It’s 2 in the morning and you are jerked out of your peaceful sleep by your almost 3-year-old screaming at the top of his lungs. As you go to assess what is the matter, it soon becomes clear that he's not going back to sleep for anything. You start to feel your emotions rising. As you try to remain calm, you wonder how you can make him stop. How can you get back to sleep as you know you have a big day ahead tomorrow?
This type of situation is something that all parents go through. It doesn’t matter how easily or hard our child goes down each night or how long he's been sleeping through the night. Eventually, he will wake up in the middle of the night and when we’re already tired it can be hard to work with him to see what is wrong and why he won’t go back to sleep. This is where some principles of the popular parenting program Emotion Coaching can come into play.
Recognize there is a reason
a child wakes up in the middle of the night. If you are able to calmly approach your child and talk through what she is feeling, then you can usually get through to the heart of the matter. Addressing those needs and feeling empathy for a child who may not understand why she is having a bad dream and that the said bad dream isn’t real can be tough. Offer a comforting shoulder and let her know that you're there to help. It can make all the difference between having a child still screaming and a child that goes back to sleep peacefully.
Show unconditional love
The times our children are acting out are times to show them unconditional love. Meaning, we love them no matter how they act. Many times we may think, of course I love him, he's my child. But, from experience, it is easy to just wish our child would fall back to sleep so that we’re able to make it through the next day. We come to expect that a child who has begun sleeping through the night will continue to do so. When the child does something contrary to our expectations, we can quickly slip to conditional love, hoping that our child will behave the exact way we expect of them.
Set limit and create habits
This isn’t to say that we as parents should gladly welcome a day after day after day experience of our child waking up in the middle of the night. It is important to set limits, as these experts explain, in loving ways, without anger or threats. Explaining to your child that nighttime is when everyone sleeps, that parents need sleep, too, and that you expect him to sleep through the night, is a great way to help get past this hurdle.
Rachel Garland lives with her husband, son, and is pregnant with their second child. Rachel is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho studying Marriage and Family Studies, planning to graduate in April 2014 and then be a stay at home mom.