Dr. Larry Larsen
---- — Dear Doctor,
I am the mother of a 12-year-old boy who in the past 8 months or so has become afraid to go to bed at night. He doesn’t know why, but is scared in his room. This causes him to have trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep if he wakes up.
We have tried using soft music and night lights. If I sit with him and rub his back it seems to help relax him to sleep. Any ideas as to why this has become an issue and how to resolve it? There have been no unusual changes in our home or family.
- A Concerned Mother
I am about to violate a rule and answer a question which requires more knowledge than a quick e mail and reply.
Human beings, especially young ones, are prone to one trial learning, often from experiences that may not be apparent to a parent. Your son is, in all probability, bright and sensitive. Something has likely happened which has produced avoidance and anxiety, especially around the experience of sleep.
Children just entering adolescence change their sleep phases as well, some more than others. Dr. Feber has a couple of chapters in his book on children’s sleep disorders. (I think it is chapter 10 and one following). You might pick up the book which has been revised. Much of it has to do with younger children, but it can still be helpful.
Your son needs your reassurance that all is well and the government is in good hands. That usually does not mean providing too much attention but reassurance is quite necessary. “You are having a problem but will be fine” is better than “you poor baby.” Acknowledging his difficulty while indicating his ability to deal with it is important. Too much reassurance (including back rubs and lying in bed with him) actually increases the fear and anxiety. How you deal with this situation is very important.
That being said, a column is not the place to handle something as sudden as the apparent difficulty your son is experiencing. He may feel uncomfortable telling you exactly what is bothering him. Candidly, I would have him visit a therapist who works with children his age.