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Dysregulation and Sleep

Updated: Feb 23

Dysregulation, also known as emotional dysregulation, refers to a poor ability to manage emotional responses or to keep them within an acceptable range of typical emotional reactions. This can refer to a wide range of emotions including sadness, anger, irritability, and frustration.

Signs that show up in the day include increased tantrums, being very clingy, uncontrollable laughter or extreme mood swings, emergence of or increase in hitting, excessive whining and increased accidents when potty training has been well established for some time.

Symptoms of dysregulation can also show up at nighttime. When a child starts waking consistently in the night, exhibits nighttime anxiety and requires the presence of a parent in order to fall asleep, it can be a sign of emotional dysregulation. Especially when accompanied with the above associated daytime behaviours. Having new fears around bedtime or even a new bedwetting habit can also be associated with dysregulation.

Subsequently, the fragmented and poorer quality sleep further exacerbate the symptoms of dysregulation that are seen in the day.

Any of the above acts including demanding you at night is not an act of rebelling or manipulation. They are communicating to you they have a need that isn’t being met. Dysregulation is often due to a recent big change in their life.

There are many reasons for these behaviors. Including:

· Arrival of new sibling

· Recent change in sleep environment ie moving

· Overtiredness (change of regular schedule)

· New school

· Bullying at school

· A recent death in the family

· Divorce, separation

· A unique need of your child’s

How to help and not punish:

Shower them with more love and extra engagement through out the day. From little things like patting them on the head as you walk by them playing, rubbing their back for a moment while others are talking at the dinner table. To bigger things like practicing Self-Regulation.

“Practicing self-regulation through out the daytime is important as it is a skill that children need to be taught and have the opportunity to practice. The trick is not to avoid hard situations.” –How Can We Help Kids With Self-Regulation? "Child Mind Institute",

Examples of practicing Self Regulation can include asking them to name their feeling when they are acting out. If there is crying at bedtime or new fear in the night, getting to the root of the fear by asking them questions and encouraging them to be specific. If a child is prone to melting down when asked to do a daily tasks like the bedtime routine, doing transition work and practice runs are helpful. For more examples on how to teach self regulation skills go to:

My most powerful tip when you see signs of dysregulation at night is to offer a designated bonding time to devote solely with your child *in the daytime*. This means setting aside 15-20 mins daily to play, whatever it may be, talk and engage 1:1 with them. For older children, take the opportunity to ask them questions about their day, about themselves etc. Be specific but not probing so that finding out if there is an issue at school for example, comes naturally. But really the point is to just be present with your undivided attention. The better-quality time they have with a parent in the day, the less this need shows up in the night.

Modelling is Key

The more we as parents model self-regulation, the better our children see how to practice it. It helps us too, to stay calmer in stressful “flight” scenarios that otherwise overwhelm our nervous systems. As Psychologist Dr Nicole LePera puts it; “The home environment for the child is the most influential aspect of their lives. Parents are a “God force” to a child. Healthy parents = the ability to navigate anything eternally.”

Some ways we can model self regulation are verbally working through our emotions out loud for our children to hear. For example:

“I’m feeling frustrated with the traffic on the road today. I’m going to take deep breaths and remember we will still get there.”

“I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m going to pause what I am doing and go help my body calm down”.

Broken sleep won’t help anyone navigate through or absolve the deeper seeded issue that is at hand. To accept a co-sleeping arrangement when it goes against your own boundary can create strain on the parent-child relationship. Instead, parents can coach kids through their tough situation. When a child can work through their feelings or insecurities around sleep, we have bestowed a skill that is a gift that keeps on giving.

If you need support navigating through pop up night wakings, new bed wetting and new (or old!) sleep dependent behavior in your toddler or older child, let’s chat. Email me to book your free call to find out how we can gently but securely get sleep back on track.

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