How to Get Children to Sleep – Making Bedtimes Easier

How to Get Children to Sleep - Making Bedtimes Easier

If you’re struggling to get your little human to commit to some serious pillow time, you’re not alone. Few families get through childhood without some sort of disruption at bedtime. The good news is that as the parent or grown up who loves them, there are simple, powerful things you can do to help your little dreamers (and you!) find a more peaceful sleep. 

There are many reasons for the bedtime blues. Some kids will anticipate bad dreams or nightmares. Other kids will have a fear of the dark. Others will miss being away from you or feel unsafe on their own, and for some little powerhouses, there’s just too much to do to spend time sleeping. 

Your little dream jockeys will respond to different things in different ways. Kids are beautifully unique, so it might take some experimentation to find a strategy or a bedtime ritual that works best. Here are some ideas to keep in your bedtime toolkit.

How to Get Children to Sleep.

Leaving distressed kids alone at night. Something to think about …

In many other cultures (if not most) aside from the Western one, small children don’t sleep alone. Consider this from an evolutionary perspective. A long time ago when our ancestors were at the mercy of the environment, they lived, slept and ate together as a way to protect everyone in the tribe. Leaving a child alone at night would have surely made them vulnerable to being attacked, stolen or dinner.

Fast forward several thousand years and although there are no sabre tooth tigers licking their lips, we’re still wired to equate closeness with safety. 

That doesn’t mean it’s that way for every child. Some kids are perfectly fine with being tucked up tight and kissed goodnight and are happy to fall asleep on their own. For others, the tendency to be scared of potential threat remains. That’s the thing about evolution, the wiring stays long after its purpose has gone.

The capacity for reason and problem solving lies in the frontal lobes of the brain. This is the part that helps us to process raw emotions and it doesn’t start to mature until about 5-6 years old. That doesn’t mean that kids at that age will immediately feel okay with being left alone. We’re all works in progress and like any important building work, sometimes the brain runs to its own schedule. In fact, the frontal parts of the brain won’t be fully developed until about 24. Don’t worry though – that doesn’t mean your little non-sleepers will want to be sleeping in your bed up to then. Promise. It also doesn’t mean you can’t leave them alone. The idea is to not leave them distressed. Here are some ways to make bedtimes happier for everyone. 

  1. Give them some control.

    Kids are adults in training, and as part of that training they will experiment with their independence from you. You’ll say no, they’ll say yes. You’ll say the blue cup, they’ll say the yellow cup – so you’ll say ‘yep’ to the yellow, then they’ll want the blue – which will have since been claimed by a sibling who is protecting it as though it was an endangered species. If the struggle for independence happens at bedtime, may the force be with you. It’s no secret that the likelihood of the struggle seems to increase with your need to put a fullstop on the day. They are little, but they are mighty! As much as we want to support their flourishing independence, having this play out at bedtime rarely ends well for any adult. Kiddos seem to have that one stitched. Even if it’s an argument we win, the trail to adulthood is littered with exhausted, bleary-eyed grown-up resistance fighters who ‘won’ the bedtime battle. Eventually. Try to nip this by giving them other ways to take control – let them choose their pyjamas, the story, the toy that gets to travel with them by bed to dreamland. Give them control over the little things so they will (hopefully) have less need to fight you on the big one.

  2. One of THE most important things – a consistent bedtime.

    The research on this is conclusive – one of the most important things for taking the struggle out of bedtime is having a consistent bedtime routine.

    ‘It doesn’t matter if you are a parent of a young child in the United States, India or China, having a bedtime routine makes a difference.’ – Jodi Mindell, PhD, professor of psychology at Saint Joseph University and associate director of the Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

    A study that stretched across 14 countries study has found that a regular bedtime and a consistent nightly routine improves sleep in children. The more consistency in the routine, the greater the positive impact on sleep. Children with a regular bedtime routine have earlier bedtimes, fall asleep quicker, wake less during the night and sleep for longer. They also have less problems generally and fewer behaviour problems during the day. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, bedtime routines involve a set combination of happy, calming activities before bed. Activities might include a warm, peaceful bath, brushing teeth and reading a story. 

    ‘For each additional night that a family is able to institute a bedtime routine, and the younger that the routine is started, the better their child is likely to sleep … It’s like other healthy practices: Doing something just one day a week is good, doing it for three days a week is better, and doing it every day is best.’ – Jodi Mindell, PhD.

  3. Don’t be there while they fall asleep.

    There is so much research on this. If only it was easier said than done! Kids who fall asleep consistently with a parent in the room will be more likely to wake up during the night and sleep for less than six hours consecutively. Falling asleep with an adult beside them seems to interfere with the capacity to self-soothe and develop a sense of security, which may create a vulnerability to bad dreams. We all cycle through sleep during the night, but we tend to put ourselves back to sleep without waking up completely. If you’re there when they fall asleep, they’ll be more likely to look for you when they wake up and panic when you aren’t there. If leaving them at bedtime is feels as easy as nuclear physics (it’s not by the way – nuclear physics is way easier – nobody is brought to their knees by nuclear physics) here’s something to try …

  4. With them, then away, then back again.

    Stay with them until they settle – read a story, give them a cuddle, whatever your night-time ritual is. Let them know  that you will be leaving for 1 minute (or 2 – whatever you think they can handle) and then you’ll be back for five. Make sure you come back when you say you’re going to. They might get quite upset at first until they are able to trust that you’ll be back. It’s okay – you’ll be coming back so they won’t be left to fall asleep distressed. Keep doing this and when it feels right, extend the time you’re away and decrease the time you’re with them. Eventually, you’ll end up with something like two minutes with them, 10 minutes away. At this point, you’ll probably find that they’re sound asleep the first time you go back. Be patient though, this can take time. 

  5. Help them to relax.

    The more relaxed they are when you leave them, the more likely they’ll be to drift into a restful sleep. Breathing initiates the relaxation response, a process noted by Harvard cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson as a response that automatically soothes the nervous system. When triggered, the relaxation response instantly sends out neurochemicals that neutralise the fight or flight response. This will decrease blood pressure, lower heart rate, lower pulse rate, reduce the oxygen in the bloodstream and increase alpha brain waves, which are all associated with relaxation.

     Shhhh – it’s sleeping.

    Find a soft toy pet that’s fairly lifelike. If you can find one that’s sleeping, that’s perfect – but it’s not important. Make sure it’s something friendly that they would be happy to have up against them. At bedtime when they’re ready to settle, nestle the soft toy against them and explain that it’s fallen asleep and that they have to try to keep the it asleep by breathing and moving very gently so as not to wake it up. The feeling of something against them, as they slow their movements and their breathing will help them ease gently into sleep that’s dreamy, relaxed and beautiful.

    •   A little friend to help.

    Effective breathing comes from the belly, rather than the chest. A way to encourage this is by placing a soft toy on your child’s tummy and making sure it moves up and down. If their breathing is coming from their belly, the toy will move up and down, letting them know that their breathing is perfect. 

  6. Use a night light.

    If it makes them feel better about being on their own, do it – anything that helps them to feel safe.

  7. Or a fan.

    Night noises can be scary! Their imaginations are wonderfully rich and in their world, nothing is impossible. The downside is that a noise as benign as a cat outside the window can unpack thoughts of intruders, burglars, aliens – anything. A fan will bring a soothing, soft hum to the room and help to drown out any unexpected noises that might keep them awake.

  8. Correct any wrong information.

    Misinformation (e.g. from television) has been found to feed a high proportion of night-time fears in children. One study reported that  88.98% of children attribute their fears to negative information they’ve picked up along the way. Other studies have reported the figure to be less but what we know is that it features in there somewhere. Just be aware of what your child is watching (the news can be the most frightening thing on television because it’s real) and talk to them about anything they’re scared about. If they see something on TV and they’re worried about it happening to them, point out how their circumstances are different. Finding the differences will help to loosen the association between what they’ve seen and their own circumstances.

  9. Bed position.

    The most common nighttime fear for children is fear of intruders. The position of the bed in the room can help to maximise feelings of safety and security.

    Research that explored the preferred layout of a bedroom from an evolutionary perspective and has found that people prefer to sleep in a way that would theoretically maximise safety from potential intruders. There were no doors and windows way back when humans first came along, but there were caves and cave entrances.  The study found that:

    •   If the room has a door and no window, people will prefer to sleep in a bed that allows them to see the door without having to move their heads very much. Try to avoid the door being behind the bed. 

    •   If the bedroom has a window, people will prefer to sleep in a position that lets them to see the door and the window when their head is on the pillow.

    •   If it’s not possible to see both the door and the window at the same time, people will prefer to sleep so they can see the door.

    •   People prefer to sleep further away from the door (but still able to see the door). The assumption here is that the further they are away from the door, the more time they have to keep themselves safe from an intruder.

If bad dreams or nightmares are causing the trouble.

Night-time fears are extremely common for children, with one study reporting that 73.3% of children aged 4-12 are affected. About a quarter of kids will have at least one nightmare every week. One of the most common themes is the violation of their personal safety – kidnappers or burglars often have a starring role in bad dreams. Other common themes for kids are separation from people they care about, loss of loved ones, imaginary creatures, and being chased by a scary person or animal. 

  1. Explain where bad dreams come from.

    Things are scariest when we don’t understand them. Kids can do amazing things with the right information, and explaining the physiology behind their bad dreams can go a long way towards empowering them. Here is an example of the words to use what you chat with them about it. It doesn’t all have to all happen in one conversation. Nobody knows your kids better than you, so adapt it to suit. 

    ‘When you go to sleep, your brain stays switched on and keeps working hard to look after you. Here are some of the things it does:∗ it puts what you’ve learnt into your memory;∗ it works through the things you’ve been taught to make sure you understand them;∗ it sorts through your memories, or the things that have happened during the day to help you feel okay about them. 

    Dreaming is the way your brain sorts through your feelings to make sense of things for you. Your brain does this while you’re sleeping because during the day your brain is way too busy doing other things. 

    You dream in pictures because the words part of your brain takes a little nap (it works so hard during the day!) The other part of your brain that takes a little rest is the ‘sensible’ part that tells you what’s possible or impossible, sensible or completely ridiculous. When this part of your brain is asleep, anything is possible! There are absolutely no limits which is why you can dream of flying to the top of the world in your very own jet – rainbow coloured of course, with an indoor swimming pool, and your very own toy shop and rock stars who tell you funny jokes while they clean your room. There’s just nothing in the way to say, ‘Sheesh! Don’t be silly! That would never happen.’

    Sometimes the information your brain has to sort through is stressful, confusing or scary and it might turn this information into a nightmare. Your brain doesn’t do this to upset you – it wants to look after you. Remember, it only has pictures to work with because the words part f your brain is asleep, and there’s nothing to tell it to calm down with the crazy stuff, because the sensible part of your brain is also taking a little break.

    This is why it’s so important to talk to a parent or someone who cares about you about things that are upsetting or confusing for you. By doing this, your brain will have less to sort through at night-time, so there will be less chance of things getting turned into nightmares. Grown-ups are very good at listening. They practically invented it. They can help you to make sense of things and they’ll never think anything you have to say is silly or not important. Grown-ups were kids too once, so they’re very experienced at kid stuff (although kids will always be the experts). 

    Sorting through your feelings is just one reason people get nightmares. You might also get nightmares when you are sick or if you’ve heard or seen something scary on television, in a book or on the internet. 

    It’s important to understand that the panicked feeling you get when you wake up from a bad dream isn’t because something scary is going to happen. There’s a good reason for feeling scared after a nightmare and it’s because of a part of your brain called the amygdala. When people dream, the amygdala is really firing. 

    The amygdala is an almond-shaped part of your brain and its job is to keep you safe by letting you know that there might be trouble. It’s kind of like your own fierce warrior, there to protect you. The amygdala does a brilliant job of keeping you safe, but sometimes it will send out a warning when there’s absolutely nothing to be scared of. It’s a do-er not a thinker, so it’s very good at warning you, but not very good at thinking about whether or not you actually need a warning. This is why you feel scared when you wake up from a nightmare. 

    When you feel scared, it will help to breathe deeply (because that settles down your amygdala), have a cuddle with someone who loves you and that scared feeling will soon go away. It can be hard to remember to do strong, steady breathing when you feel so scared, but don’t worry because I’ll be there to remind you. We’re a great team you and I and we’re going to sort these bad dreams out.

  2. Choose your own adventure … or ending.

    Dreams and nightmares come from their own thoughts, feelings and memories and because of this, we can change them if we want to. Harvard researchers  have found that by practicing a different ending to the dream just before bedtime, the content of the dream during sleep can be changed. Spend about 10 minutes talking to your child about an alternative ending for their dream. Because the dreaming brain uses pictures, rather than words, talk to them a lot about the imagery – colours, size, images. It the bad dreams change, or if they can’t remember them have an ending that would be always safe – finding you and being scooped up into your arms, safe and sound. If the nightmare is a recurring one, practice the alternative dream ending each day by talking about it to build up its strength and vividness and the ease with which your sleeping child can call on it when they need to.

  3. Help them make sense of their scary feelings.

    If bad dreams leave your small human with big feelings, it’s a sign that the right hemisphere of the brain is dominating and disconnecting a little from the left. The memory of the feeling that’s leftover from a scary dream can be enough to cause trouble at bedtime. Here’s what happens … the left part of the brain uses language to make sense of experiences. It uses words to put the experience into logical sequences – this happened, then this happened, then this happened. While the left brain is ‘this is what happened‘, the right is ‘and this is what it means for me‘. It’s more dominant in images (which are the heartland of dreams) and feelings. When the right is dominant, and disconnected from the left, feelings might feel overwhelming. Things will always run smoother when there is a strong connection between the right and the left, so both sides of the brain can drive behaviour. The left loves language, so to help your child make sense of their big feelings, recruit the left side of their brain by putting word to their experience:

    ∗ First, acknowledge how scary bad dreams can be. This will help your child know that you get it … ‘Bad dreams can feel awful can’t they. I feel scared sometimes when I have bad dreams too.’

    Next – if your child is okay with it – ask him or her to describe the dream. Don’t force them though. If they want to talk to you about it, awesome – let them go for it. Otherwise, let it go.

    Confirm that your child understands that it’s a dream and it can’t hurt them – even though in the dream it feels like it can. 

  4. They’re giving you a little peek into their world.

    All dreams are fuelled by your little person’s own thoughts and feelings. Exploring the dream with them, or listening to them while they describe it, can reveal wonderful insight to your child, and about your child, and give them a sense of control. Look for clues that might be telltale signs of their fears and vulnerabilities. This isn’t about interpreting their dreams, but about looking for feelings or issues that might be happening in real life and finding expression through their dreams.

  5. Every dream warrior needs their special powerful things.

    Kids are brilliant at using the line between reality and fantasy as a jump rope. This means that they have great capacity to take things from their waking world into their dreams. Here’s how that works:

    If they could take anything into their bad dream, what would it be? Something to fight off the baddies or dissolve them? Dissolver dust (called ‘glitter’ for short), might be just the trick. Maybe a monster trap? Something that was used in our home off and on for almost a decade was monster spray (see recipe and FAQs below). Perhaps an invisibility cloak (a small sheet) to hide from the baddies? Perhaps they need you (your photo under their pillow) or a magical fortress (ask them to draw it).

    Talk to them about how they will use their special ‘thing’. How does it make them feel? Strong? Safe? Powerful? Magical? This will help to strengthen the thought, experience and emotion to influence the content of their dream.

    Have them put their special thing under their pillow (if it’s safe), on their bedside table, or anywhere close by.

    ∗ Prime them before they go to sleep, by asking them to imagine themselves taking their special thing into the dream and using it.

  6. Dream Monster Spray (or Shark Spray, or Ninja spray, or alien spray, or whatever is pushing its way into their dreams).

    The idea of this is to use something build their feelings of safety. Clever, inquisitive monster slayers have been known to ask their share of questions, so here are some FAQ’s … just in case.

•  Does this mean monsters are real?

Nope. No way. Absolutely not. Promise. There are no monsters but sometimes your mind can make them up. This will help settle your mind down and stop those scary things coming into your dreams.

•  Where do you get it from?

You make it yourself. Here’s how. Get yourself a spray bottle and fill it about three-quarters with warm water. Now, add a few drops of lavender (or any other essential oil that’s known to be lovely (as in relaxing)). That’s it. Done. Easy as that.

•  What do you do with it?

Spray it around your room. You don’t want to go nuts with it. Or maybe you do. But about 5 sprays should do it.

•  That seems too simple. How do you know it works?

Because the scientists said so – they’ve done heaps of research into how your brain works. Have you ever met a scientist who didn’t know what they were talking about? Nope. Me neither. 

•  How does it work?

Two ways. First, it relaxes your brain – and a relaxed brain is a happy brain, which makes it more able to dream happy dreams. Second, dream monsters hate lavender. They can’t stand it actually. It makes them shrink down to nothing, but first it makes them (and little monster slayers) very sleepy. Dream monsters don’t like anything that smells nice but lavender is the one they hate the most. 

•  Will it give me muscles?

What? No. That’s what green peas and bananas are for. But don’t eat them together – that’s just gross.

•  Will it make my hair shiny?

No. But sleep will. 

•  Do I still have to have a bath?

Wait. What? Yes of course you do. 

•  Why?

Because dream monsters hate anything that smells nice but they hate nice-smelling humans most of all.

•  What if I think of another important question?

Just ask a grown-up who loves you. They tend to know important stuff. They’re good like that. Otherwise they will find a scientist to ask.

And finally …

It’s not unusual for all kids to struggle with bedtime at different times throughout their childhood. There’s no one-size fits all and there’s no quick fix to taking the angst out of difficult bedtimes. With time, persistence and a well-stocked toolbox with proven strategies, your little humans – and you – can find the way to peaceful, struggle-free sleeps in no time.


Sabrina A

I loved that you emphasized the importance of having a more consistent sleep routine and that having a set bedtime routine can help them wind down and have fewer problems in the day. My 3-year-old granddaughter has a very difficult time falling asleep at night and sometimes doesn’t get to bed until 2 a.m. When I go over to my daughter’s house tomorrow, I will suggest that they try starting a set bedtime routine to help relax and get her adjusted.


Both of my 12 year old twins can’t get to sleep without me being in the room. I’d like to try the 1 minute away, 5 there technique but wasn’t sure if they ate still awake at the end of the 5 do you leave for 1 again and keep cycling until they go off?

Lisa Frommer

I was plagued with fear of sleeping alone for many many years! My parents still wouldn’t let me sleep with my sister. I was so tired at school it was counterproductive to say the least and I suffered every single night! I still cannot sleep alone and I am 58 years old! Sometimes all the therapy in the world doesn’t fix this anxiety issue!

Asi Kaufman

From a book called parenting for primates by Harriet J Smith. as of my recollection.
Gorillas would put their infants to sleep with them in thier own nest, which they build anew daily at a different spot at the forest. At some point when they grow up a bit, and when they have more control and can go up and down the tree; they will build them their own little nest. They will still let them fall asleep with them at their nest, and when they fall asleep they take them and put their in their own little nest, no anxieties, no fights, nada. After awhile the babies will simply prefer to go to sleep on at their own nest. Obviously their nest is not that afar. In a few million years, while cpntinue to evolve rather than devolve, we might gain their wisdom and ongelegent. We create to situation for anxiety and then get too creative on how to solve them. Good night to all our fellow humane beings. (thinking of which, its not in the book, im guessing the babies are watching their parents building their nests, and some point down the forset path, they start to help, bringing a small branch here, and etc. Which i would then think if preoaring the room and orgenizing the bed together to be a pleasent cozy place with ? and have the kid lead the way on that, or be very receptive to his little quirks and let him set the stage. Also reviewing the dates event and clear them, the stressfull ones are what they take with them to their sleep, not talking about it before doesn’t add a thing. And touch and massage until they get relaxed, and anxieties leave, you know give them their grooming session, im sure they wouldn’t mind to get some more of it, and let them wane into peaceful sleepiness!


Great article thank you for sharing. It has made me think about the lay out of our daughter’s bedroom.

Do you have any tips on how to settle a 17 month old that wakes in the middle of the night unsettled and becomes very distressed if I try to lay her back in her cot. It takes 2-4 hours of holding her, eventually exhaustion kicks in and she falls asleep enough for me to be able to place her back in her cot.

She is a self settler at night. We follow the same bed time ritual each night. The problem is if she wakes then I am up anywhere between 2-4 hours trying to settle her back to sleep.

We have tried co-sleeping but she isn’t a fan of it.


Karen - Hey Sigmund

It sounds as though your little one is in a habit of waking up being soothed in a certain way. There is no easy way to break this habit – patience, consistency and perseverance, but it can be done. It’s about gradually getting her used to putting herself back to sleep when she wakes up at night. Start with holding her for ten minutes, putting her down for five, then repeat that until gradually the time you hold her is less and the time she is on her own is more. I’m not a fan of letting them cry themselves to sleep. This is a way to help them learn how to self-soothe, while still letting them know that they aren’t on their own. You might want to start by staying in the room during the time you put her down. Be patient. She might get worse for a little while before she gets better, but this is completely normal – when something that used to work stops working, we’ll all tend to do more of what used to work until we learn that it really doesn’t work any more.

Try not to be there when she falls asleep. As much as this is something you do out of great love, it can also undermine her ability to learn how to self-soothe. Don’t lose heart if things don’t change quickly. Keep going and be consistent – it can take anywhere from 3-5 weeks to form a new habit (and lose an old one).


Hi Karen,
Your insightful article arrived in my inbox with perfect timing, which is often the case with articles from Heysigmund! My hubby and I have an ongoing conversation about this topic and while we’ve tried a few of your suggestions already, I now have a few more that I believe can be really effective with both my highly sensitive 6 year old and 5 year old. One of our biggest challenges is giving them the opportunity to fall asleep on their own. The boys share a room and when we stick to our bedtime routine of bath, brush teeth, story, quick cuddle and leave the room, they often keep each other up. Of cours, this leads to frustration and resorting to non productive behaviors in all 4 of us. I love the back in 5 minute suggestion and to a degree we have tried this although still a challenge to keep them calm and in their beds before we get back. Any other suggestions? Maybe just consistency, calm patience and more calm patience will be answer….?
Thank you so much for what you do, both my husband and I find Heysigmund so incredibly helpful!

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Hi Sara – so pleased you’re finding the articles here helpful! Two little ones in a room can definitely make bedtimes challenging. Sounds like they have fun winding each other up a little. Persistence will be key for this one. The only other thing I can suggest is to try some relaxation exercises before hand. (Maybe progressive muscle relaxation?). On the plus side, the fun they have before bedtime will be some of their fondest memories one day. Be patient and persistent and keep with your routine – it sounds like a lovely one.


Hi. I just read the article about getting kids to bed. My daughter is 14 next month. She has generalised anxiety disorder and some OCD. She is seeing a lovely psychologist and takes some Lovan. It is three years since she began having panic attacks. These are now pretty much under control. She has a range of habits, the most frustrating of which is spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom at night so that bedtimes blow out by anything from ten minutes to an hour and a half. During this time she is most likely splitting her hair or peeling skin from her feet. No amount of cajoling will hurry her up. I have to threaten her with zero screen time the following day to have any effect but more often than not she just forfeits it anyway. It is an ongoing issue that we discuss with her psych but it is very stressful for my husband and I as well as going against one of the important needs of a child with anxiety – a good bedtime routine and plenty of sleep. I understand her to some extent as I have similar traits myself, though not as out of control. However, I will continue a habit even if I know it will make me go to bed too late, make me tired the next day, isn’t good role modelling. I have a long history of lack of discipline and poor time management and I see my daughter walking the same path. I see the psych on a regular basis as well. I am quite intelligent and insightful, yet the urge to continue a habit is so strong, despite knowing the negative outcomes. I would love to help my daughter get control of this while she is young. We have discussed different methods of getting her to bed on time but so far nothing is working unless we are constantly on her case until she gets to bed. If she wakes in the night she is likely to continue with a habit for perhaps two hours. If you have any ideas around these issues or can point me to posts you have already done, I would be most grateful. Thank you.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

It’s great that you have a psych you can work with. Keep working with her on this. The reason your daughter is getting stuck with her habits is because they are the behaviours that help to keep her anxiety at bay. The reason the consequences you’re putting in place usually don’t work is because those consequences aren’t worse than the anxiety or her experience when she isn’t using her habits to control them. It’s also not something she is doing to be defiant or naughty. For her, it’s a way to feel safe. When she does it, it activates the feel-good chemicals that surge when we get something we want. This is why it will be difficult for her just to stop it without replacing it with something else. The idea is to find something that is healthier for her than what she is doing now.

There is a ton of research that shows that mindfulness can help with anxiety. It changes the structure and function of the brain to strengthen against anxiety. Something to try might be a mindfulness practice before bed. Here is an article that explains that Smiling Minds have a brilliant app that plays different mindfulness exercises for different ages. Here is the link for you to have a look at Headspace also have one that is popular but Smiling Minds is the one I’m familiar with. Smiling Minds is free. I’m not sure about Headspace but here is the link if you want to take a look at that one too This might be a way to replace the habit with a healthier one. It might be something to explore with your psych if you haven’t already.

Richard Andrew

So much great info here Karen. One observation I’d offer, somewhat related, and specifically to toddlers … I find it curious that western humans, it would seem, are the only mammals / large-brained animals who (generally) don’t sleep with/near their young. You don’t see a mother dog say to her pup “No baby-Rover, you sleep alone over there and I’ll sleep over here”. Nor I suspect do lions, bears, rabbits, whales, kangaroos, etc. Only western humans. It’s a curiosity. Along with the uproar a statement like this usually brings.


This might sound a bit odd, but I have taken a cue from the world of Tibetan Buddhism and explained to my four year old son that we can befriend monsters and make allies of them by making real or imaginary offerings to them at which point they become our protectors. I think framing it this way shifts from a fight/flight dynamic (security through aggression) to a psychic state marked by empathy, trust, generosity and courage, which I suspect is bit more conducive for sleep. Of course I also let him know that there are no monsters, but those reassurances seem less intuitively appealing than the protector principle.

As a Buddhist household we have a small shrine to Mahakala to which we make tea offerings, making the whole thing somewhat more concrete and localized. In spite of the ferocious image of Mahakala, he seems to have taken to the idea, refers to Mahakala as “my friend,” and hasn’t had much of an issue with night fears.


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“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
Congratulations Karen.💛”
Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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