5 year old with sleep problems & tantrums that are out of control

by Marlene Scheepers
(South Africa)

Question: My daughter is 5 and has ADD. She takes Concerta and Risperdal everyday. She screams at me so badly that she ends up losing her voice. She shoves 4 fingers down her throat during her tantrums as well and makes herself gag. She bashes stuff..the list just goes on.

Anything can trigger her, eg. her toy pram was in the middle of her room so I put it away to one side and she went absolutely baserk. Started screaming and hitting things, rolling on the floor...that lasted around 30 mins or so just because of the pram.

The list goes on and on and she throws these tantrums everyday without fail. School says she is an angel there they have no idea what I am talking about. She seems to do this to her father(we are separated), myself and grandparents. The level of cheek and defiance from her is unbelievable.

I have tried everything, charts, time outs, taking stuff away etc. she just screams and performs louder. She speaks to myself and my boyfriend whom we live with very very badly. She can on the other hand be the most loving, talkative, and helpful child.

She has started wetting her bed the last 4 nights in a row and the last 2 1/2 months now she constantly wakes every 10-20 minutes from 12pm to 4h30am when she gets up for the day.

She has exhausted me to the extent where I just can't do it anymore....between the tantrums and the lack of sleep I just don't know what to do. I'm going to need psychological help if this continues.

Answer: I think that the tantrums are probably related to her sleep problems. I have some great pages on ways to help with sleep problems and deal with tantrums.

I would also consider that her medications are not working for her. I don't necessarily mean that she should be on more, but maybe less or something different. Talk to her psychiatrist (if a family doctor is prescribing these you need to switch to a good child psychiatrist). The sleep problems may be caused by them as well as the bed

The most important thing to remember is to respond consistently. If you make the consequence a time out then stick with that, if it's losing a privelege or toy, stick with that. The fact that she gets worse and louder is actually a sign that it's working.

Bad behavior usually gets much worse before it gets better unfortunately. So, you have to stick it out and be consistent for 2-3 weeks and then it should gradually get better. However, if she learns that by getting worse and louder you give in or stop giving her consequences then you are actually just making the behavior even worse the next time.

I think one of the best consequences is loss of TV, video game or other electronic favorites. Even better may be that she has to earn them. You could divide the day into 1 hour sections and she can earn a ticket for every hour that she goes without having a huge meltdown.

Then each ticket can be redeemed for 10 minutes of TV or computer game time. She can save them up to get enough for a movie by the end of the day. This of course takes discipline as a parent, especially if you allow a lot of TV watching, which by the way can contribute to tantrums due to possibly overstimulating a child.

More than two hours of TV a day can be very overstimulating to a child, especially if they have not slept well causing an increase in irritability. This may be why she does better at school too, since they probably don't watch TV there.

You may even allow her to earn a special activity she loves on the weekend (bowling, park etc.) if she earns all of her tickets each day that week.

I also highly recommend the following book. It gives great ideas for logical consequences and walks you through on a way to deliver those consequences without necessarily getting the angry reaction you are talking about.

It makes the child perceive the consequences as the result of their choices and behavior instead of you just 'being mean' and directing their anger at you.

Good luck!!

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13 yr old female scared to go in her bedroom at night

Question: I know a 13 yr old girl that is scared to go into her bedroom at night. What would be the causes?

Answer: There could be many causes, but given her age and that it is her own bedroom my initial thought would be the possibility of sexual abuse.

There may have also been some other incident that happened in there at night that she is afraid of happening again, although I don't know exactly what that could be.

Looking for any other signs of abuse would be a good idea, just in case. The following is a link with signs of sexual abuse. One of these is an unusual fear of a certain place or location.


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Sleeping Issue

by Rosalie Lane
(Palin City, Oh)

Question: My 4 year old is on the go non-stop. We have taken away her pacifier some time ago and since then her sleep habits have been awful and are getting worse.

She went for preschool screening last month and they followed up with concern. They then did a home visit and are going to follow up with more screenings. The teacher told me that she felt that she was confident she has sensory issues and seeking movement due to that.

So we were trying to get her to sleep and I gave her a pacifier and she fell right asleep. Could having the pacifier give her need for movement? If so I feel so guilty taking it! My oldest who is 10 has been diagnosed with ADHD but has sensory issues as well. The school calls it socialation autism. I guess I just didn't want to see that my youngest was having this issue. Her sensory is different than my oldest.

Is there anything you can recommend to help instead of a pacifier to help my little one get rest. She always was such a wonderful sleeper. The last year has been very difficult and I am stressed. I know she senses it and it makes it worse. At least there may be some help out there.

Answer: Our son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder as well when he was three years old. He also has sleep issues and we noticed these were exacerbated when we removed his pacifier.

So, it is possible that the movement and sensory stimulation from it does help with sleep. However, there are other things that can help with this that do not include using a pacifier. She may also simply need to adjust and learn how to sleep without it.

Four years of using a pacifier to aid in sleep can be a hard habit to break. It's sort of like learning to sleep best on your back for 4 years and then being told you're not allowed to sleep on your back and must sleep on your stomach from now on.

What we found to help was using a sensory diet that includes regular daily activities tailored to her specific sensory needs and doing the wilbarger brushing protocol. We also ended up doing 30 minutes of therapeutic listening for approximately 6 weeks. Finding an occupational therapist that specializes in sensory integration would allow you to learn how to do these things.

All of these things helped my son's sleep immensely. He still has some sleep issues at times, but for the most part is doing much better. You may also find the suggestions on my page about help for a problem sleeping to be useful.

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Four year old's sleeping issues

Question: My four year old son, Dylan, has no problem going to bed every night. He and his older brother have bunk beds and go to sleep between 7:30pm and 8pm every night.

He never fights going to bed in his own bed and falling right to sleep. This is why I cannot understand why he wakes up every night, always between 1am and 3am, and climbs into our bed.

He then fights for space with me most of the night. I get kicked, elbowed, etc. by Dylan and yelled at by my wife when I get angry about the situation. Dylan is also very stubborn in that we have tried getting up and putting him back in bed, at which point he begins to scream "bloody murder" and seems to intentionally try to make sure everyone else is awake in the house.

He has done this for hours at a time and we have tried returning him to his bed every night for a week to no avail.

I don't know what else to do and I am tired of sleeping on the couch!!! Please help!


Answer: Waking up at some time in the middle of the night between sleep cycles is common for everyone to do, but usually we fall back asleep right away and don't always remember waking up at all.

At his age he is probably waking up and seeing that it is dark in the house and finds comfort by coming to your room and sleeping with you. Unfortunately, because he has been allowed to do this in the past he has made it a habit to continue doing it every night.

We have a four year old as well that tries to do the same thing and have found the following things to be helpful. I know that you tried putting him back in his bed, but because he is persistent and seems to get his way after screaming it may take a lot of effort on your part and longer than one week to get him sleeping in his own bed.

We put a child proof lock on the outside of the door (you could also just lock your door) that doesn't allow him to sneak in bed with us at night. Then he has to knock on our door and it is much easier to redirect him back to bed immediately. There is no other easier way to do this than to remain consistent and not give in to his screams.

You may want to have his sibling stay at a relatives if possible the first few nights starting on a Friday to avoid keeping him up at night until you are more successful with him staying in bed.

Another useful strategy we have found to help is a reward program. Many children at this age are very motivated by TV, video games, or computer games. Try putting a rule in place that he is only allowed to do these or other things he is more motivated by if he has slept in his bed the whole night prior.

Allow him these priveleges if he willingly goes back to bed the first time he wakes up at night with no screaming for one week and then change the rule to him only having these priveleges the next day if he has stayed in bed by himself all night.

It may take a couple days of having to not allow him to do these things for him to know that you are serious, but once he realizes you will follow through he will be more likely to stay in his own bed at night.

Hope this helps!


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Child's Sleep Problem

Two year old boy sleepless nights

Question about a child's sleep problem: My 2 year old son wakes after 3-4 hours of sleep, then he stays awake for 3-4 hours. Then back to sleep for 3-4 hours. Also he is delayed in speech and has tantrums very often. I am in desperate need of help. Please give me some suggestions?

Answer: Dealing with a child's sleep problem can be very stressful and definitely affects behavior. I can completely identify with your struggles, as my son has also had a sleep problem on and off since he was born. We found that while his sleep still has some ups and downs at times, the following strategies are what have worked the best:

Make sure to have a consistent bedtime routine and bed time every night as well as a consistent wake up time. You may have to develop a routine that takes 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to bedtime to give him adequate time to prepare himself for sleep.

This may start with sitting down to do a quiet activity, taking a bath, massaging lavender lotion onto your child's body (lavender has calming properties), reading some books, rocking and then listening to calming music. Do it in the same order every night and do a mini version at nap time.

You may need to establish an earlier bedtime such as between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. depending on the time he wakes up from his nap. If your child's getting over stimulated and then crashing to fall asleep at night he will have a hard time staying asleep.

Many parents don’t realize this and especially when a child has a hard time sleeping they tend to put a child to sleep later thinking this will make them sleep longer, but it actually only makes a child's sleep problem even worse.

If your child's usual bedtime is much later than this, gradually make it earlier each night by 20 minute increments until you get to the earlier time. You should be able to tell when a good bedtime is based on when you notice him starting to get quiet at night with less activity and less vocalizations.

If he is running around in displaying hyperactive behaviro in the evening before bed, then he got over stimulated causing his body to release cortisol to fight the fatigue which results in difficulty staying asleep.

Avoid any television at least 1-2 hours prior to his bedtime and possibly even 3-4 hours prior as this causes the hormone melatonin to decrease in the body, which is responsible for helping us fall asleep and stay asleep.

Also try to limit your child's TV watching to no more than 2 hours per day, but preferably even less as the American Pediatrics Association did a study that showed as little as 2 hours of TV per day affected a child's ability to sleep.

You can read more tips on my page about dealing with a child's sleep problem that I highly recommend putting these into practice for at least 2-3 weeks in order to see results. When he wakes up at night avoid turning on any lights and keep stimulation to a minimum trying to only perhaps play more calming music and rocking.

I know that can be challenging, but it is well worth it in the long run if you just promise to yourself to give it at least 3 weeks of consistent effort. However, if after consistently doing this for 3 weeks you do not see any results there some other things to consider.

The following book is a great resource for help with a sleep problem.

Other Considerations

Chances are that the speech delay, behavior issues and temper tantrums are related to his lack of sleep. This is simply because a child's sleep problem can cause irritability and make it difficult to pay attention well enough during the day to learn.

Unfortunately, a combination of all of these things may also be an indication of an underlying problem, such as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or possibly even autism signs and behavior.

So, be sure to check out the symptoms for both of these and speak to your pediatrician about your concerns. If you suspect SPD, you will want to have him evaluated by an occupational therapist to get help with treatment options that will not only help with speech, but also sleep and tantrums.

These may include the wilbarger brushing protocol and developing a sensory diet, both which helped my son with his sleep.

Finally, although this option may not be for all individuals, we have been working with a chiropractor and holistic nurse practitioner to discover underlying health conditions that contribute to sleep difficulties for our son.

Some of these conditions include; candida yeast overgrowth, toxic metal exposure (mercury, aluminum, and/or lead), blood sugar imbalances, food allergies/sensitivities, and medications (if he takes any asthma meds, these can especially cause problems with sleep and behavior).

In working to resolve his underlying health conditions with natural supplements and removing foods that he was sensitive to, our son’s sleep problem has gradually gotten better. He may still wake up at night because he has to go to the bathroom or is hot/cold, but we are able to just put him right back to sleep instead of having 2-3 hours of fighting to get him back to sleep.

So, I also strongly recommend considering this option. Here is another great book that talks about some of these underlying health conditions.

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My stepdaughter scared of monsters??????!!!

by Jessica

Question: About a month ago I fixed my stepdaughters room like a princess room so she can sleep in her own bed and not with us(my husband and me). She is 4years old and has been sleeping in her room since then with minor problems trying to come sleep with us, but just last night she kept my husband awake almost all night saying that there was a monster next to the tv and it went up to the air vent! She even cryed!!

Help we don't know why she is so scared??? She also said there is a baby ghost in her room!! We spoke to her mom and said she has been doing the same thing at her house. Please help us understand whats going on?

Answer: Many kids go through these stages where they are afraid of monsters in the room. It can often be contributed to what the child is watching on television or reading in books. Talk to her mother and make sure that you are both limiting her TV to very tame and mild shows.

Also, be sure to allow her to have a night light and leave the door open. You may even want to start using a monitor again to reassure her that you are able to hear her if she needs you. Reassure her that there are not any monsters or ghosts and avoid "looking for monsters" as a way to show her there aren't any because you may actually confirm her fears that it's possible you could find something.

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