My 11 year old daughter, Maxine, slept alone in her own room for years and years with no trouble. Until last year… Halloween 2017. About 6 months ago, after more than a year of tears and interrupted sleep, we finally started a ‘Worry Brain’ project and beat the nighttime anxiety. She has given me permission to share our journey with you.
(Click here to download my FREE printable anxiety cheat sheets- they include a summary of all the tips and anxiety rules from this article!)
Read on to learn what worked (and what didn’t!) and how to use the ‘Worry Brain’ strategies to combat your child’s anxiety.
Maxine has never been an anxious kid, but she does have a rich imagination and a low tolerance for scary things. She knows herself pretty well so she knew to avoid listening to scary stories. But last year at school on Halloween she decided she was old enough now and she could handle them. That night, she confessed she was terrified and when she couldn’t sleep, I agreed to sleep with her. I thought she’d forget the stories and get over her fear after a few nights with me and some reassurance.
It didn’t end quickly as I had thought it would. Some nights she could fall asleep on her own just fine, and some some nights she even slept through the night without issue. But most nights she couldn’t sleep unless she knew I’d be joining her. “Will you please sleep with me?” became a nightly desperate plea. Some nights she did manage to fall asleep on her own, but then she would come and wake me up to sleep with her in the middle of the night. “I’m scared! I can’t sleep alone!” Taking the path of least resistance (and more sleep!) I would sleep with her.
This was my first strategy: Time and comfort. It didn’t work. In fact, her anxiety got worse as we avoided what was making her anxious. She became dependent on me to feel safe. I learned two things:
Anxiety rule #1: If it’s anxiety, children don’t grow out of their fears.
Anxiety rule #2: Avoiding what makes children anxious makes the anxiety stronger.
When I asked her during the day what she was afraid of, it was pretty dark. The most common thing was that someone would break into our house. And she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She told me that when she woke up in the night and the house was quiet, she thought it was because someone had broken into the house and killed everyone but her.
I reassured her. I showed her the locked doors. I reminded her how big and strong her dad and her brothers are, and that no one could get past them. We talked about how our neighbours were so close that they would surely see someone trying to break in and call the police. I reminded her that our dog barks like crazy every time anyone comes to the door. Nothing worked.
Anxiety rule #3: If reassurance doesn’t work right away, it’s not going to work.
Anxiety doesn’t care about logic or reason. Larry Cohen, author of The Opposite of Worry, says, “If reassurance doesn’t work after 15 seconds, it’s not going to work.” A child who might not understand something, or needs information, will respond to reassurance. For a child struggling with anxiety, no amount of reassurance will allay their fears.
Anxiety rule #4: Anxiety doesn’t go away with “Suck it up, Buttercup.”
We tried being tough. That didn’t work either. We just all felt bad. It broke my heart to hear her crying herself to sleep. (We only did that once!)
Anxiety rule #5: Anxiety doesn’t go away by itself, no matter how hard a child tries.
I knew how hard Maxine was trying. She knew that it was causing a strain on me and her dad. She really wanted to be able to do it. But every night, her Worry Brain took over.
I should know better, right? I help parents of children with anxiety! It would be one thing if I didn’t have this information, but I know it. My failure was in thinking somehow anxiety rules #1-5 didn’t apply to us (and also opting for the path of least resistance in the middle of the night!)
I finally realized I needed to use the tools that I teach parents of anxious kids. We needed to go into full-on ‘Worry Brain’ project mode. Before we get to the tools, let’s talk about anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion. We all feel a measure of anxiety, for example, before a big exam or a first date. Mostly it doesn’t get in the way. We know how to calm ourselves, or we can feel the fear and convince ourselves to proceed anyway. Anxiety becomes a problem when the part of our brain that is responsible for keeping us safe, the amygdala, is overactive and too sensitive and it causes us to respond in ways that interfere with our lives or makes us miserable.
The amygdala is an area deep inside our brains that is responsible for sensing danger and moving us into action when there is a perceived threat. When it senses danger, the amygdala takes over from the thinking part of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) and moves us into fight-flight-freeze to keep us safe. It makes neurochemicals and sends them to our bodies to get us ready to fight the tiger, or flee from it. Our bodies feel the the chemicals and know that means we’d better get ready. (These chemicals are what are responsible for the physical symptoms of anxiety: shallow breath, fast heart rate, feeling sick, etc.) This happens unconsciously and in a split second! And the more the amygdala is activated, the more easily it gets activated: pathways in the brain get laid down in patterns of fear response.
We all need our amygdalas. They keep us safe. We stay away from the edge of the cliff or we don’t approach the growling dog. A problem develops when our amygdala gets activated too easily, or by things that aren’t actually a threat, and we don’t know how to signal to it that there is no danger. We need to learn how to tell our amygdala, “All clear!”
In an anxious person, the amygdala senses danger where there actually is none- like a smoke alarm that goes off every time the toast burns. The key to managing anxiety is to recognize that the alarm is a false one. We don’t have to believe everything we think or feel. When anxiety shows up, it’s as if someone has just called to tell you that you won a Caribbean cruise- you just need to pay the $500 luxury fees. “Oh hey, it’s that scam phone call again!” And we hang up.
The good news is that our brains are malleable: as we more frequently send the “all clear” (Hang up that phone! Push the button on the smoke alarm!) when there is a false alarm, new pathways are laid down in the brain and we respond in a different way. We can actually rewire our brains.
Back to Maxine and her night time fears: I used Lynn Lyons’ ‘Worry Brain’ approach to teach her to reset her brain and give her amygdala the “all clear.” This is a broad overview of how we solved Maxine’s night time anxiety. If you are embarking on a Worry Brain project of your own, I absolutely love and can’t recommend enough the book Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents by Lynn Lyons.
Anxiety rule #6: Use the tools.
- I taught Maxine how her brain works and how her amygdala works to keep her safe. Lyons calls this “frontloading” and it’s a crucial part of the project. Maxine learned that when she couldn’t sleep because she was scared, this was because her Worry Brain (amygdala) had shown up and taken over.
Coaching and Practice
- Talking back to her Worry Brain: Maxine learned to talk back to her Worry Brain and practiced when she wasn’t scared. Lyons recommends that a child externalizes their Worry Brain (give it a name and a persona!) and talk back to their Worry Brain. When she wasn’t hijacked, Maxine knew that her fears were unfounded. (This is why reassurance doesn’t work. It appeals to the prefrontal cortex, which isn’t actually working when the amygdala is in charge.) But when the Worry showed up, it was hard to remember. So we came up with a list of phrases that Maxine could say to her Worry Brain to give it the “all clear,” such as “I don’t need you here, Worry Brain” or “Go back to sleep, Worry Brain, I’m safe.”
- Expect Worry to show up. Maxine would also say to Worry, “Here you are Worry, you always show up at bedtime and in the middle of the night. Go away! Thanks!”
- Replace the scary thoughts. You know the exercise “Don’t think of pink elephants”? It’s impossible to NOT think a thought. Instead, acknowledge the thought (“here you are Worry Brain!”) and replace it with something else. We brainstormed other things she could think about. (Later, you’ll see we expanded on this and gave her the option to read in the night to replace the scary thoughts.)
Over the next little bit, Maxine did improve in the area of going to sleep by herself, but she was still coming and getting me in the middle of the night.
I talked to Lynn Lyons (author of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents) and told her I was using the tools, but that it wasn’t working. She looked at me and said, “Well, of course she’s going to keep waking you up if you keep sleeping with her!” It was like a lightning bolt. I needed to not only use the ‘Worry Brain’ tools but I had to be strong for my daughter, even when- especially when- she was unhappy.
Anxiety rule #7: Be strong!
Even if it’s hard, don’t give in to anxiety. Lynn Lyons calls anxiety ‘the cult leader’ for a reason.
I realized we still had more work to do. I needed to lead her back to her bed and leave her there ALONE, ramp up the efforts to get Worry to leave her alone, and also give her a reason to to use the tools.
Lynn said it’s really important to keep in her in her bed. Maxine started to keep books under her pillow and I told her if she woke up and she was scared, she could turn on the light and read. She maybe only did this once or twice, but knowing she could do something other than lie there and be scared made it easier to keep her Worry Brain quiet and go back to sleep.
We also instituted a ‘points’ system to help her want to use her ‘Worry Brain’ strategy. Sometimes with anxiety, there is intrinsic value for a child to want to use the tools. Maybe they really want to learn how to swim, so they’re willing to use their Worry Brain strategy to get over their fear of putting their face in the water. Or maybe they have a fear of dogs and they really want to have playdates at their friend’s house who has a dog.
In our case, Maxine needed something to work toward so she could help herself stay in her bed. We devised a point system. Every time she fell asleep on her own she got a point, and every time she slept through the night without waking me up she got a point. When she got 5 points we had a treat (maybe some cookies or french fries out- usually food now that I think about it!)
And of course, I gave her a ton of empathy about how hard this was and how much I understood that she really wanted me to sleep with her.
Anxiety Rule #8: Give your child something to work toward.
In peaceful parenting we don’t recommend rewards, as they interfere with intrinsic motivation. In some cases though, children will not be able to see the intrinsic reward so we need to add an extrinsic reward.
Dear reader, it worked. My daughter still LIKES me to sleep with her, but she doesn’t need me to. We got her a giant stuffed animal as a substitute mama.
Last week she said, “Mama, I can sleep facing the wall again. I don’t need to watch the door anymore to make sure no one’s going to come in.”
Tonight I read this post to her to make sure she approved. She said, “Hearing it all together makes me so proud of myself!” Indeed. I am also so proud of her and what she has accomplished in taking control back from her ‘Worry Brain.’
Click here to download my FREE printable anxiety cheat sheets!
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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 15, 18, and 21). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”
Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com
Excellent article, congrats to you and Maxine.
I’m having the same issue with my thirteen year old daughter. Asking her to sleep in her room leads to her crying, screaming, stomping around and throwing things. Her refrain is “it’s too scary.” She has high anxiety about certain things, but the part that I’m unsure about is that she is autistic. Has the approach above been tested with autistic children? Do you know any approaches for calming anxiety or enforcing certain rules/behaviors with autistic children. She has exceeding difficulty having a thoughtful back and forth conversation, so I’m not sure she could actually “talk” to her worry brain. Just wondering if you have any experience/perspectives to help non neurotypical kids?
I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with autistic kids. There is for sure a certain amount of nervous system dysregulation that comes with being neurodivergent and that wouldn’t really be helped with the worry Brain approach. However, “I’m scared” is certainly something you can help her with. she has to have a reason to want to use it though! Also you have to talk to her about it A LOT when she is not hijacked. If she is screaming and crying she can’t learn anything new.
This is amazing! Congrats to Maxine and her mama!
Congratulations, both of you, on handling such a challenge so beautifully and courageously !
And thank you so much for such a valuable, helpful article.
Great advice! I have one question. How do I get my 9 year old daughter to stay in her room? She refuses to stay in her bed despite talking to her, standing near her bed, night light with books. The second we leave her room she follows and refuses to stay in her bed alone. We are exhausted. Last night this lasted 4 hours until we gave in and let her in our bed because she needed to go to school In 7 hours.
Hi Nicole! That sounds so tough. Have you tried the steps in the blog post? She needs to learn the tools and then have “buy in” to use them. Is there something she can work toward? Perhaps she wants to have a sleepover, or maybe even you can set up a reward system like I did. (Rewards are generally not in line with peaceful parenting but sometimes we need to build in some extrinsic motivation when the intrinsic isn’t there!) Hang in there! xx
I must try this with my 10 yr old daughter. She is so anxious at bed time and she told me she doesnt like being alone and is frightened something bad will happen, reassurance never works. I’m desperate because shes so exhausted poor wee soul.
Can I ask what your advice is if the cause of a child’s anxiety is not irrational – if it is something that can happen such as going to school and then being bullied, or going to school when you struggle to do the academic work and your SEN are not recognised?
You can still use the Worry Brain strategy even when the fear is rational- first of course brainstorming what concrete things can be done to help the situation, but then leaving the child with the tools of “I can handle this” because Worry Brain is the fear that you can’t handle hard things, whether they are real or imagined!
I have a 9 year old who really struggles with anxiety in general and has never slept well. She’s had some counselling and understands how her brain is working when she’s anxious, but she get so self absorbed all the tips we have just can’t pull her out of her anxiety and anger in the moment. Not only is she scared/anxious of various things she also often focuses on the fact she won’t/can’t get to sleep and that she will be up all night and tired all of the next day. She gets so mad with herself which in turn keeps her awake, no matter what I do or say it is so hard to calm her down and often takes quite a few hours. Do you have any tips on how to re-focus her and get her calm enough to enable her to relax and fall asleep? She has books to read etc, but as soon as she put the book down, she just starts getting mad again and the cycle begins again.
HI Jemma! So tough! Although it sounds like she hasn’t been able to (yet) get a good grasp on the tools and she doesn’t recognize that she is anxious? She’s focussing on the the Worry instead of externalizing it and talking back to it. Maybe this article will help- https://www.heysigmund.com/dont-think-of-pink-elephants-the-secret-to-replacing-negative-thinking-with-brave-thinking/
I would also check out the book I recommend in the post (for you!)
Good luck and hang in there!
I am facing a this exact situation with my 8 year old daughter right now. Did you ever find a strategy that worked? I intend on trying these Worry procedures, but curious if anything else worked for you in addition to it.
These strategies were the only thing that worked. Good luck <3
My sister has a similar peinlem but her son is only 2.5 years ols. What recommendantions do you have with kids that do not talk that much yet?
At 2.5 I wouldn’t classify it as a Worry Brain problem- more of a natural urge of small children to sleep with someone. They are still babies almost! 🙂
However, here are 2 articles that might help your sister:
Good luck! xx
Thank you for sharing this article. We are going through this exact same situation with my 7 year old son, and are at a loss for what to do next.
I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this very helpful article and personal story. You and your daughter should be very proud. It is not easy to get anxiety under control. My 10 year old daughter has had anxiety and panic attacks and a deep-rooted fear of throwing up since about age 4. We have had our ups and downs, sought therapy and done tons of reading on the topic over the years. I like the way you have put together and articulated this approach. I feel like a 10 year old brain would understand this. We have been in a “need Mommy in my room to fall asleep” state for a very long time again and I am looking to get us back on track to independent bedtimes. My other 9 year old daughter often falls short of a bedtime because I have been in her sister’s room for 1, 2 or sometimes more hours trying to get her calm enough to fall asleep. We will incorporate your suggestions. Please send us some good sleep vibes.
Linda from Caledon, ON. Also, kindly let me know if you know of any support groups for children with anxiety, and parents of children with anxiety. Would be great to have a network of people going through relatable experiences. My daughter feels like no one else her age ever feels like she does.
Wow, this is fabulous! I appreciate your taking the time to clearly articulate the steps… and Maxine for letting you share her story. I’m saving this for future use since anxiety is so prevalent. Thanks!!
This was what I needed tonight. Struggling with an anxious sleeper for the past 5 years. Was an anxious sleeper myself and have only been able to sleep without facing the door (with a light on in the house to see shadows) just 6 years ago. Needless to say anxiety is my not so friendly friend as well as my son’s.
Hoping for the same success with my son as he ventures into the 12th yeah of his life.
My 9 year old daughter wants sleep on floor in our room. They had active shooter drill at school and now she is afraid someone is going to come in and kidnap her. I have tried to give her options to help when she cannot sleep like deep breathing, thinking good thoughts, reading. I have even asked her to brainstorm solutions with me. She responds nothing helps and she does not know what will help her. Any suggestions?
Oh I am so sorry! That sounds terrifying.
Have you tried the approach in the article? That is what I would recommend.
Good luck with it!
Thank you much Sarah. This is an excellent article. I have googling these concerns for the longest time but never found out that helped this much. Will try it out with my 12 year who by the way sounds exactly like your daughter rich imagination and low threshold for scary things 🙂
Thank you much Sarah. This is an excellent article. I have googling these concerns for the longest time but never found out that helped this much. Will try it out with my 12 year who by the way sounds exactly like your daughter rich imagination and low threshold for scary things 🙂
My boyfriend, Nick, has a 10 year old daughter Liliana, about to be 11, can not fall asleep by herself. She asks to sleep with her 8 year old sister all the time. Then when they’re both sleeping, one of us will wake her up to walk her back to her room. If she wakes up, she will wake us up to have her dad sleep with her till she falls asleep again. She has a night light. The halls have to have a bright night light. Nick has told me before that their mom, whom he has shared custody with, has them sharing a room at her house. So they’re used to being together. I find it just odd. They’re both old enough to sleep by themselves. No problem with giving in once in a while, but this is constant. I get a don’t really have a say somewhat, since they both have their parents in their lives, but I feel this will just lead to more problems since neither parent seems to be nipping it the bud. Any suggestions? I mentioned the suggestions above and he kinda just shrugged it off.
There isn’t much you can do if he doesn’t want to make any changes! I’m sorry! The ideas in the article are for sure what you need to do if he does want to tackle it. Good luck xx
Would it be alright to say if you don’t sleep in your bed, then you don’t get to use your phone for the whole day?
I know you spoke of something to work for, but not sure if this is more considered punishment? I guess it depends if you think a phone is a reward or a necessity at 11 years old?
I would consider that a punishment. If you give your child the tools to use (as outlined in the article) and they still don’t want to use them, it’s helpful to give them something to work toward 🙂
I’m 14 years old girl and I’m so scared when i”m sleeping alone I can’t sleep without my mom and my mom always said I can’t sleeping with u and that night when my mom doesn’t sleep with me all night i will be cried i’m so scared I don’t know what should I do to don’t scare! I will scare of darkness and whan all of one will sleep the house is be quite i will so scared!! What should i do?
Hi honey! I’m so sorry this is happening to you. You should show this post to your mom and ask her to help you with the tools. If she can’t, maybe another adult you trust could help you? xxoo
Thank you so much!! This is exactly what we are facing with our son. Now I am hopeful.
We have struggled to get my 8 year old daughter to sleep in her own bed her entire life! She’s recently expressed that she doesn’t feel safe when she’s not with me and all the noises she hears in our house makes it impossible for her to go back to bed. All the “rational” explanations don’t help, I’ve gotten her a noise machine as well to “hide” the noises. I’m so excited I found this article! I was wondering how you explained the brain and how it works to your daughter so she understood? How did you explain the amygdala in a way she understands? I’d really like to try this approach ASAP! Thank you very much for sharing your experience! I’m really hoping this works for us!!
I’m so glad you found my article 🙂
This website has good info about explaining the brain to kids- You could try this article first- https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/ Good luck!! xx
My 12 year old daughter lost her big sister 2 years ago. Her sister was two years older. My daughter travels back and forth from her dads to my house. Here at my house…since her big sister is now gone she sleeps alone. At her dads house she has younger siblings that cuddle her in bed. Lately it has become such a struggle to get her to want to sleep alone At my home. It literally hurts my heart because I know it’s since her big sister is gone and that is who she was used to sleep with here. I am usually pretty good at having rules and being “tough” but I have been giving in. Of course I love cuddling her and love that she wants to sleep with me but I also want to help her healthily through normal scariness and then her grieving that is still happening. Would following these steps still be your advice? I guess my heart is just needing a little reassurance.
Thank you so much!
I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter <3
In terms of whether this strategy will help- does she not want to sleep alone because she is sad or because she is scared?
It will help with scared but not sad <3
If she's sad and you don't mind sleeping with her, I would go ahead and do that.
Is she getting support from a professional around her grief? I have heard that is important.
From my daughter Alba 10yrs: thank you so much for this article. I understand more now.
I read this with her and she already feels more confident knowing she is not the only one. It’s been so hard to get her to understand that everything is ok. She has alway slept alone in her room but it’s been about 4 months that’s this started and we tried everything.
I’m gonna put into practice all your tools.
Thank you thank you
To add to my previous comment. Alba wanted me to add that we named hers “fear” from “inside out”
I think it helped her think of it as a skinny non threatening persona.
You are welcome!
Thanks for this – just bought the book. My almost 13 year old daughter has anxiety issues, has been to 3 therapists, most recently for CBT which made it worse. She is not scared to sleep alone, she just cannot sleep, so her anxiety stems from the fear that she won’t be able to sleep. I sleep on a trundle in her room. We have tried several ways out of this, including several nights of me just not staying with her. Literally she is up all night. She reads, she draws, she is miserable and so are my husband and I because we tried so many times. Tried gradual, tried cold turkey, tried therapy, tried melatonin, try Benadryl sometimes when desperate. She was once up 3 nights in a row, all night. I work full time – any suggestions? Time for meds? Thanks.
Have you tried using the tools outlined in this post? If she doesn’t have tools to reset her amygdala, just not staying with her won’t help. Good luck! That sounds really hard!
My granddaughter is seven years old and I just read your article.I asked her what she is scared of but says she doesn’t know she just doesn’t feel right and sick in the tummy but feels better when she comes to our room
Sounds like the Worry Brain all right! Try the strategies in the post 🙂
It doesn’t matter if she knows what she is scared of – her Worry Brain is telling her that she needs to be with you to feel safe <3
Thank you for this. I am hoping this approach will help my beautiful 11 year old daughter who is really struggling with sleep anxiety at the moment. She was a great sleeper until she was about 3 and since then has preferred to sleep with a parent. I am aware that we have made mistakes along the way – mainly giving in to the path of least resistance in the middle of the night so that we can all get some sleep. When she was 5, I invented the Sleep Fairies, who worked with her over a period of a couple of months to help her first settle down to sleep without needing a grown up next to her and eventually sleep on her own all night. This project worked brilliantly and she was so proud of herself. However, after three or four weeks of success, she fell back into old habits and we allowed it to happen. We weren’t quite back to square 1 because from that time, she has been happy to go to sleep by herself but usually wakes during the night and moves through into a parent’s bed. It’s not helped by the fact that her brother (2. and a half years younger) also sleeps with a parent, though I do think for him it’s less complex. He could sleep on his own, but he chooses the cosiness of my bed.
Anyway, lately, our daughter has been talking more about feeling scared. She was made to watch a horrible video in science about a murder. This was while she was home learning due to school lockdown and unfortunately she watched the whole film before I knew anything about it. I complained to the school but by then it was too late of course. She had seen something which completely terrified her. Now she just can’t get past it. And I feel her sleep issues have moved into a new realm.
I really hope that in helping her to address her Worry Brain directly, she will be able to find a way through this. She is a highly intelligent girl, generally not too anxious in the day and someone who throws herself into every new challenge going. But the combination of approaching puberty and the awful fears associated with the global pandemic are threatening her usual ebullience.
Sorry to ramble on, but your article has really struck a chord with me and I would appreciate any thoughts or advice you could give. Tonight I found myself getting cross with her, in sheer frustration and exhaustion with this and I know that wasn’t the right thing to do. Her Dad actually said to her, ‘This is a problem. It’s not normal.’ and I knew instinctively that was the wrong thing to say. I find reassurance in your article that actually it is really quite normal and something we can hopefully work through together.
Good luck! I hope you and your daughter find that the strategies help <3
Do you have any advice for the 7 year old that just simply cries saying she cannot help it, she is so scared to close her eyes and be in the dark, that she refuses to stay in bed? It takes an hour plus to get her to sleep and then three hours we are back at it again. She is naturally a smart, calm girl and is crying telling me she simply cannot sleep alone, she is just too scared, and nothing is helping her. She is almost stubborn about it and I cannot seem to get here there unless I spend two hours calming her down, EVERY NIGHT!
I’m sorry! That sounds so tough. The Worry Brain tools work but the process takes months. And lots and lots of conversations. Maybe start with something smaller that she is worried about and build on that. Also get the book for sure! Hang in there! xx
My 9 year old just recently started having good and bad days of sleeping on her own and staying in bed. We have a routine with shower, dim lights, she reads to herself then i read to her then rub her back and sing. She falls asleep will then other night she can not sleep on her own, gets emotional when i don’t stay with her and starts getting very emotional and anxious. Then her stomach starts hurting and feels like she is going to throw up. Last night i tried everything in the book and she didn’t fall asleep till almost 1am! But the nights before that she fell to sleep in 10 mins after our routine. She did sleep with me after i got divorced when she was 4. Have moved a couple of times and just recently moved and she has her own room on the 2nd floor. A lot of transitions. i am at my wit’s end.
I’m sorry- that sounds so tough! It can take weeks or months of using the strategies before they “work.” The stomach ache is her anxiety. I would check out the website Hey Sigmund for more info. Hang in there!
Hi! This was a really great article to read. I’m 17 years old and still can’t sleep with my back to the door most days. It’s hard because I know rationally that I live in a really safe area with low crime rates and have functionally alarms systems, but I still live with the fear someone is going to break in or something terrible is going to happen. I most worried about going off the college and not being able to assure myself with low crime rates and an alarm system. This might not be your area but do you have any advice for this kind of fear(worry brain) for older teens or in new environments?
Good for you for trying to figure this out. Really, the strategy is the same! Recognize that you are hijacked by a false alarm and talk back to your worry. You might like to listen to Lynn Lyon’s podcast Flusterclux. The most recent one was a mom talking about her anxious teenager. Hang in there! xx
My daughter is mine and a product of divorce, her mom is not able to have a healthy co parenting relationship and we minimally communicate via an app. We’ve also been apart for 6 years. My daughter has started for the past 2 years? Maybe 3? Not being able to sleep the entire night alone. She wakes up fearing that o have left. If we stay at my girlfriends it’s the same. I have her 5 days each visit so it’s taking a toll on my relationship. When I asked her about why she thinks I would leave, I ask if she’s like this at her moms who’s about to get married. She says yes but because her mom and fiancé DO leave while she’s asleep, (she has teenage older half siblings). I assume they go on dates and such. I will state that her mother will not even act like she’s gonna talk about this . I don’t know what to do, any ideas of a alternate version of this?
Ug I’m sorry! That is so tough. I would try the strategies in the post- teach her that it is a false alarm. that you won’t go anywhere while she is sleeping! Good luck xx
Thank you for this wonderful blog post. My daughter bravely faced “Bob” her worry brain (she named it after Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob) with understanding about her amygdala (her new favorite word!), a few happy thoughts, and her flipazoo stuffy as a stand-in mom. Night one went well and she was amazed it worked. She said she’s ready for Bob again tonight, and definitely has a new sense of agency and self understanding. She had been sleeping on in my room for 3 months, even with a brand new loft bed we purchased two months ago to try to help her feel better about being alone at night. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
Do you have any suggestions if the problem isn’t exactly anxiety, but my 9 year old just HATES sleeping alone. She said she just feel so much better when someone else is there. I kind of understand where she’s coming from which I think is why I’ve been such a softie on this topic. But it is starting to cause huge jealousy issues with her siblings.
that’s a tough one! Not sure how many other kids you have but maybe try a once a week sleep with you sort of thing? Or siblings sleep together? So many kids don’t like sleeping alone 🙂
My 12 year old has major anxiety about going to sleep without someone upstairs. This has been going on since august 2020 when her sister left for college. At times it gets better and then her sister comes home for a break and it is like we start all over again. Her dad and I try to be patient, understanding, and calm but we are also tired and it is taking its toll on us. I just found this article tonight after we struck the anxiety nerve again after coming home from a mini trip (her being close to us in a hotel room for 3 nights) and her sister not being home. She started going to bed on her own while her sister was home for Christmas but tonight, it’s like she couldn’t control any part of thinking about going to sleep on her own and cried, begging me to put her to bed and stay until she was asleep. I’m going to try this strategy and see if it will help her take control back and be able to get to sleep independently.
I hope the strategies in the article are helpful for you. They work if you stick with them. It can take a long time but it works. Good luck xx
This has been one of the most helpful parenting articles I have ever read, as I am going through the exact same thing with my daughter. You sharing your experience step-by-step on what worked, what didn’t, was the most helpful. I bought the book and now learning about our own worry brain. This has been a game-changer!! Thank you so much for your time in writing this for the world.
I am so happy that you found it helpful! I hope you get her sleeping again 🙂