Sleep struggles: Facebook Live

8 July 2019

Whether our kid is newborn or a teenager, we often find ourselves helping them with their sleep struggles. In her first Facebook Live for parents, Rachel talked about how we can spiritually parent as we deal with the ups and downs of kids and sleep.

You can watch the videos of the Facebook event or scroll down for a written summary.

Here are the highlights of what she said:

Build in spiritual parenting as we coach our under-5s in sleep (0–4s)

With our under-5s, much of what we do at bedtime and during the night is to establish the norms of sleep, and we can weave God into that too.

  • Putting them to bed: just as they like to connect with you at bedtime, so you can help them learn that God is also present and involved. So if they love being rubbed on the back, you can say: ‘I love rubbing your back and God loves to rub your back too’. Or if they love you singing to them, include some worship songs– which you might make up! – so they drift off in an atmosphere of worship. Or if they need you to lie beside them, as you do remind them that God is there too, and will stay with them the whole night through. If they love stories, include some of what God does, either from the Bible or your own experience.
  • Be alert for their own preferences: as your child grows and becomes used to the presence of God at night, you can ask them: what do you and God want to do? They may ask for a story or a song or a reminder of God’s presence with them. The aim is that we empower them to grow in confidence to connect into God’s presence themselves.
  • Teach them key verses such as Psalm 4:8 which speak of God’s presence during sleep.

Begin to teach them a theology of the night and dark (0–4s)

With under-5s, it’s wonderful to be able to share with them from the very beginning that night is a time when God is busy doing things. Although they might be too young to fully understand this (see below), you can build the foundations in to your nightly routine. You can share some of the stories of God and nighttime and what he does. Explain that while we are asleep God is doing things and then you can talk about what your child might like God to do while they sleep.

Know that God is there for you too (0–4s)

  • In the loneliness: night feeds, or the endless walks around the room with a fractious baby, can be a wonderful time for you to connect with God. Jesus often went away to spend the night with his Father and the middle of a dark, quiet time might be a great time for you and God.
  • In the fear and frustration: when you simply don’t know what to do or have got up for the fourth time with an unhappy child, remember that God made this child and knows exactly what they need. You can ask him, ‘What is wrong and what should I do next?’

Give your kids a theology of the night and dark (5–11s, teens)

Night and the dark can feel empty and scary and like God isn’t there. We understand where God is in the daytime, but often don’t really understand where he is in the night and dark. But when we explore the Bible, we find that God is there in the night and he is busy and active: providing for us, guiding us, guarding us, speaking to us in dreams, giving us dreams, singing over us: he is there and he is at work. When they understand that, kids’ hearts can switch from feeling like they have to just get through the dark silent night to becoming excited about what God will do in this part of the day. Rachel’s book, Comfort in the Darkness, shares 16 Bible stories about sleep and dreams to start conversations about why God made the dark and what he does while we are sleeping.

Train them to be comfortable in the dark (5–11s)

All kids will have times in their lives when they’ll need to find God in the dark. While turning on the hall light might be the right solution for today, when it’s right, you can start to train your kid to learn that their comfort in the darkness isn’t light, but God.

Rachel suggests explaining it to them like this: ‘I want you to be able to find God, to find peace, even in the dark. So I’m going to help you do that. I’m not going to turn on the light … I know you’re scared … I’m going to sit here, not go, and in the darkness we’re going to talk about God and share stories / pray / sing worship songs / tell God ‘ . By being with them, we are helping them know how they will be able to find comfort from God in the dark. And then gradually, you withdraw, until one day you can just say, ‘Don’t forget, you can chat to God / sing with him, etc’.

Empower them to be powerful when they struggle with sleep (5–11s, teens)

We often feel quite powerless when we have sleep struggles, tossing and turning when sleep doesn’t come, or finding ourselves unable to get the nightmare out of our head. Prayer is often hard too, as we repeatedly ask God to help us sleep or to get rid of the nightmare we’ve just had. The following may help your child:

  • Create windows into your struggles. Teens in particular may no longer call you in the middle of the night. By creating windows into what you do when you can’t sleep or have a nightmare you can open up conversations as well as helping your child see how you cope and / or what you and God do in that situation. You may also be able to share stories from your wider family and community.
  • Give them ideas for resetting their minds. Depending on your kid’s personality some of the following ideas might help:
  1. Story loving kids might like to tell God a story. It doesn’t have to be Christian or have God in it: just tell God a story. You may need to help them start it off, then leave them and God to get on with it.
  2. Kids who are worried may benefit from listing or drawing all the good, noble, worthy things they can (Philippians 4:8), or all the places where they see God at work.
  3. Kids who love singing or worship could make their own playlist which remind them of who God is that they can quietly play, or they might want to sing out loud.
  4. Visual or tactile kids might like to have an object next to their bed that reminds them of who God is and gives them reassurance.

It doesn’t really matter what they do: the aim is that your child finds out what enables them to connect to God and find his presence and peace again.

Coping with nightmares (5–11s, teens)

Simply knowing that a nightmare is irrational doesn’t always take away the very real fear children (and adults) experience in a nightmare, and it can be difficult to go to sleep if we do have nightmares, or drop off again afterwards. The following may help your child discover how to find peace and take control of their minds again.

  • Ask if they want to tell you about it.  Some kids find by repeating the dream it helps take the sting out of it. Others may not want to talk about it at all.
  • Put it in a box. Some children may find it helpful to imagine scooping up all of the bad and scary stuff and putting it in a box, shutting it up, and then asking God to come and take it away and fill up our brains with his good stuff instead.
  • Explain to them what nightmares are. Some children find that once they understand the biology of the brain and what it’s doing, it can take the mystery and fear away. Dreams happen when the brain tidies up all the stuff from the day, and starts to put it into its memory banks. As is does that, it processes the memories, deciding where they fit and what they connect to, and sometimes it makes weird connections. So nightmares are just our brain connecting things in a strange way, or trying to remember pictures we’ve had and work out if they are important.
  • As you go back to sleep, ask God to go with you into your dreams. Inviting God to journey with them back into sleep and be a part of their dreams may comfort children and help them stay connected to him as they drift off.

Be aware of the impact of stress (teens)

Many of us find that worry or stress impact our sleep. As our brain processes the day, fears and stresses can come out in the form of nightmares, troubling dreams or wakefulness. We can find ourselves in a worry spiral where we can’t stop thinking about things. The following may be useful:

  • Explain why the worries come out at night. Like nightmares, as the brain processes the day’s events, worries and stresses can surface. Knowing this can help us respond more calmly.
  • Reading the Psalms. Share with your child those Psalms where David rants his worries at God (eg Psalm 69 or 88) and assure them that it’s OK to talk to God like that, so that they can connect authentically with him. Some might like to write their own psalm to him.
  • Create windows into how you cope with worries.
  • Suggest they write down their worries. Some people need to write things down to enable their mind to stop thinking about them, so a pencil and pad next to the bed might be helpful.

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Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash