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Doctor Blake
Doctor Blake, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 146
Experience:  Ph.D., Ed.S., NCSP Clinical Psychologist; 15+ years of experience; dual licensure
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I have a 6 year old who is scared of "monsters", and while

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I have a 6 year old who is scared of "monsters", and while this might be due to a very active imagination im concerned because he doesnt want to sleep in his room and even during the day he wont venture into the bedrooms or even bathroom without one of us following behind him. Im thinking i should take him to a professional but dont know who. Should i be concern?

Good morning - and thanks for writing.

Do your son's behaviors prevent him from sleeping or going to the bathroom - or just from going into rooms on his own?

Thanks. (Sorry to ask a question, but it will help to focus a response. Don't worry - you won't be charged for REPLYing with more information for us.)


Customer: replied 7 years ago.

If he's in his bed he wants one of us to lay with him until he falls asleep, and if he wakes up in the middle of the night he bangs on the wall to let us know if wants one of us to go lay in bed with him until he falls asleep again. As for the bathroom he will ask his 2 year old brother to go with him or one of us to follow him , once hes in the bathroom and sees its ok he's ok but doesnt want us to shut the door. Its like this for any room, doesnt like to venture into any without one of us following behind him.

Thanks for your speedy reply.

With regard to the "empty room/monster room" issue your son is currently dealing with - this is really quite normal or typical of many children your son's age... (particularly if he is a bright young man with a vivid imagination). He may be skittish for awhile, but this too will most likely pass if it is not made the center of attention. In other words, let's not turn a typical developmental issue into something bigger than it has to be (or should be).

With regard to the sleeping patterns, I would be careful... and caution that your son may be on the verge of developing some sleep behavior problems that might become more challenging. My first line of approach would be simply to refrain from lying in his bed. You want to "fade out" the reinforcer (mommy or daddy) to the non-sleeping behavior. Inform him that he has his bed, and you have yours... and that he sleeps alone in his bed while you sleep in your bed!

If he requires comfort, you may provide it - but continue to think in terms of "fading away" that support. First, perhaps read a book/magazine (your book or magazine, silently) near his bed, then across the room, then by his door, then in the hallway.

Should things become more difficult, you may want to consider the following:

What you essentially have to do is retrain your son to sleep in his room. I realize that this sounds rather simplistic - but there's really no need to go delving for stuff that might not (probably isn't) there. Here are several steps you might want to consider:

1. Make the external environment conducive to sleep. This means making certain that over-stimulating things in his room (TVs, video games, etc.) are removed, and under-stimulating or relaxing things are present. Some kids (and adults, actually) really benefit from the simple noise of a fan blowing all night or even a "white noise" machine. Music can be distracting but if he finds it relaxing, great. I would avoid music with lyrics, if at all possible. (And obviously, no monster books or discussions.)

2. Make the internal environment conducive to sleep. This means making certain that your son is sufficiently fatigued when he goes to bed that he'll drift off to sleep and not end up thinking too much instead of sleeping. Several natural ways to assist with sleeping include:

- relaxing foods. I know I sound like gramma, but milk and turkey were recommended to aide in sleep for a reason. Tryptophan is a natural agent that assists with sleep... and is present in both.

- relaxing drinks. No soda or other caffienated beverages after soon until bedtime. That includes those "energy drinks" as well!

- relaxing at the correct times. Make sure he gets up on-time (not sleeping in) and takes no naps during the day. This will disrupt night-time sleeping.

- relaxing supplements. A non-prescribed dietary supplement to consider might be melatonin to aide in sleep disturbances. This is a naturally occurring substance produced by the body (specifically the pineal gland) and is used to treat some forms of insomnia and circadian rhythm sleep disorders. It is non-addicting and does not disrupt the natural REM cycle. In my experience, a typical dose (3mg) takes effect in roughly 20 minutes and allows natural sleep without grogginess or irritability in the morning. Regular use can restore non-sleepers to routine sleep patterns in a matter of 1-2 weeks, when melatonin can be (but doesn't have to be) discontinued. Please note - I am not certain what, if any, effects melatonin may have in conjunction with prescribed medications. If your son takes any other medications, consult a medical doctor first. Melatonin can be purchased over-the-counter at any grocery, drug, or supplement/vitamin store.

3. Reinforce the appropriate sleeping behavior. Simply put, you may want to withhold a valuable reward until he displays appropriate sleeping behavior. The "schedule of reinforcement" will depend upon the degree/intensity of his sleeping problems. If it's a relatively mild problem, it could be as simple as...

- On Monday, if you sleep one night through in your room, you'll get XXX (XXX=a fun video game, a trinket, a candy) on Tuesday.

- Once he's successful on one day, raise it to two. So, if you sleep on Tuesday and Wednesday night through in your room, you'll get XXX on Thursday. if no success, drop back to one, etc.

- If he's made it up to three nights in a row, you've probably got the problem licked! Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights=XXX on Sunday. Then you can move up to week long intervals until you feel the new habit has been established.

If the problem is more difficult, then you might need to break it into half-night increments. I would avoid using this option from the outset - because it establishes the belief (in him and in you) that he won't be able to make it. Remember - NO XXX (whatever reward you select) until he's following the prescribed schedule. (If he gets the reward for doing nothing, he won't do the task. If we got a paycheck for not showing up to work, would we go?)

I appreciate your care and concern for your son, but I don't think we're dealing with any deeply internal emotional issues here - we've just gotten into a bad sleeping pattern. Establishing good "sleep hygiene" will go a long way toward getting him to your goal. If, after you have tried all three of these suggestions for about a month, the problem still persists - then you may want to consider consulting with his pediatrician and/or a licensed mental health professional for further advice.

I hope this was helpful. Although this is an inconvenient problem right now - just wait three years - when he starts asking to borrow the car! (Humor is also a good idea to help keep the mood light. This doesn't have to be a scary assignment... make it a challenge and something fun that will earn him video time!)


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