4 Tips for Helping Your Child Sleep During a Separation

Young boy falls asleep at school.

Going through a separation is exhausting, with so much changing all at once. You might find that all you feel like doing is staying in bed, but this isn't often the best option, especially if you have kids. 

It's not easy for children to cope with their parents' separation. The emotional distress they may be experiencing now has the power to affect their lives in many ways, including their sleep schedule. 

It's not uncommon for children to have trouble sleeping through the night. 20-30% of school-aged kids face these issues with anxiety cited as the cause. Experiencing a big family transition like separation can create feelings of anxiety and unease in children, which can lead to sleep troubles. 

Sleep is so crucial to your child's growth and development. As parents, it's vital to consider positive ways to help your child work through difficult emotions and get back onto a healthy sleep schedule. 

The Importance of Sleep for Kids

Sleep is essential to children and adults alike, but it can be even more critical for kids to get a good night's sleep regularly. Research on sleep suggests that it promotes growth and maintains a healthy immune system. Additionally, sleep can help improve attention span and encourage learning for kids. 

Different children need different amounts of sleep due to factors such as age. However, it's not just the amount of sleep that they get that counts. The quality of that sleep is just as important.

Disturbances that don't allow a child to sleep peacefully through the night can lead to fatigue once they do get out of bed. As your child tries to remain awake through the day and fight that fatigue, they can become irritable and even appear to be hyperactive. At the same time, they'll have a harder time paying attention and retaining the information they are taught while fighting fatigue at the same time.

Four Healthy Sleep Strategies for Children

While you might not be able to put a stop to your separation, there are things you can do to help your child improve their sleep. Here are four strategies to help your child get back to a healthy sleep schedule.  

Build a new routine

Despite the changes taking place due to your separation, work to maintain or re-build a sleep routine for your child. This might include both naps as well as a plan for getting ready for bed at the end of the day.

Help your child get ready for bed even well before they lay their head on their pillow by keeping things calm in your home for the ladder part of the evening and before naps. Whether you read stories, watch videos, or just chat about your day, keep the bedtime routine predictable in your home.

If you and your co-parent are already living in separate homes, your child might miss saying goodnight to both parents. Try coordinating a quick bedtime phone call or video chat with your co-parent, if possible. 

No matter what your routine looks like in your home, keep it steady so that your child can rely on it day after day.

Strive for a lasting solution

When a child can't sleep, they may walk over your bed and ask if they can crawl in. While you might already know that letting your child sleep with you will help them get back to sleep, this might not be the route you always want to take.

Letting your child sleep in your bed every night could make it harder for them to sleep on their own in the long run. Look for ways to offer your child the comfort they need to get back to sleep.

Nightlights, soft music, and dream catchers are just a few little items that can have a significant impact on helping your child feel comfortable in their own space. A small toy or stuffed animal that they can take between your homes may also offer that comfort they need when trying to sleep in either of their beds.

Keep the conversation going with your child

Your recent separation or divorce may be causing your child to feel an excess of emotions. Even so, other things going on in their life could be creating unease for them as well like worries about school assignments or concerns about friends.

Talk to your child about all of the things that are going on in their life. Let them speak openly to you about what they're feeling, even if some of it is upsetting to you. Offer reassurance to your child, particularly when it comes to family matters. Let them know that both you and their other parent love them no matter what, and while there are a lot of changes happening right now, you will all be there for each other. Let them know that things will get better.

Do your best to do the same when it comes to anxieties coming from outside of your home. You were a kid, too, so if you can, tell your child about a time where you faced an issue similar to what they're dealing with and how you got through it. It may be reassuring to them to know that you were able to overcome what they're facing now.

Talk to your co-parent

Going through a separation is so hard, especially if conflicts arise between yourself and your former partner. Regardless, if you have children together, keeping some dialogue going only related to your kids and their well-being can be so beneficial to helping them move forward.

Talk to your co-parent about your child's sleeping habits in each of your homes. Reaching an agreement on bedtime routines and sleeping arrangements is great, but you may find that you disagree on some points.

Focus on what you can control, which means maintaining the routine you've set in your home. If concerns about your child's sleeping habits arise, speak to a family law or mental health professional who can help you find a working solution to this matter.

Even if you don't agree on every matter concerning your child's sleeping habits, share what you've observed with your co-parent. Try keeping a journal about your child's sleep schedule, noting things like how long it took them to fall asleep and what the bedtime routine was like. Share these notes with your co-parent so that they have an idea of how your child has been doing on the nights that they are with you. This could help your co-parent to maintain the bedtime routine on the nights that your child transitions over to their home.  

Helping your child get back to sleeping well during a separation or divorce can be challenging. Stick to strategies that can help your child sleep well on their own, and do your best not to allow for too many setbacks.