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10 year old won't sleep on her own
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10 year old won't sleep on her own

My 10 year old daughter freaks out every night at bedtime.  She asks her dad or myself to stay with her.  However, she doesn't want either of us to leave and she starts to cry and becomes very anxious, to the point of making herself feel sick.  Then she begs and cries to sleep in our bed.  If I say yes, she instantly feels better.

I know I should probably be more firm but she badgers us to death until we can't take it anymore.  Sometimes she begs her 8 year old brother to sleep with her which is fine for falling asleep but when she wakes up in the middle of the night he's not good enough anymore.  She usually sprints upstairs to our bedroom and jumps into our bed.

She has been having nightmares almost every night since school started but they had been occurring even before then.  I had to pick her up from a sleepover at one in the morning because a commercial on TV scared her.  She is extremely sensitive to anything slightly "scary".  She came in our bed again last night because she was having nightmares about a Scooby Doo Cartoon.  It seems silly to us.

She says she knows it's her imagination but she can't help it and nothing seems to make her feel any better other than to sleep in our bed.  We have told her that she can't have any sleepovers until she learns to cope with sleeping on her own.  I feel bad because I don't want to punish her for something she can't help.

I would say she has separation anxiety except during daytime she functions completely fine and even tells me not to walk to school with her because she says she's grown up.  She also has no problem with playdates or anything away from home as long as it's not bedtime.

She is an honor role student and is well liked by teachers and students.  There have been however, a few friendship issues in the last few weeks at school. She gets a lot of homework this year too, and she is quite a perfectionist so she spends a lot of time focused on it. Up until this summer she was a competetive gymnast training 16 hours per week and just couldn't take the pressure anymore. We let her quit but told her she had to find other sports and activities to do.  She has started some new things and seems so happy.  

Could these things be stressing her out and causing her to have nightmares?  Should I seek help for her?

Thanks, Thirst

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Separation anxiety needn't be manifested across all settings - it can be confined to the bedtime/sleeping arena, as it is with your daughter. Your instinct already tells you what you need to do. Every time you cooperate with her wish, you reinforce the behavior and make it more difficult to change. Think of all the times this has occurred over the years - that is a lot of reinforcement. She sounds like a pretty high functioning child, and you can solve this on your own, but you have to be willing to bite the bullet. There is not a simple, stress-free way of remedying the situation. Setting up a reward system for staying in her bed will help, but at the bottom line you have to set a firm limit and stick with it. You have to disallow sleeping in your bed if this is get better. As a support to you and your daughter, you would do well to seek out help with a pediatric behavioral health/mental health professional. It might help you move through the process.
4 Comments
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Avatar_n_tn
I would be very interested in how you are getting on with your 10 year old.  I have exactly the same problem with my 9 year old daughter.

About 2 weeks ago, the situation became so bad that i stupidly said that she could go to sleep in our bed (as i wasn't able to leave her room until she was asleep at 11.30pm), but this is now the case in my room.

I personally feel that it would not work using reward charts etc. but would be so interested in how you are getting on.

Frances
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Avatar_n_tn
Just to let you know we had 2 nights in a row without waking up! We were firm with her and told her she was not allowed to sleep in our bed at all.  We talked about the nightmares and told her that she would have to learn a way to go back to sleep.  We suggested thinking of something fun.  So far it seems towork.  That and the fact that we told her until she was sleeping on her own she couldn't have anymore sleepovers.

I also did some more research on nightmares and found out some good tips.  Don't feed your kids too late at night.  Just like adults, children should have their last meal 2 to 3 hours before bed.  They should also have a balanced portion of protein and carbs so they don't have blood sugar problems, which can contribute to sleeplessness.  Having a set bedtime routine at the same time every night is supposed to help as well.  And the obvious of not watching or reading anything scary before bed.

Hope this helps

Thirst
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Avatar_n_tn
If our 7 year old had her way, she would be in our bed every night!  It takes her a while to fall asleep.  What we have done is let her and her sister fall asleep in our bed, but only on weekends, and only to fall asleep.  Not sleep there the whole night.  I know this idea may not help your situation, but it works for us.  Our kids think of it as a "treat" to sleep in mommy and daddy's bed.  My older one still tries to pull a fast one on us, using the bad dream excuse, but most of the time when she pulls this, she has not even fallen asleep yet.  So, I am fairly positive she has not had a bad dream.  I am firm with this arrangement and it works out well.
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A related discussion, my Ten year old does not sleep unless she is in my room was started.
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