Q: My 5-year-old will not go to bed when it is time. She gets out of bed constantly and sometimes will go into her older sister’s room and wake her up. We always put her back to bed and threaten her with consequences if she gets out of bed again. We have removed all of the toys from her room so she doesn’t stay up and play with them, but she has started to be naughty when she is returned to her room. For instance, she took all her clothes out of her dresser and piled them in the middle of the floor. Sometimes it is 11 p.m. before she falls asleep and we have a tough time getting her — and ourselves — up the next day. Help! — Portage Mom
A: Even though this problem is common for 5-year-olds, it doesn’t make it any easier. This can be a power struggle that drives a parent crazy. Though this situation is frustrating and addressing it when you have a lack of sleep yourself is even harder, it is important to approach it in a positive way.
Start by exploring your daughter’s room with her to attempt to identify if there is anything in her room that is causing fear or discomfort. Also, offer to rearrange the room or to add small, special things, such as a new lampshade, nightlight or artwork on the wall to encourage her room to be a special place.
Also, make sure she is getting enough energy out during the day, and if she is still a napper, cut her nap out so she is more tired for bedtime.
If there is still trouble in the battlefield, positive reinforcement may be your strongest ally in this war. Set up a behavior system such as a chart where your daughter can earn small rewards or privileges based on staying in her bed until she goes to sleep.
Remember to be consistent and you will prevail!
Q: My 3 1/2-year-old seems overly concerned with death. She has been telling me often lately that she doesn’t want her grandma and grandpa to die. And recently, when her aunt had a bad case of the flu, my daughter kept asking me if her aunt was going to die. I’m not sure where the fear has come from as we haven’t had anyone close to us pass away. Do I just let the behavior be or should I talk to her about death? — Vicksburg Mom
A: Death can be a difficult topic to discuss at any age. However, kids often talk about and/or act things out they are trying to make sense of, so since your daughter has brought the topic up multiple times, talking with her may be beneficial.
Before talking with her, however, it is important to take a moment and consider your own views and beliefs about death in preparation for speaking with her.
A place to start the conversation may be to ask your daughter what she thinks it means to die and from there decide how much more discussion is necessary. When discussing death with her, keep in mind her age and talk about it in an age-appropriate way. Kids usually ask questions seeking information they are able to handle, so allow her to lead and answer her questions as simply as possible. Too much information may be overwhelming.
Also, because she is associating death with illness, it may be helpful to reassure/normalize both getting sick and getting better. For example, try relating being sick with the doctor, who helps keep her healthy and gives medicine to make her all better. If your daughter continues to fixate on death and you notice it begins impacting her in other ways, such as difficulty sleeping, creating anxiety, tearfulness, loss of appetite, etc., it may be beneficial to seek a professional consultation.
Questions answered by Nichole Holliday, MA, LLPC, LLMFT, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Portage, and Alyssa Noonan, LLMSW, Private Practice at Child & Family Psychological Services Kalamazoo