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Parenting Help: When Your Child is Afraid to go on Sleep-Overs

Mar 18, 2008
Usually, children love to go on sleep-overs with their friends. They enjoy going out on overnight camps and other special events where they are required to stay away from home for a few days. Somehow, some children develop a fear for sleeping away from home and they refuse to go. Here are some tips to help your child overcome that fear.

First of all, you need to understand where the fear is coming from. Don't ridicule your child by caustic remarks, such as 'don't be such a baby.' Also, don't get into an argument about the problem with your child. This will only undermine your child's confidence rather than solve the problem. So, you have to begin by recognizing the problem. You have to admit that your child is probably as anxious to solve it as you are. Hence, think calmly and plan a strategic approach to help him.

As with most fears, the easiest way to work on this is by using a process of gradual desensitization. Often the problem is not just sleeping away from home, but sleeping away from Mom - to the extent that going in her own bed is a challenge!

Regardless of the degree of the problem, you have to begin by identifying your child's comfort levels. If your child wants to be near you, he will prefer to sleep on the floor in your room rather than be comfortably tucked-in in his bed in his room. May be he is comfortable in his room if you keep the door open. There will be some children who don't mind going over to stay with people they are familiar with, such as grandparents or uncles and aunts. So, this is where you must make a careful study and identify the problem.

Then it is time to speak to your child and offer various options plus some incentives. Find out what he would really like to do and encourage him to go ahead with it. If the child expresses enthusiasm, make a note of it. When the opportunity arises, you may pick that option to begin with.

Remember, it doesn't happen in a day. You may have to work backwards from the goal to the present. For example, if you want your child to go to camp for 5 nights, you have to first get him ready to sleep away at the Easter camp for 2 nights. And, for that, you need to prepare him to be able to sleep at his friend's house for one night. Before he is ready to do that, he needs to be able to sleep in his 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.

As I said earlier, do this with the active participation of your child. Talk to him and take decisions regarding the starting date and the rewards as well as how you will celebrate success. Just make sure you don't set goals that are not achievable. Try to make each step an easy one. Spend ample time on each step till your child is willing to move on to the next step. You may want to add incentives at every step to expedite the progress.

You will know you have failed if the child reverts back to the starting point. It only means that you need to work a little more on the first step itself before proceeding further. Try again with greater incentives. Some day you will help your child overcome his fear.

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.
About the Author
Dr. Noel Swanson specializes in helping parents with their children's behaviors. To read more of his expert parenting advice go to his website and check out his hugely popular GOOD CHILD Guide manual, jammed full of practical parenting advice.
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