9.5 Year Old Son with Anxiety not Sleeping

Hello wise parents! We are in crisis mode here and in desperate need of some advice. Our 9.5 year old son recently stopped sleeping through the night because he is scared of burglars breaking in and killing the whole family. We moved to a new home about 6 weeks ago, around which time he also overheard another mom telling me about how her home was burglarized a few years ago, and since this time he cannot sleep through the night. He lays rigid in his bed listening, looking and waiting for catastrophe and wakes us up whenever he hears any kind of sound in the house. I have woken up to use the restroom around 3 am before and have seen him creeping around the house checking the doors or investigating a noise. He has also woken us up by placing his fingers under our noses to make sure we are breathing. He wakes us up at least 5-10 times a night asking us if we heard a noise and to check on it until it usually ends with everyone in tears because my husband reaches his limit and starts yelling (which I'm sure has its own negative repercussions for my son's mental health). I know this is beyond normal and is getting into mental illness territory, so that is where I need your help. We live in Pleasanton and would be very appreciative of any recommendations for a psychiatrist that has successfully worked with children who are anxious (we can drive a bit if necessary). We are also open to psychologist recommendations for CBT but I do want to establish a connection with an MD so that if medication is necessary, we can begin that process. 

Secondly, in the meantime, we are in crisis and cannot function. Has anyone experienced this and can you offer any suggestions or advice for us to cope in the meantime? Below I will list what we have/are already doing.

-Cuddle him at night with a solid bedtime routine.

-Talk during the day about strategies he can use at night along with talking out loud about his fears to reduce their charge a bit. 

-Practice mindfulness activities during the day/at night.

-Do guided meditations together (put your thought on a leaf and watch it float downstream, etc etc).

-Over the counter CBD oil and Melatonin 1mg.

-Reduce processed wheat/sugar at bedtime and/or throughout the whole day when possible.

-Offer him $20 to sleep in his own bed and not wake us up.

-Allow him to sleep on the floor next to our bed.

-Sleep in his bed with him.

-Sleep on the floor outside his door.

-Put him in his bed and hold the door closed while you and your husband argue about the "right" way to handle things until he is yelling and you are crying and it feels like you will never sleep, feel rested or be happy again. 

Oh wise parents, please help. 

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I feel for you, I have been through something similar with my now 9.5 year old boy. It is very stressful for the parents. The good news is, my son sleeps now, and yours will too but we definitely intervened. You're on the right track with getting a psychiatrist involved but you can also get prescriptions from your pediatrician if that will happen faster. Step 1: Everyone needs to sleep. Get a prescription ASAP or up the melatonin for him (confirming w pediatrician) and in the meantime, one parent sleeps in a different room with a locked door in order to be rested the next day. Take turns with that. Step #2: Your CBT-lite approach with talking about the fears & mindfulness app is fine. It's not hurting. But it really doesn't replace therapy with a qualified professional, and that could be a MSW or a psychologist - the therapy needs to be administered by someone who clicks with your son, and it may or may not be the person who can also prescribe the medicine; proceed on both fronts. Step #3: Everyone mentally prepare to acknowledge your son has anxiety, which seems like it will be pretty soon confirmed by a doctor. It is not the end of the world and actually getting the diagnosis helped us contextualize our son's fears & nighttime (mis)behavior.  But it was a very hard time - I'm blanking on how long his sleeplessness period was - maybe around a year where 3-4x/week he was awake very late (11 or 12) and then roaming around the house in the middle of the night at some point.

Save your $20s and don't sleep on the floor. The same way that you wouldn't treat a physical illness with only home remedies, don't hesitate on the way to getting your son the help he needs. For our son, he had individual therapy at 6, group therapy for anxious kids at Kaiser around 7-8, and sporadic individual therapy since then as other issues came to the forefront that he was being treated for anyway. It ebbs and flows; we have seen panic attacks emerge in the last year; BUT, he does for the most part sleep at night now. He takes Prozac & tenex (which has a drowsiness side benefit), and we are very firm on bedtime routine and schedule - we don't let him stay up late on weekends. I have not tried CBD oil or diet modifications for my son. As with the melatonin, consult your doctor. And when you do talk to your doctor, don't downplay ANYTHING. Tell him or her exactly everything you told BPN. They need the whole picture, including the impact on siblings, school, work, etc.

Good luck.

Hello, I'm a parent and a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children who have anxiety. It would be very tough to explain through text but you need to develop an understanding of the way anxiety works. My suggestion is that you read "Freeing Your Child From Anxiety" by Tamar Chansky and take him to see a psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety. This can absolutely be corrected without medicating.

My 6 year old also went through bedtime fears and the Kaiser psychiatric intake counselor recommended these books:

What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

Hope they help your son!

You are way past the "maybe" stage of needing professional help, and given the crisis that all of you are in, especially this little boy, I would get him to one of the many excellent therapists who specialize in anxiety this week. I will recommend Sarah Campbell (510) 250-7483 and she can recommend someone closer to you if needed. 

In the meantime, many of your ideas are good (NOT melatonin or CBD oil, which are inappropriate for kids unless under a pediatrician's care). My own son became very anxious around 8 years old with similar fears, but to a much reduced extent, so I hear you on this. I would allow him to sleep next to your bed for 1 month, as part of mastering his fear and everyone getting sleep. The deal is - its for a limited time and he may not get up more than once, to quickly use the bathroom and return if absolutely necessary. Then, teach him ways to return to sleep by using (for example) the Headspace app and the sleep module and anxiety module. Young kids can enjoy these - not only the kid versions. These have been helpful in my family. Coach him in the daytime to come up with return to sleep strategies - have him come up with some. A stuffed animal. A nightlight. And explain that your entire family needs help together, and youre finding a family therapist to help everyone. I agree with the previous poster to get your pediatrician on board immediately. This is way outside the norm and the poor little guy needs help.

We moved (about 4 blocks, from an apartment to a house) when my daughter was 10. She was extremely sensitive to the lower security of not having shared-wall neighbors; she started sleep-walking, including opening the front door and calling out for me, as if I had left her. Our solution was that we moved her mattress on to the floor of my room. She slept there for about a month until she was ready to move into her own room.

 I feel for you and your poor son. He’s clearly terrified. I suggest getting professional help asap. Could be more than anxiety, perhaps OCD in which case reassurance is contraindicated and will not help but actually foster continuing fear. Both UCSF and Stanford have pediatric psychiatry clinics with experts. Even if you have Kaiser, I’d go to a major clinic for diagnosis. They do a thorough workup. Kaiser is ill equipped to handle other than run of the mill anxiety and will focus on meds rather than a firm diagnosis or appropriate and long term, if needed, therapy. KP is being sued on this in Alameda Co (class action) and the state DMHC has been investigating its inadequacies as well. I know all this from personal experience. Hope your son gets the help he needs. 

I agree that mental health help is warranted, but also wanted to note that a security alarm system might address the fear - we pay $14.99/mo for Simplisafe. If a door opens, a beeping starts, and then if the alarm isn’t disabled it goes off and notifies police. I wish my parents had something like this when I was growing up, I would have slept much easier. Every time I hear a weird noise at night, I remember the alarm system and I can go back to sleep. Good luck!

Oh Mama, you are doing a good job! The nine to ten year change is a big one, which brings up so many things for kids. They are again separating from parents, from teachers, and feeling more alone, more aware of the flaws, fallibility, and humanity of those who care for them. I would advise using Rescue Remedy before bed and after any wakings. It contains Mimulus, which is a flower essence specifically for fears. Also, have him write a little bit about his fears during the day. The handwriting process is reportedly invaluable for healing so many kinds of trauma. Lastly, use humor. Maybe you can write a play together, or just use goofy role play that lampoons bungling burglars, making the characters you create laughable. It may allow him to release some of the tension he's feeling about it. Mimulus transformed my daughter's fear of fire sirens after a fire in our apartment building when she was 2. It took a few months, but turned into a healthy fascination with fire engines. Good luck. I hope you can avoid medication!  
--Mama Who Feels Your Pain.

I'm really sorry to hear that. I am no expert, but I would also look into OCD with your doctor and/ or psychiatrist. That can also cause people to check things at night (doors, whether or not people are breathing). There is pharmaceutical and behavioral treatment that helps with OCD. Unfortunately I do not know of therapists in your area that work with children but this website https://iocdf.org/ has a lot or resources. 

My take on this is different than the first response you got. I have 3 kids and around age 9, they all experienced a period of @ a year or two where they had trouble sleeping and were more anxious. My youngest is almost 12 now and seems to be coming out the other side. In hindsight, my feeling is that it is a hormonal/developmental/pre-puberty stage. If you look up Rudolph Steiner and google "9 year change" you will find lots of interesting info on what he thought this stage was. In a nutshell, he thought that @ age nine, kids experience the end of childhood innocence. This made sense to me. At @ nine, our kids start to become aware of the bigger world outside their immediate circle (politics, natural disasters, more complex social dynamics at school, etc). This realization can be frightening and anxiety-inducing. With my kids, I made sure they/we stuck to a routine as much as possible. We brainstormed about what would be relaxing and then did it - it was different for each kid. With one, it was candles and tea before bed. With my youngest, letting the dog sleep on his bed and those bach flower lemon-flavored pellets https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Rescue-Remedy-Natural-Pastilles/dp/B00IECA1RI?th=1 have been very helpful. No solution was perfect, but they all helped each child feel like they were controlling the anxiety and not the other way around. Also, I talked to them a lot-why they were feeling anxious, how it was making me stressed, that growing up is stressful but also positive and amazing, because they are going to discover who they are. I would have a family meeting and tell your kid you and Dad have not been handling it well and you are going to re-set and work through it together, and brainstorm solutions together. The more you can portray to your kid that you are confident he/you are going to weather this successfully, ythe easier you will move through it. Good luck! 

First of all, my sympathies go out to you.  Your situation sounds very difficult.  I know this may not be the entire solution to your problem, but have you thought about getting a dog?  A dog might be able to keep your son company at night and comfort him when he awakens so that he doesn't feel the same need to wake you up repeatedly.  And you may be able to persuade your son that the dog will bark and wake you all up should anything untoward occur at night, alleviating your son of the need to keep watch.  I'm not a therapist/medical professional, obviously, but wanted to share this idea with you.

Good luck--

We had a somewhat similar situation, although ours was caused by an actual person who started harassing our family (to the extent we had to get a restraining order).  What made our son feel better was (a) getting security cameras installed, (b) putting bars on some of our windows, and (c) getting a dog.

I realize bars may not be an option for everyone, and cameras may not be an option or may be cost-prohibitive, but have you considered the dog angle?  Not only did it make our son feel better about the safety of our house, it has given our family an awesome new member.


cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for this.   There is a therapist on piedmont ave that specializes in anxiety    It has taken over and he needshelp  

Wow this sounds rough.  I have no personal experience like this, but I just wanted to say that this sounds complicated and difficult enough that it may be worthwhile to contact a sleep consultant.  I don't know anyone who works with older kids (we used Angelique Millette as a sleep consultant when our son was an infant) but I'm SURE they exist.  Good luck.

So sorry for your family. My daughter had a lot of anxieties - hers was a round fire and how to escape if there was a fire. She could not sleep and stuck to Me like glue for a long time.  It sounds like your son has True anxiety - maybe OCD as well.  It helps to know that it is not in his control- he is. Not trying to be difficult and probably hates the way he feels. I suggest therapy and medication asap- along with being loving and reassuring of course. Good luck

It seems that you are doing such a good job reassuring your son, even though it´s exhausting. He will get better and he will get to sleep through the night in your new home. 

I recommend getting your son some professional help, it will be good for you all. You´ll probably hear all about the cognitive changes in that age, where they suddenly are able to acknowledge "real" and very frightening threats (it might as well be environmental issues, health issues, violence etc). Their probability calculus is just missing from the reasoning. I´m sure you´ve already been talking with him about it, as well as highlighting that it is your responsibility as a parent to keep him safe. Frightening feelings and frightening thoughts are scary, but that do not mean that they are true or worth listening to. Keep in mind how strong feelings have a tendency to be infective...it sounds that your child´s fear have created strong feelings within you to (both parents!). Be sure "to keep calm and carry on", and really model for your child that he has no need to worry; his parents are on top of things. As a parent you are fully able to hold his feelings and lend your patience to him, and eventually he will feel better.

From what you are writing, I seems to me that you are already doing a whole lot, remember to give it time. The best of luck to you and your son! <3 

I’m so sorry you are going through such challenging times. When we moved into our new home we had locksmith update our front door lock to make it more secure. Perhaps this kind of reassurance might be helpful?

You moved into a new house? Does that mean new carpet and fresh paint? The toxic off-gassing can cause anxiety. I recommend opening the windows, getting an air cleaner with lots of carbon (I like EL Foust) and spending lots of time outdoors in green spaces. In addition, get rid of air fresheners, stop using perfume and  use only fragrance-free cleaning products and personal care products. These things can have a far larger impact on health and well-being than people realize. It may take awhile to help, but if it does, it is worth it. 

I hope you all get some sleep soon. 

That sounds like such a difficult situation! My heart goes out to all three of you. It sounds like you've already tried many good things. My only thought was to add the ritual of going around and locking all the doors and windows and closing any blinds. Perhaps you or your husband can do this while the other one cuddles with him on the couch, so he can see and hear you doing this.

From a nervous system perspective, his sounds like it's on very high alert/flight and fright. It's possible working with someone trained in working with anxiety via the nervous system, such as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who works with children, might be something to explore. Helping him develop a sense of internal safety will be key, along with being able to tolerate uncomfortable sensations/emotions.

I love peoples' idea of getting a dog (though realize that adds more work to your plate, too). A creature he can co-regulate with who serves as a "protective shield" might be really wonderful.

Wishing your family the best as you navigate through this.

People posted a lot of good ideas that will help in the long term, but right now life is very difficult for you and your child. Up the melatonin asap and ask your md about giving him an over the counter sleep medicine (they are all antihistamines). For the short term everyone will be sleeping. You can't make good decisions when everyone is sleep deprived.

I haven't experienced this as a parent, but did as a kid, and struggled with it for years.  I think it stemmed from growing up with really high-profile kidnappings, like Michaela, Polly Klass, Jenny Lin.  Every creak of the house settling caused a spike of anxiety, and if the motion-detector went on outside, I would bolt up and stare out the window expecting to see an intruder.  I would try to remind myself that it's normal for old houses to make noises, and that our yard bordered open space so many animals came through our yard.  I made up little chants and prayers and repeated them over and over.  I did get up and go to my parents a lot.  I don't remember how it got better, but eventually it did -- until in my early 20's I was held up at gunpoint while walking to BART.  I think it was a PTSD response, but the anxiety only came on while trying to go to bed, and would sometimes cause hyperventilating/panic attacks.  I did eventually go to Kaiser for anxiety and that was helpful.  But probably the most helpful thing for me was one night when I was really afraid, my boyfriend (now husband) convinced me we should go out and drive around the neighborhood at night to demonstrate that it was okay.  I don't know why, but seeing the peaceful neighborhood and even normal people walking their dogs out and about at night helped a lot.  Maybe it gave me a new thing to imagine instead of my mind always going to shadowy figures lurking in corners waiting to break in.  

I feel for you and your son and wish you guys the best.  I also think it's wonderful that you are trying to get him help, wish my parents would have thought of that, ha!

Hi!  If you'd prefer a less allopathic approach to start, my friends have had great success with curbing their children's anxieties through acupuncture, homeopathy, and flower essences.  It's a holistic approach that treats the body, mind, and spirit.  Especially if he wasn't an anxious child before this one trigger, it seems like he just needs help around this instance instead of a lifetime of prescriptions and medications. I recommend Jill Stevens, L.Ac., at Whole Family Wellness Center -- she specializes in pediatrics and offers all the above modalities that I mentioned in addition to herbs and nutrition.  I've seen her personally for years and have multiple friends and their children who are her patients as well.  She is ver y knowledgeable with a an office that is warm and geared toward children.  You could also think about utilizing both allopathic and holistic treatment simultaneously?  

I just wanted to respond quickly to the "husband yelling" parts of your post. I can definitely relate and encourage you to include resolving this parenting conflict with your husband in the professional help you get. Your husband needs to learn to stop yelling. Anger is not an appropriate response of a parent to child with these psychological issues. Did your husband get angry at your son when he was a baby and woke you up? Your son is not "choosing" to have anxiety and to engage in these behaviors, frustrating as they may be. Maybe I am projecting my own experience onto your situation, but in my case my husband actually thought "getting angry" was an appropriate consequence for our daughter's actions (not anxiety to the extent of your son, but related.) He also continued to use this kind of behaviorist approach (rewards and consequences) long after it became clear that she did not have conscious control over her actions in such a way as to make rewards and punishments an effective approach. It sounds like your husband has a similar understanding of your son's actions as being under your son's control, which is why is is getting angry. Maybe if he understood the situation differently, and had more tools in his parenting toolkit, he could be more empathetic to your son and would not get so angry at him. I'm sure your husband's anger is contributing to *your* stress (and his!), and not helping the situation. I really feel for all 3 of you. It looks like you have gotten a lot of good advice and I'm sure you will be able to come out of crisis mode soon! Wishing you all the best!

You've gotten a lot of good advice. Just wanted to mention that the podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting interviewed a childhood anxiety specialist that I found illuminating:


I just want to second the idea of getting a dog.  My kid was also waking every night around age 8-9.  We got a dog; s/he has slept through the night ever since.  The dog sleeps on the bed.  They are both very happy. I think the dog is both company and security.