8 year old has sleep disturbance after stealing incident

Hi Dr. Ann!
We are having an issue with my 8 year old daugher and I wondered if you have any input- she has been having trouble sleeping at night. This has been going on for over a month and at first she would come up to our room in the middle of the night and now she has trouble falling asleep in her own bed and comes up to our room when she hears us go to bed.

I think she is scared- she has been asking a lot of questions about burglars recently- she had something of hers stolen at school in January. I don’t know how to get her to sleep through the night in her own room- but still be supportive. Is there a quick fix I can try or is this something that requires you seeing her/us? Thanks!!! Kim

Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor Advice

Not sure what kind of sleeper she was before, but I will assume this is a ‘new’ behavior with no real reason with the exception of her experience with something being stolen from her. When someone takes something from you that you own, you automatically feel violated. This is confusing and scary. Children’s defense mechanism for this feeling is to go to their ‘secure base’ or their parents to get clarification and comfort.

So, first and foremost you need to start talking to her about realistic and ‘un’realistic fears. Point out that to her everyday. For example say, “It is scary if you don’t tell your parents where you are going after school, but once you are in your own loving house at night there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of”.

If she has objects that she values and takes comfort in…a blanket, stuffed animal, etc. make sure she has those things when she goes to bed and “tell” her she will be ‘safe’ when she wakes up if she hugs her blanket three times and then she will go back to sleep…you can teach her anything to do in the night to help her with a routine to get back to sleep that does not involve you.

When she comes to you in the night, do not make eye contact, talk and touch her as little as possible and take her right back to bed, with her back to your chest.

The nights she sleeps through the night, make the mornings look different (lots of talking and congratulating on sleeping on her own) then when she gets you up in the night, the next morning no mention of the sleep interruption but no engaging with her as well. We probably need a short phone consultation to get at the root of this. So give me a call and we can set something up.