As a Parenting Worker, one of the main reasons I would be sought out by professionals and parents alike would be because of issues around children not sleeping, not going to bed, not sleeping in their own beds or getting up in the night, usually to go and get food.
Sleep, of course is very important for parents and children. Parents need it to be able to function properly and deal with the needs of their children and the demands of life, children need it to help them grow and to be able to cope with the demands of learning about life and accessing their formal education. Lack of sleep, I always remind parents, is often used as a means of breaking people down when they are being tortured as it disorientates them and reduces their will power, their ability to think and function even on a basic level.
Parents report to me the following problems around bed time and sleep:
- they won't go up or stay up stairs
- I can't get them to settle in their own beds
- they insist in sleeping with me
- they insist on sleeping with me even though the abuse finished 2 years ago
- they wet the bed
- they have trouble sleeping in the run up to seeing their Dad
- they have trouble sleeping after they have seen their Dad
- bed time is always dramatic and I often 'lose it'
- she regularly has nightmares
- he often wakes and tells me there are monsters behind the curtains
- she is often still awake at 1 a.m. and then can't get up for school
- I am exhausted
- I've been told to keep putting him back in his bed but he gets upset
- she often comes into my room in the middle of the night saying she heard a noise.
Children who live through any kind of difficult and traumatic home life will be affected to a lesser or greater degree. Children who no longer live with domestic violence and other abuse, who are taken into a caring foster or adoptive family, who have come through a period of trauma will not then just get on with life because they are physically safe and secure.
Many of the parents I have supported seemed to recover more quickly than their children and then struggled to come to terms with not being able to, "force them better" as one of them so accurately put it to me. Therefore, when sleep issues remain as a problem for an extended period it is hard for everyone to remain compassionate, patient and child-focused, especially the sleep deprived.
So what is going on for these traumatised children? Well, through the many difficult situations they have lived in, several things have happened and are linked to bed and night time:
- arguments, fights, shouting, throwing often happen when the children are in bed
- children who live in a tense, explosive, unpredictable household become hyper sensitive to moods, body language, expressions, tone of voice so will often sense when things are brewing
- bad news, the Police often come at night
- they may have had to leave their homes in the middle of the night
- they may have been sexually abused in the night
- a drunken abuser may have dragged them from their beds to 'listen' to him rant or abuse their mother
- they have come down in the morning to an injured mother and a trashed house but both parents acting as if everything is fine
- they may experience flash backs and nightmares as a result of their trauma
- there may be things in their environment, especially if they still live where the abuse took place, which regularly re-traumatise them
- they are terrified of being apart from their Mum at night as she is the only security they have
- the abuser has found them before and may again
- bed times were always difficult when they lived with the abuser as everyone was tired and that would be a time when he would really 'kick off'
- they have overwhelming feelings about seeing the abusive parent again