A mom writes in, asking for advice on how to get her 3-year-old to stop screaming every night at bedtime. She says she has tried everything, but the screaming is so bad that she has been contacted by neighbors and even once by the police.
Clinical psychologist and creative arts therapist Dr. Lori Baudino weighs in with some expert advice for this mom in need.
A Mamas Uncut Facebook fan asks:
“My 3-year-old screams every time it is bedtime: Advice?
I’ve tried everything to have a smoother bedtime. I’ve changed times my three-year-old is put to sleep, I read books, I’ve tried singing him to sleep, we’ve gotten him so tired from playing all day that he can barely keep his eyes open, but that doesn’t stop the problem. Whenever we say bedtime, he will just start high pitch screaming and what I like to call “the fake cry.” It’s so loud I’ve seriously thought my ears were bleeding.
I’ve had neighbors come over and ask if he’s okay. I even had cops come once because it literally sounds like he’s dying. I’m at a complete loss! He has his own room, and he sleeps in his own bed with the door open, and as a last resort, we started going to bed a little earlier with him sleeping with us. But each time, it’s the same result. He’ll scream and cry, and when he finally does go to sleep, he kicks in his sleep and wakes up every time we even move. So him sleeping with us is not an option, because it doesn’t work, and we prefer him sleeping on his own anyway. His doctor mentioned melatonin, but him getting tired is not the problem; it’s the screaming. I’m just at my wit’s end, and I can’t keep taking the screaming, so please and Thank y’all in advance.”
Advice from Dr. Lori Baudino
I admire your clarity in specifically stating what your challenge is: the screaming. I’m also hearing that your son can sleep and can even go to sleep, which will be a critical piece in supporting him.
To begin, during the day while he is calm and in his preferred space, have you and he played sleep (using dolls or toys or just yourselves)? What does he re-enact? Could you draw about sleep time, read about it, and make a plan with him? Speak about what you notice and what helps you fall asleep?
Bringing awareness to these ideas and their qualities, i.e. can sleep-time be fast or slow, loud or soft? The more he has an understanding of this time of day, he can anticipate the experience and feel more comfortable. The time of sleep changes from being threatening to being sought after and preferred!
You may also explore with him where you go while he sleeps, what happens in the house, what do things look like? Again, emphasis on learning and anticipating the unknown.
Next, I appreciate your efforts setting an earlier bedtime, rhythm, sounds and soothing options. These are all great. We just need to find the right formula for what sensory soothing he needs. Some kids need to be revved up, and others to soothe down. Some are auditory soothers — listening to music and sound — while others are tactile — sucking their thumbs or holding a blanket.
Let’s focus first on his volume. Take away the sleep part and just support him in using a softer voice. Allowing him to know what he is doing in the here and now. In that moment. For instance, as you lay him to bed, if he starts screaming, “I am not going to sleep,” then the response would be, “You can quietly speak with me… you are right, your eyes are open and now you may shut them.” Here you are stating the observation of movement, the facts. You are helping him understand the sequence of his choices, you are keeping him in a calm state and you are providing him with information about what to do.
Focus always on what he can do vs. what he cannot. For instance: you can make this sound, you can explore these toys, you can eat these foods. Allowing options brings a child into a space of being received.
Lastly, when hearing you are “at your wit’s end” — I think that’s such a beautiful metaphor for this experience of you being at the end of your rope. Not that I want this for you, but rather that I want to provide you with more rope to climb back up and find your footing again. You may let your child know how you feel during the day — that it’s hard and confusing to figure out and get his feedback on what to do. Show him how you are getting your footing before bed. Drink some tea that you love, make sure you get enough sleep, and start some music earlier in the evening to set the mood, or even use essential oils, and then enjoy snuggling and giving some space to be together. It won’t be long until you trust in just being together, and he will fall asleep calmly. And you will have peace of mind!
[Images via Shutterstock.]
Dr. Lori Baudino has been a practicing clinician for over a decade. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Masters in Creative Arts Therapy – Dance/Movement Therapy, the therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual.
As the National Clinical Spokesperson for The Andréa Rizzo Foundation, and with their funding, Dr. Baudino brought the first Dance/Movement Therapy Programs to the top Pediatric hospitals in Los Angeles, where she provides bedside therapy to children with cancer, special needs and terminal illness. Dr. Baudino has specialized in supervising, facilitating and providing treatment for children with special needs and their families. She has worked in psychiatric hospitals and at rehabilitation centers for trauma, addiction and pain management. Dr. Baudino coordinated Behavior Intervention Programs within the home/school setting.
In her private practice, she works with children and their families to support the developing child and the integral relationships between parent, child and siblings. Understanding the premise that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected and that life is experienced through movement, Dr. Baudino’s approach allows the child to put words into action, understand individual sensory and motor preferences, express emotional needs, and support overall integration and well- being.
Dr. Baudino is also a published author, leveraging her love of travel with her expertise in child behavior to create the best-selling book, Super Flyers: A parent guidebook for airplane travel with children.
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