Bedtime Struggles Threaten to Unhinge Mom

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    • #87266
      BTO Mom

      My son is 7-years-old with ADHD. His psychiatrist also suspects he may be on the autism spectrum but I haven’t followed up with the testing for that yet. He takes Adderall in the morning and Ritalin in the afternoon because it burns off faster. With a second dose of Adderall he wasn’t sleeping at all. We have just this week tried to incorporate Zoloft for generalized anxiety disorder, but he won’t swallow pills and hates the way the medicine tastes crushed. It has been quite the battle already. I could go on for days about the hundreds of strategies we’ve tried to improve his overall wellbeing, but today my chief worry is his sleep.

      He has never in his entire life slept through the night. He always comes to my room at some point. Now at almost 8, I feel like he is fast approaching the age when it is simply inappropriate for him to sleep with his (single) mother every night. But more than that, he moves a lot and tends to push me out of my spot. I am getting extremely broken sleep and can really feel the effects of that. Plus, life is challenging with an ADHD child, and I love him so much, but I need a break sometimes, too.

      Today my resolve is shattered because we had an extremely rough night. He came into my room when I was still up working. I tried to put him back in bed, but he fretted and cried and said he’d only sleep in his own room if I stayed with him. What followed was about three hours of me trying every strategy I could think of to keep him in his room. I comforted, I reassured, I did little rituals to help him feel safer (making sure the curtains totally covered the windows, opened his closet so the light was on and he could see there were no monsters, etc.) I told him I believed in him. I explained how important it is for him as a big kid to be able to fall asleep on his own. I tried to explain how important it is to me as his mom to sleep soundly. I put him back in bed over and over and over again. I locked my bedroom door but he howled and rattled and knocked until I gave in and opened it so he wouldn’t wake up the whole house. Then, I blew up. I was so angry and frustrated because he just kept telling me “I can’t.”

      In the end, I hissed “You’re making me a prisoner!” and lay in bed seething as he slept beside me. I hate myself for giving in to him. I hate myself for speaking harshly to him. I don’t know if it’s true that he simply “can’t.” I worry about a kid who doesn’t understand that it is not okay to force yourself into someone’s personal space without consent. I feel abused by his insistence on sleeping with me when I don’t want him to. I wish he were capable of any kind of compromise and could just give me my privacy sometimes.

      He gets melatonin at bedtime, or else a dose of children’s Zyrtec if his allergies are also acting up. I have tried essential oils, but he hates the smell. I’ve tried lots of different programs for getting kids to stay in their room with little success. I’m reaching out for opinions on whether my expectations are unreasonable and I should just submit. Has anyone had success with a particular strategy in response to this issue? I feel like I’m losing my mind. Thank you for reading!

    • #87281

      A friend of mine has a daughter who had trouble sleeping alone. She too is a single mom, and her daughter was struggling with separation anxiety from both parents at about the same age. Sometimes, she would let her daughter sleep on a little “pallet” on the floor in her room. She would have her bed to herself, and the daughter would sometimes wake up uncomfortable and decide to go to her own bed. Eventually, she did grow out of it.

      Sleeping with a pet can help comfort children who have trouble sleeping on their own at night, too. Just having a friend there can make them feel more secure. Especially if it’s a bigger friend, like a dog. Anxiety is crippling, and it can make the most simple things, like being alone, feel impossible.

      I’m not a doctor or anything, but here’s my opinion. I don’t think you should just submit to letting him sleep with you when you don’t want him to. You have a right to a good night’s sleep! But it also sounds like he believes he can’t sleep alone. The lies anxiety tells feel real to the people experiencing them, and kids often don’t understand what they’re feeling, let alone why. Sounds like y’all are both in distress. Have y’all tried counseling? Getting to the root of his anxiety and addressing that might help him face whatever fears are keeping him tied to your hip.

    • #87315
      Penny Williams

      It sounds like he’s struggling with a good bit of anxiety. It’s not that he doesn’t care about you and what you’re saying, it’s that his brain is being hijacked by fear.

      Ask his doctor for an SSRi that comes in liquid form – I thought you could get liquid Zoloft, but I’m pretty sure there’s at least one SSRI that has a liquid. They can be very effective for anxiety.

      As for sleeping on his own, try baby steps to get there. First, get him out of your bed so that you can sleep comfortably and be rested. Set up a sleeping bag or a cot or something in your room for him.

      Remember too, that stimulants can increase anxiety, so that may be part of the cause.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #87363
      BTO Mom

      Thanks so much for the feedback! We were in counseling weekly for about six months, but his counselor isn’t really trained in working with kids and he wasn’t getting a lot out of it. We’re taking a little break now while we are on the waiting list for another program called Empowered Through Play – I’m really excited about how they do things and hope it will make a big difference for him.

      I’m definitely going to try the cot or sleeping bag idea, and ask his doc about liquid Zoloft, too. He definitely does experience a lot of anxiety. He can’t always articulate it, but last night he pointed to a comforter that is folded in his closet and told me he thought there was a child’s body wrapped up in it. That image even unsettled me.

    • #87370

      Regarding medication: Liquid form will help; also put any crushed pills in honey; that works wonders and I’ve done it before when I was younger and couldn’t stand larger pills. With capsule adderall it’s the same way. Best and sweetest way to disguise taste!

      Regarding sleeping at night: One of the things that helped me as a kid was having stuffed plushies, sometimes big stuffed plushies with me since I never let the family pets sleep with me (I still do it I’m a grown woman with giant orca plushies, despite having a cat now). So, when he starts sleeping on his own he’ll have a big friend to sleep with. Also, one of the best ways I found on my own no less when I was a kid to reduce anxiety at night is to cover with a heavy blanket or put something over your head. A pillow, a blanket, whatever. It helps muffle sounds and gives that comfort feeling.

      Not sure about the child’s body thing. Yikes. It definitely sounds like he’s got a lot of anxiety issues, worse when you have adderall in your system. It might be a good idea to just test and see what works best for him and to articulate with him what helps or doesn’t help.

    • #87371

      We have a similar struggle with my 8yr old(ASD). His BCBA suggested we start by sitting next to his bed for a few nights, then slowly moving closer to the door day by day until we are completely out of the room. This probably would have worked, but I get up very early and am extremely exhausted by bedtime, so I continue to give in. Unfortunately he is very much a routine follower, so I guess I just need to work it into his routine. We have had success with sleeping in the same room, but not in the same bed(so far it doesn’t last very long). Try not to stress over it too much, I know my stress level affect my son intensely, so I have to stay positive and calm even when I have had enough. Does he have any siblings that could share a space with him? Does he verbalize why he feels like he needs to sleep with you? Sometime as parents we overthink these types of situations and make inferences as to how and why our children feel the way they do. Keep trying and celebrate the little successes to help build his confidence and self-esteem.

    • #87823

      This sounds a lot like my 7 year old son who has severe ADHD and he is becoming much more anxious. With the stimulant meds that he takes we finally had to introduce Clonidine every evening, it helps a lot with him going to sleep, but he still wakes up from time to time. I would say that his sleep quality has improved for both of us though. He was very tired every morning until we started this. He has been taking it for about 6 months and he takes .2 mg tablet in the evening about 30 minutes before his bedtime.

    • #87828

      My son also has ADHD and is aged 8. He is not on any medication so I can’t comment about that but we have a range of techniques we use at bedtime. Have you tried any of these or a combination?

      1) screen off 1 hour before bedtime
      2) bedtime is the same time every day
      3) a routine of get washed, clean teeth etc PJ’s on
      4) a chat about anything he or she wants to talk about (really listen and comment but limit to 10 10-15 mins)
      5) followed by a story read by a nightlight or torch (to encourage relaxation and sleep)
      6) followed by a cuddle for another 10 mins
      7) then I say goodnight and leave him to get to sleep himself.

      Just some suggestions as one mum to another

    • #87831

      I find myself in each of the words you described in your post. Please keep up hope and find something to calm yourselves down first. I am practicing yoga at night and some meditation to help myself, feeling more calm nowadays.

      For your son, please look into Neurofeedback. I’ve tried for my 9 year old who got diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder. It helped him sleep better, less anxiety and less impulsive. He currently not taking any medication, we have him swim 3x/week, running and biking. No medication so far. Neurofeedback helped reducing 30% of anxiety, behavior so far. After 30 sessions of neurofeedback, doctor told us to let him take a break so his brain can develop by itself then come back for brain mapping and continue treatment in Jan 2019. Not sure where you live, but you can look at this Dr. Carlton Neurofeedback Center. He wrote a book about this, you can get it for free.

      I will keep you in my prayer and keep up hope!!

    • #87848

      Here is what has worked for my son, who is also 7:

      Heavy blankets or pillows on top of him – the weight is comforting. You could also try compression wear.

      Meditation- we have the Meditation Studio app, which has meditations for kids. When he is having trouble sleeping, he now asks for a meditation, so it must help.

      Sleep Training – same as you would for a toddler; stay in the room with him for gradually shorter amounts of time.

      A loud fan or white noise machine

      Audio books or soft music, set on a timer.

      Deep breathing and thinking about his happy place

      I hope this helps! Good Luck!

    • #87849

      I’m not a doctor, therapist or anything other than another mom speaking from her own experience. I can say that you’re not alone in this and that it WILL pass. When it does, I daresay that you will to some extent miss this time.
      I have a tendency to be long-winded, so to prevent that I will briefly list the things that helped me.
      1. Don’t let society determine what works for you and your child as far when the child is capable of sleeping on their own. Society can’t even determine a single “normal” because it’s a concept and not a reliable fact. External influences such as societal “norms” or milestones don’t have to be YOUR goals with YOUR child. You have enough to deal with in your own home than what society says is “normal” and struggling to meet those.
      2. Your child won’t be this way forever. One day, you’ll miss the unconditional cuddling and their open and innocent opinions. Don’t forget there are other parents (single or otherwise) with older children that say, “I miss when mine were that age.” Your child is still developing and changing, regardless whether you’re ready for it or not. I hear that you want your child to take on this mantle of growth, but they’re simply not ready yet for whatever reason. I don’t think ANY child is aware of the reasons other than they still need their parent for THIS particular closeness. Your child WILL outgrow this.
      3. When mine was about 3 or 4, and we were co-sleeping, I had to roll over and tell my child, “Okay. I need to go to sleep and so do you. I’m going to face this way because otherwise you’ll keep talking and have trouble sleeping.” I’d be asleep before him, I’m sure. I was so exhausted though from the day’s efforts that I really just didn’t care. He stayed in bed and didn’t disturb me so we were safe as far as welfare was concerned. He would be the one that was tired the next day, not me. He got a nap during the day, not me. It evened out. He got used to me saying good night and meaning it.
      4. When mine was about 5 or 6, I converted his toddler bed to the full size bed (a good quality crib convertible). He wanted to sleep where mom was sleeping. Okay, so mom was sleeping with kiddo still. In kid’s bed. Until he was snoring. Sometimes, I was asleep for a few hours there; sometimes I’d lay there just until he was snoring. He felt safe enough to sleep. From the time he was on the mattress to when I thought him ready to fall asleep, we’d talk about “best part of the day” and “worst part of the day”. We’d read a story. We’d laugh about crazy silly stuff, but we were spending one on one conversational time. Yeah, it’d take some time (about an hour to an hour and a half), but I’d rather spend that time on a happier note and calm, winding him down that way than fighting and too emotional to sleep. As a result, I’ve learned his body cues that he’s ready to fall asleep.
      5. At 9 years of age, we’re still using the above method in point 4. However, it’s not a battle. I sat down with him to make a schedule nearly a year ago. I gave him the parameters (8 hours of sleep, 1 – 2 hours for homework, 1 – 2 hours for play time, etc.). He arranged when these events happen over the course of the day. So he grumbles about getting into PJs and brushing his teeth. He knows he set it up so there’s no argument. He will try and manipulate me, “I’ll see you in a little bit, mom.” Sometimes I’ll go and read a story with him. Sometimes, I’ll just let him fall asleep on his own. Rarely, does he have a nightmare where he wakes me and asks to sleep with me.

      I have found ABA methods have reached my son the best and Love and Logic methods work best for me relating to my son. It’s still a challenge and would say 90 – 99% of child rearing is perspective. I hope you find some help in what I’ve listed as well as with the guidance of others here. You are a GREAT mom who LOVES her child. You’re doing fine.

    • #87868

      I tried all of tips and tricks you seem to have done already as well, oils, melatonin, sleeping outside the door cold and miserable while an hour later she wakes back up and comes in my room. And then the dreaded blow up of pure exhaustion followed by the guilt for losing it. I’m single and it’s my daughter so she is in my bed but we both sleep well now. My advice is put a twin mattress on the floor and wait till he grows out of it. You need your sleep!! Mine is 13 and she’s starting to get embarrassed so I think it’s going to be soon!!

    • #87878

      My 9 year old son (ADHD/ASD) wants me to “tuck him in” every night and will not break routine. I find myself falling asleep in his bed more often than not which frustrates my husband. Here are a few things that works for me when I stick to the plan:

      1. Inform him early I will not sleep in the bed, but tuck you in only
      2. Use night light and Xmas lights to light the room (he now allows me to turn them off completely
      3. Use a fan app (he loves the sound) or Glen Harold sleep and relaxation app
      4. Once he is sleep (if I don’t put myself asleep first) go back to my wonderful bed
      5. Maybe not the best idea but it works for me….allow him to watch kidsutube while we are in the bed, once he is asleep turn it to his fan app and leave
      5. I’ve really been pushing the growth mindset theory on him also to challenge that rigid way of thinking. I’ve noticed a difference. He put his car set/track together by himself because I refused to do it again without him trying. He was really proud of himself!!!!

      We all get frustrated. It’s hard being a mom when everyone is pulling out your energy at all times. Keep searching for a resolution. You’re not alone.

    • #87888


      My son used to do this at 7 or 8 years old. Now he hardly ever does and he is 12. I am a single parent and a psychologist.

      Sellison suggested some good strategies that also worked for us. Building on what she said, I would add, make sure that he has at least an hour of fun moderate-vigorous exercise each day. Don’t assume that he’s getting enough exercise at school but book both of you into some form of exercise e.g. martial arts or tennis.

      For those who talk about using apps, I would advise against. The blue light from the screen will keep your child awake. The rule in our house is: no screens in bedrooms. Easy to say, hard to do, especially for adults!

      Your child is already on a lot of medication. The answer is less likely to be more of the same but something different. Look at diet, supplements, exercise and you playing with him as ways forward. It is a human problem that needs human solutions.

      Hope this helps.

      • This reply was modified 3 years, 6 months ago by petch.laurie.
    • #87954
      Penny Williams

      A weighted blanket is monumental for my son.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #87955
      Penny Williams

      A weighted blanket is monumental for my son.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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