13 Year Old with a Sleep Problem

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Over two years ago our daughter, now 13 started coming in our room in the middle of the night and sleeping by our bed maybe once a week. She had seen an "alligator" movie that her brother was watching and it also affected her swimming in the lake we boated on for almost a year. She seemed to get over both, but while at a youth meeting one night they watched parts of the movie "Signs" and she began crying after being being in bed awhile and then coming into our room again. Again, it tapered off and we tried not to worry. She was concerned about aliens attacking and we talked about it a lot, listened to her fears and tried many ways to get her over it, lights on, stereo on, lights off, music off, books... Two weeks ago in school a forensic expert came to their school for career day and showed pictures from a homicide scene. She has seen scary movies in the past, such as Sixth Sense and others and seemed only affected by things with aliens, but this really got to her as well. Again, she cries every night and ends up in our room. During the day she's a normal teen, nothing bothers her, she's doing good in school, no home stress. Is it time for counseling? We've spoken to her about it and she gets that much more upset that she doesn't want to talk with anyone. Do we force the issue?

We have two dogs that sleep in our room and are considering getting a kitten that would be hers and sleep in her room. Thinking maybe if she wasn't alone she would feel safer, but if there's a strong possibility that it wouldn't work, I'd rather not have the third animal.

It is somewhat understandable that a 13 year old might crave extra attention and reassurance in response to bad experiences and nightmares, but it is not typical. Generally, if teenagers are overprotected and act younger than their age, they will develop these habits more often then if they are more mature and independent. Only you can judge the level of maturity of your child. If she is young for her age, then you can offer her two choices of options when she becomes frightened. One option is to sleep with earphones or the light on, another might be to get up and get some milk and crackers. Be sure to make the rule clear that she can tell you she's awake and ask for a kiss or a hug, but that she cannot stay in any room except her own. You are smart to talk about her fears in the light of day when the conversation is not tied to her middle-of-the-night performances. Keep the discussion business-like and detach yourself from the emotions that you are feeling. You may be transmitting your emotional worry to her and not be aware of it. All children need limits and guidelines from parents that clearly spell out how you are going to handle emotional issues during the teenage years. It's fun, its hard work, but remember, you are in charge. Also, be sure you approve of her friends; some of this may be coming from others.

Ask Dr. Susan