QuickStart Guide for Parents
What is the Program and Who is it For?
Bedtime Hero is an interactive online therapy program for children who are nervous or afraid to go to sleep in their own bed and sleep through the night. It is designed for children who are at least 6 years of age up to teenagers 15 years of age. While a teen might be able to to use it on their own, children need a caring adult to help them through the process.
I have used this method with children in my private child psychiatry practice numerous times with positive results. I understand that using a structured online program is not the same as a child working with me in person, but all of the strategies and ideas that I use are incorporated into the program. Of course, even a partial improvement is better than things just staying the same.
While the therapy puts a child in the driver’s seat for solving the problem and achieving their own success, parents play an important support role throughout the process.
The Overall Plan
First of all, plan to work on the program with your child during the day (not at bedtime). Each session should take about 20-40 minutes and you should plan ahead for your child to have a session with the program every 3-7 days depending on their progress and readiness to go further.
The goal is to build on their successes, even small successes, one bit at a time. That is, they use the program, they generate a new idea or two and feel more confident, they practice using their ideas at bedtime, and experience a bit of success. Then they use the program again another time and so on until the problem is resolved.
The program begins by having your child measure their level of anxiety or fear about sleeping on their own on a scale from 0 (not scared) to 10 (terrified). Encourage your child to rate the level of anxiety that they have when they are lying in bed alone at bedtime.
Then the program will take them through a series of steps to help them solve the problem. One of the main ingredients will be for the child to imagine a very positive experience they have had in the past .. memories that are associated with confident happy feelings, such as a holiday, playing a sport they enjoy, playing with friends, succeeding at games or at school, etc. The more specific the memory and the more clearly they can picture it the better because it’s the good feelings those memories hold that make the difference.
If your child is able to reduce their level of anxiety by 1 or 2 points during the first session that’s great. The program is designed to help your child solve the problem in manageable chunks, one piece at a time. So, at the second session 3-7 days later, the program will present several other parts of the problem that they can choose to work on: fear of the dark, the closet or under the bed, sounds in the house, someone breaking in, bad dreams or waking up during the night.
The program then guides them through a similar process to work through each piece while providing new cartoon images, audio, video, ideas and suggestions.
Your job is to keep the process going consistently. Make sure you schedule a session with your child every 3-7 days so that they know you’re serious about expecting a change to occur. In between each session they can put into practice what they thought about during the last session. Each week they should be able to show some degree of improvement.
The ultimate goal is for your child to reach a low anxiety level of only 0 to 2, which would then take them to the final piece of the program – locking in their new found confidence at bedtime and solidifying the change.
During Each Session
Please note that the program works better on a desktop computer or tablet.
When you begin a Bedtime Hero session have your child sit in the driver’s seat and operate the mouse and keyboard, at least initially. This symbolizes that they are in charge of solving the problem, not you and not the program. If eventually the speed of your child’s typing is too slow, you can offer to type for them to speed things up and also record their responses more fully.
Sit next to your child and make sure they follow the instructions accurately and completely. For example, when the program asks them to close their eyes and tap their legs back and forth, make sure they do that. And when the program asks them to imagine a time when they felt good, make sure they picture a real experience from the past that actually makes them feel good.
Each session of the program should take about 30 minutes to complete, but there is no set length. Ideally, your child should continue, even if parts of the program need to be repeated, until they have generated some new ideas about how to handle being in bed alone and they are feeling more confident about actually doing it that way in the coming week.
It’s a good idea to setup some rewards for your child as they work through the problem. At the end of the first session be prepared to agree on a prize with your child for achieving their first goal, such as a trip to a movie or a small toy for going to sleep in their own bed three nights in a row (note that three nights in a row requires more practice than just three nights in total). They may still come into your bed during the night but that’s ok. You can create another prize for handling that part later.
You can also create other prizes for other achievements as needed, such as a prize for going to sleep in their own bed for 7 nights in a row, or a prize for successfully sleeping on a makeshift bed on the floor ¼, ½ or ¾ of the way to their bedroom if sleeping in their own bed is impossible at first.
If you see that your child is working with the program and is really trying but is having difficulty just falling asleep, then using a bit of melatonin (1 to 5mg) for one or two weeks can be useful to help them get into the new pattern of falling asleep in their own bed.
Your First Conversation With Your Child
Before you start the program, your first conversation with your child should go something like this (you can even use this script if you want) …
Parent: “I noticed that you are finding it hard to sleep by yourself. Are you feeling kind of scared to sleep on your own?”
Parent: “If you keep on feeling scared like that for months or even years into the future is that the way you want things to be?”
Parent: “And if you kept on feeling scared you’d probably miss out on some fun sleepovers with your friends. So, how would you like things to be instead when you go to sleep in your own bed?”
Child: “Not feel scared.”
Parent: “Would you like to go to sleep with no problem, like it’s no big deal anymore?”
Parent: “So, when you’re going to sleep at night do you think it would work better if you’re feeling worried and scared .. or strong and confident?”
Child: “Strong and confident.”
Parent: “Well, I found this cool computer program called Bedtime Hero. It helps kids feel strong and confident at bedtime. Want to do it? I’ll help you.”
Parent: If the child says they want to keep sleeping in your bed, then say, “You’re getting too old to sleep in my bed and I think it’s time for you to learn how to feel strong and confident and happy sleeping on your own.”
Child: If they respond “Ok”, then talk about the program some more. If they balk, then talk about going to see a counsellor for help. Maybe they’ll change their tune and be willing to give the program a try. They can even use the program along with counselling to help things along.
To your personal success,
Mark Lauderdale MD FRCPC
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
©2020 W. Mark Lauderdale MD. All Rights Reserved.