Animated Image of a Girl Trying to Choose Between Mom and Dad

Kids with Two Bedrooms -
Navigating Divorce at Bedtime

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Divorce incites dozens of contradictory and confusing feelings: sadness, fear, anger, doubt, bittersweet, relief. You and your ex have experienced a life-changing event that was probably exhausting — and quite expensive. Just as stressful as this was for you, it can be equally stressful for your kids.

Your children are one of a million whose parents divorce each year, so you are not alone in dealing with the accompanying issues of a split. Psychological and social distress can play a huge role in the way that we sleep, and sleep deprivation can make handling the emotional toll of a divorce unmanageable. But don’t worry; we are here to help.

Section 1

Effects of Divorce on Children

Section 2

Dreams and Nightmares

Section 3

Stress-related Sleep Disorders

Section 4

Is Co-sleeping a Bad Idea?

Section 5

Tips for Coping at Bedtime

Section 6

Conclusion

01

Effects of Divorce on Children

While divorce is difficult for parents, the effects of divorce on children are lifelong, and many issues can arise no matter the age. Kids can feel unloved, grief, and blame leading to possible psychosomatic symptoms.

 

Many kiddos think that they are responsible for the divorce and might try and get their parents back together; most will act out and misbehave while trying to cope with the loss of a two-parent household. A child’s sense of loss might heighten, especially during events like birthdays, holidays, and celebrations. Many things in their lives may be changing, such as living and financial situations, relationships with extended and immediate family, school, and schedules.

 

The age of the kid when the divorce occurs can make a difference in response, however, and ultimately how parents choose to approach the change can diminish potential problems.

Babies

Although it seems like babies would not be affected by divorce considering they do not have a full grasp of what is happening around them, surprisingly enough, they can sense that something is off. Do not be shocked if your baby is more irritable, crying more frequently, or experiences separation anxiety.

 

Sleep proves to be more problematic as well; babies in divorced families might have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Gastrointestinal issues are also common among young children, according to the American Association of Pediatrics.

Illustration of a Baby

Toddlers and Younger Kiddos

Illustration of Toddler

Toddlers and kids up to the age of 4 or 5 pick up on a lot more than babies and much more than we realize. These children may act out, be extra clingy, and have more nightmares than those in two-parent households. Those on the older side of this range might even blame themselves for marital problems and unhappiness.

School-age Kids

Children that are in school, similar younger kids, may have more temper tantrums and mood swings and show aggression frequently. These behaviors can lead to disrupted sleep, and kids might also have persistent nightmares.

 

Feelings of rejection and split loyalty are more common among children of divorced families, stemming from the juggling of two households or one absent parent. Performance at school may decrease in school-aged kids while grappling separation anxiety.

Illustration of School-age Kid

Teens

Illustration of Teen Boy

Teenagers with splitting parents often grow up more quickly and display independence. While struggling with the realization that their parents have problems, teens often distance themselves, and relationships may suffer in consequence.

 

Low self-esteem, substance abuse, poor performance at school, depression, sexual misconduct, and aggression often occur in teenagers with divorcing parents. All of these can lead to sleep disturbances and disorders, and because adolescents need more rest around this age, they can get caught in a very unhealthy cycle.

02

Dreams and Nightmares

Ever dream about something happening in your life? My dreams tend to reflect my worst anxieties — and I know I’m not alone.

Boy Having Nightmares Illustration

Roger Harnish, a psychology professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, says:

“Research suggests that many of our dreams appear to be about our unfinished business, particularly our emotionally unfinished business.”

Although we might not know exactly why we dream, we do know that our lives often are reflected in them. So it may be no surprise that children (and adults, for that matter) going through something difficult have more troubling dreams. Nightmares are most common in children beginning between ages 3 to 6 and are commonly caused by stress and anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic.

 

Sleep deprivation can also be a reason for consistent nightmares, and because children of divorce often get less sleep than those in a two-parent household, bad dreams can be more frequent. Not to mention, nightmares themselves can make sleep complicated, especially for younger kids.

 

Occasional nightmares might not be a cause for concern, but if they are recurring, have a chat with your kid’s pediatrician.

03

Stress-related Sleep Disorders

Some children experiencing stress can form a sleep disorder that seriously impairs their rest. Below is a list of some common disorders that are caused by a stressful external environment and some symptoms. Keep in mind that just because your child is experiencing some of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that they have a disorder; talk with their doctor to get a proper diagnosis.

Insomnia

Definition:

Problems falling asleep and staying asleep.

Symptoms can include:

Kid Fell Asleep in Kindergarden Illustration

Sleep-onset Association Disorder

Definition:

Type of behavioral insomnia where children associate sleep with specific factors and have difficulties sleeping without them.

Symptoms can include:

Tired Parent Driving a Car and the Baby Sleeping Loudly on the Back Seat Illustration

Sleepwalking

Definition:

Also known as somnambulism, sleepwalking is the occurrence of getting out of bed when still in a state of sleep.

Symptoms can include:

Sleepwalking Kid Playing with Food in the Kitchen Illustration

Nightmare Disorder

Definition:

Dreams filled with anxiety, distress, or fear that wake you up.

Symptoms can include:

Crying Child Comforted by Their Mom Illustration
04

Is Co-sleeping a Bad Idea?

When bedtime problems arise, especially disordered sleep, parents often resort to co-sleeping. Bed-sharing is a pretty controversial topic, and varying cultures have differing practices. In the United States, sharing a bed with your child is often looked down upon because the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) and some research has deemed it unsafe, especially for infants.

 

It is not just bed-sharing, though; sleeping in different beds in the same room and babies in sidecars are also forms of co-sleeping. Practicing safe co-sleeping is possible, and risks decrease as your child gets older. In fact, the AAP encourages sleeping in the same room for at least six months of your child’s life.

Dad and His Daughter Co-Sleeping Illustration

Co-sleeping can comfort your struggling child by having you close, but it can make sleep difficult if you are not around some nights or have joint custody. Ultimately, it is your decision; you know what is best for you and your kid.

05

Tips for Coping at Bedtime

Bedtime with kids is hard enough, but trying to get a child to sleep that is dealing with life-altering circumstances can be exhausting. With two separate houses, potential conflict between parents, and adjustments with routines and possibly school, sleep might fall low on the list of priorities; however, your child needs a good night’s rest to function and deal with their daytime struggles. The following tips should help make your nights a bit easier.

Expect an Adjustment Period

Big changes are happening in your child’s life, and it is expected that sleep, among other things, will be disrupted too. You might see some regressions in your kiddo’s behavior, but do not be overly concerned. Children who used to suck their thumb might start up again, bed-wetting could occur, and night terrors may arise.

Illustration of Anxious Child Awaken in Bed

Because they are under stress, anticipate frequent night wakeups and difficulty settling to sleep. In tougher circumstances, sleep disorders like insomnia can occur. Change in routine, such as holidays or weekend visits to their other parent’s house, might trigger these responses. If you are concerned about the way your child is coping or the amount of time it takes them to adjust, consider talking with their pediatrician.

Work with Your Ex

If you are divorced or in the process, you probably are not on the best of terms with your ex. Having kids in the mix can make things harder because consistent interaction is necessary for them to have a good relationship with both parents. The best way to ease that adjustment is by having a gameplan with your ex.

 

Not being on the same page and exposing your children to parental conflict can lead to emotional distress and behavioral problems. Plus, stability is vital, as kids tend to respond better to consistent discipline, acceptance and love from parents, and a comfortable routine, according to one study.

Illustration of a Man and Woman Shaking Hands

If custody is still being decided, try to be reasonable about allotted time, and if custody has been arranged, be sure to follow the agreement. Plan changes are inevitable and might require accommodations on your part, and although this could be frustrating at times, try to keep things cordial. Communicating through text or email may be your best bet because you have time to formulate a proper response rather than react without thinking.

 

A willingness to work together may be the most important factor in helping kiddos adjust to a new normal, and it is necessary to successfully utilize the tips below.

Avoid Venting in Front of Your Kids

This is a tough one, especially for those going through a divorce. A separation most likely insights frustration, anger, and sadness, and when feeling those things, people tend to vent. Because the source of these strong emotions is probably your spouse, it can put your children in a difficult spot.

 

Conflicting feelings of love and resentment can crop up, and your child might think they need to choose sides. To maintain healthy parent/child relationships (considering that they were present pre-divorce), try to keep the venting to a minimum around your kids. Evidently, venting is not all that effective anyway.

Agree on a Sleep Routine

A Boy Having Bedtime Routine Illustration

People thrive on routine, and your child is no different. When it comes to bedtime, routines are no joke; studies have shown that establishing a ritual before bed increases children’s sleep quality. 

 

If the routine is different or nonexistent at either parent’s house, kids might have a harder time getting settled. Once a bedtime system has been formed, keeping them as similar as possible can help things go more smoothly. It does not have to be complex; it can be as simple as bath, jammies, story, and bed. 

 

Whatever works for both parents will do, just try to stick to it and do things in the same order each night.

Create Similar Spaces, Buy Duplicate Toys

Many of us have been there: your child is almost asleep but suddenly realizes that their prized stuffed animal is missing and all hell breaks loose. This is completely normal; children gain attachment to items and what they perceive as theirs. Spending the night at mom or dad’s house surrounded by a completely different environment than what they are used to can make sleep impossible — kids tend to be stubborn little buggers.

 

To alleviate this, try and make their sleeping spaces as similar as possible. If they have a sound machine, a nightlight, and their security blanket in one place, make sure that they have all of these things at the other. Most people, no matter the age, do not sleep well in an unfamiliar place, so surrounding your child in things that remind them of their usual room can make things a whole lot more comfortable.

Same Toys in Two Bedrooms Illustration

Consider Counseling

Even if it seems like you, your ex, and/or your child(ren) are coping well, counseling can help treat those underlying issues you might not even know are there. Many children do not understand how to articulate their feelings, especially young kids, so meeting with a counselor can help mitigate potential breakdowns. Participating in counseling with your child can mend relationship strain and help you grasp their point of view.

 

There does not have to be something “wrong” with you or your kiddo to seek a medical professional’s assistance; the stress of a divorce is enough justification needed to comprehend complicated feelings.

06

Conclusion

Divorce is hard on the whole family, and sleep might suffer a bit during this transitional period along with emotional and physical health. Although it is often temporary, taking a few precautions can make this time easier for everyone.

 

Overall, do not be too hard on yourself or your children. This is a sensitive time for all involved, and once a new routine is established, life should feel more manageable.

Jess Carpenter
Jess Carpenter

Jess is only serious about a few things in life: sleeping, writing, and making the perfect chocolate chip cookie. In her free time, you’ll probably find her having a dance-off to ‘80s pop with her family or watching scary movies with her cat, Waffles.

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