Parenting Advice on Sleep-Overs

by Dr. Noel Swanson.

Children love to go on sleep-overs with their friends – or to camps and other special events for kids. But for some children their fear of sleeping away from home overshadows the daytime fun – perhaps even to the extent that they simply won’t go. If your child is struggling with such a fear, perhaps this will help you to help her.

First of all, recognize the fact that it is a problem and most probably your child wants to get rid of it even more than you may want. So, ridiculing him by saying things like, ‘don’t be such a baby,’ will only aggravate the problem. This is the time your child needs all your support and understanding. You will need to come up with a well-defined strategy to help your child overcome his fear. You may take help of experts through books or on the internet, if you can’t think of a plan yourself.

You need to use the gradual process of desensitization to help your child overcome the fear. The problem may not be just sleeping away from home, but, perhaps, sleeping away from the mother. Children are sometimes scared to go to their own beds also.

Whatever the degree of the problem, the process is the same. Identify first what she IS able to do comfortably and confidently. Perhaps she is happy sleeping on the floor next to your bed. Or in her own bed, provided the door is open. Or she can manage a sleep-over with the grandparents, but not with a friend or cousin. Whatever it is, that is your starting point.

It is advisable to talk to your child and encourage him to tell you honestly why he doesn’t want to go on a sleep-over with a friend he likes. If he tells you what kind of a sleep over he won’t mind going to, make a note of it. And, you plan only that kind of a sleep-over for him. If he really has fun on a friend’s birthday party, or going to camp in the summer, he will get over the fear.

Now work backwards from the goal to the present. E.g. In order to be able to go to camp for 5 nights, you first need to be able to sleep away at the Easter camp for 2 nights. In order to do that, you need to be able to sleep at your friends house for two nights. Before you do that, you need to be able to do one night at your friend’s, and before you can do that, you need to be able to manage your own room with the door shut…. And so on.

Obviously you will need to tailor this to your own circumstances. Once you have a rough layout for this, then go to the present and look at the very first step. If necessary, break this down even further. Start with what she is currently comfortable with doing, and ask, what is the very first step? It might be as small as moving from the floor next to your bed, to the floor in the hallway just outside your bedroom door.

Decide on a starting date. Decide also on how you will celebrate success. Remember, make each step an easy one. Consolidate each step until she is ready and willing to move on to the next one (enticed, if necessary, by the promise of rewards earnt).

In the beginning you might have to face failure in the sense that after a few days your child may crawl back to your room in the middle of the night. This only means that you need to go back to the first step and spend some more time on it. Think of greater rewards and more encouragement, but don’t give up. Give lots of love and appreciation but remain firm. Try again, you will succeed one day.

Above all, remember to give sufficient time to your child. Trying to rush him will get you nowhere. However, if you go about your plan slowly and systematically, and wrap it up with plenty of encouragement and rewards, you should be able to get there.

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