOU will take care of the worries.  He/she might want to visit the worries again tomorrow, but you will take care of them at night.  Have your child list his/her worries from that day and write each one on a slip of paper.  Then have your child put the worries in a slot at the top of the box and put them away for the night.  Sometimes it helps them feel like they have some control over their worries just to get rid of them each day.  End your chat by asking your child to name two fun things that happened that day.
4.Nightmares:  Nightmares are generally related to something new encountered during the day.  Be careful what you read to them and let them watch (am I the only one who thinks pirates are kind of creepy?).  I learned the hard way that even a favorite curious monkey sometimes has scary adventures, “Mommy, that shadow is SCARING me!”  Preview everything.  I hear a lot about monster/ghost sprays or “keep out” signs for the bedroom door.  Tread carefully.  Monsters and ghosts are not real.  Providing a spray or a sign to prevent them tells your child that they might be real.  Sesame Street has been in the business of making monsters friendly for many years, use this to your advantage.  And when they still fear monsters and ghosts in the night say something like, “I know there are stories and shows about monsters and ghosts and those can feel very scary, but they are just pretend.  I am here to keep you safe.”
5.Comfort Objects:  Some kids attach themselves to a comfort object early on and can’t leave home without it.  Liam is so attached to his giraffe “lovey” that we actually have four!  Riley never had a blanket or lovey that she needed.  When she started to have sleep issues with Sean on the road I offered her one of my sweatshirts to keep in her bed.  She picked the one that she wanted and sleeps with it every night to remember that Mommy is always close.  Sometimes it can be that simple. A few strategies that might also work include:  Continuous music playing (on a low volume, we like “Bedtime with the Beatles”), a white noise machine, more than one night light, the closet light on with the door shut, leaving the bedroom door open while the child falls asleep, and “check-ins” every five minutes.
6.Bed Sharing:  In general, I don’t recommend bed sharing.  Parents work hard all day and need a relaxing place to decompress and sleep, and children need to learn how to comfort themselves.  If they know they can come in with you, they almost always will.  Wouldn’t you?  Sometimes you need to sleep in their room or have them in with you, particularly when they are very sick (Riley is prone to Croup.  I have spent many nights with her listening to her breathe).  Otherwise I would quietly remind them that your bed is only for mommy and daddy at night, but that you will help them get settled in their own beds.  Try to avoid discussions and power struggles and just remain calm.  When Riley had trouble over the summer, I had to “sleep” on her floor every night for ten minutes when she fell asleep, and then again after each nightmare.  I phased it out little by little until she no longer needed it.
7.Reward Charts:  Sticker charts can be very powerful tools.  The trick is to keep it simple. I have had parents explain very complex charts involving rewards and consequences that even I couldn’t understand.  Choose one behavior such as “went to bed on her own” or “stayed in her bed all night”.  If they earn it, give them a sticker.  If not, stay positive and say, “that’s ok, we’ll try again tonight”.  Remember, it’s a process.  Every three to five stickers give a larger prize (Riley earns a book for every five stickers, but friends have done ice cream cones, small toys, etc.).
Give it time.  Sleep issues feel impossible because it means that you are not getting any sleep either.  Believe me, I know how long a day can feel when you’re running on empty for the third consecutive week.  These strategies can take time.  If you remain consistent you will probably find that they do work over time.  And, in the meantime, get yourself to bed early!  My friend Judi is often in bed by 9pm at the latest, if only I could be more like her!
Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are just around the corner (yikes)!  Please email me your favorite Thanksgiving and winter holiday craft ideas for a special craft edition.  I’m not sure how many paper bag turkeys I can fit in my house…let’s share ideas and increase the fun!  Sleep tight!!!


p.s. I should add that the sleep/wake clocks that are yellow at night and turn green when it’s time to get up can work wonders for kids ages 3 and up.  Check them out on Amazon!