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your life: Tot is scared of going to bed; Ask the Doc.

Byline: Dr James Briscoe

Q MY two year-old daughter used to be a good sleeper but lately, as soon as she is put in her cot, she screams about being scared. If I bring her downstairs to be with me and my husband she goes to sleep on the settee. She will also go to sleep in bed with us but she wakes as soon as we try and put her back in her cot. What should we do?

GEMMA, Quinton

A BECOMING scared of going to bed is a classic developmental hurdle that two and three year olds have to overcome.

All of a sudden, at this age, they become aware that it's dark and you're not around. The world feels extremely scary and if a child feels anxious or unsettled this results in an inability to settle themselves to sleep.

Removing them from their feared situation (being alone and in the dark) immediately results in the child settling down and relaxing to sleep.

However, by doing this you will have unwittingly started conditioning the child to only going to sleep if you are there, or, worse, if they are on a sofa or in bed with you.

You then become part of their requirement to go to sleep and as soon as you're not there, your daughter will wake up.

The more you intervene, the more conditioned she becomes and the more entrenched will be the need to have you around in order to go to sleep.

But the answer is not to leave her to scream the place down and be terrified.

What you need to do is embark on a process of simple deconditioning. When it's time for bed, stay with her, in her sight, but with her in her cot. If necessary let her touch you and if she is distressed stroke her hair gently.

Don't play with her or read to her. Try not to have eye contact with her. Stay with her until she is sound asleep, however long it takes. This is very important. If you try to leave too soon, she will notice, wake up and take longer to fall asleep.

She will also start to mistrust your intentions and this will make her anxious next time, defeating the object!

When she is sound asleep you can leave her. Repeat this process for several nights until she is comfortable at falling asleep with you in the room.

Then, as the nights progress, move further away from her. Let her be aware you are still in the room, even though she can't see you, but don't converse with her.

Take a book to read if there is enough light. Eventually you will be next to or outside the door. By the time you're outside her door you will have nearly cracked it and she should be getting off to sleep relatively quickly.

You may wish to leave a landing or night light on at this stage.

Overall, be patient. The biggest mistake parents make is to try and progress things too quickly.

Finally, give her lots of praise and comfort in the morning as she makes progress.

If YOU have a question about health and wellbeing, write to: Ask the Doc, Sunday Mercury, Weaman Street, Birmingham B4 6AY, or e-mail
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jan 7, 2007
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