Ask the expert: Our son is terrified at night since break-in
At the end, you can be reassuring about what he is worried about ( “all is fine ” or “you are safe in this house ”, and so on ) and then concentrate on relaxation and winding down.
Help him fall asleep by himself
Break the pattern of staying with him as he falls asleep. Do this gradually at his pace. For example, you might say that rather than lying on his bed, you will sit in a chair in his room and when he is successful at this, the next night you then sit outside on the landing .
Don’t talk at these times (as talking time is over and could distract him from sleeping) and instead do something relaxing or productive for yourself ( such as reading).
Alternatively, you can break the pattern by returning to check on him periodically. Leave him alone to fall asleep, but agree that you will return to him in five minutes but only if he is lying quietly in his bed trying to sleep. As he gets used to the fact that you will return, you can extend the time you leave him for.
The key to making this method work is to make sure you return to him before he gets agitated or gets out of bed to look for you. He quickly becomes reassured by the fact that you will return and that you are close by and this helps him sleep.
Coach your son in relaxation strategies
Coach your son in relaxation strategies that he can use to help himself. You can teach him how to relax by being attentive or mindful of his breathing or by systematically going though each part of his body, taking time to first tense and then relax the muscles.
Alternatively, you can help think of a happy event that happened in the day or to imagine in detail a safe place he likes to go to. Often it is best to do these relaxation strategies together and to make them part of the bedtime routine.
As a therapist, one of things I like most about working with anxious children is that they usually are very co-operative and frequently they have great imaginations. Unfortunately, their imaginations are employed against themselves to visuali se negative and worrying events. The goal is to help them turn this round and to use their imagination to visuali se positive outcomes, happy events, and the things they are grateful for in their lives.
Finally, if the problem does not improve over time, do seek the support of a mental health professional in your local primary care centre.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and founder of the Parents Plus Charity. His new courses on ‘Parenting 3-10 year olds’ and ‘Parenting Teenagers’ are starting on Thursday, February 27th, at Wynns Hotel in Dublin city centre .