Kris’ Corner – Middle of the Night Rituals

March 30, 2023

So this one might seem a little strange, or at the very least unnecessary if your child sleeps through the night most of the time…but there’s always the chance that they will wake up and need something from you.

And so being in the mindset of a scout and “always be prepared,” maybe this could help you think through general POSSIBLE scenarios and how they can become rituals (especially if a child is up frequently for some reason…or for some reason starts waking up in frequently in the middle of the night).

There are a couple “serial” events that would/do happen with my child, so that’s where I’ll go, but clearly yours might be different. First of all, my son had a LOT of reflux. And when I say “a lot” I mean that he had to eat every three hours, round the clock for the first few weeks when he came to our house…and he puked up 6-7 of those feedings

It took a while and several tests and medications before we got the reflux under control. However, even though it is now mostly controlled, it sometimes rears its ugly head in the middle of the night. That’s where the ritual comes in.

My son either yells for me, or appears at my bedside and startles me from my sleep (those are always fun wake-ups, aren’t they?) to let me know he either a) threw up or b) feels like he is going to. So then I go through the same actions each time. First of all I clean up the puke (if there is any…often he just thinks he did b/c the reflux hits him while he’s asleep) from him and then the bed. Then I get him some additional, extra strength medicine to prevent this from happening any more during the night.

I have him potty and brush his teeth…because, well…I think you know why he’d need to brush after throwing up.  And going potty just makes sense…because sometimes he will sleep in a little bit if he doesn’t wake up due to needing to go to the bathroom (there’s got to be SOME benefit from waking up in the middle of the night, right?). Then I give a hug and a kiss, a reminder that he could call for me if he needs me, and an “I love you!” And then I swiftly exit the room.

As an aside, even though I deal with this regularly, I’m getting a little gaggy talking about the puke, so…moving on!

The other rituals happen when he is up in the middle of the night. Sometimes he simply wakes up and can’t get back to sleep (and I’m certain that has happened to each and every one of us; and other times a nightmare has caused him to wake up, in which case we follow a different ritual.

When our son was younger, he would sing at the top of his lungs when he was awake during the night. We’d call it our “midnight concert”. So the ritual there was allowing him to sing for a few minutes and then going in, thanking him for the song, asking him if he needed to potty, offering a drink of water (which always was next to his bed) and a smoothing out of his blankets, taking special care to place that weighted blanket right on top. Then give him a hug and a kiss, a reminder that it was time for sleep and not singing, and an “I love you!” And then I’d swiftly exit the room.

If the singing began again, which is sometimes (read: often) did, I’d let it go for another 5 minutes then go back in the room for my own encore. So back and forth this ritual would go until he eventually fell back asleep.

Now…if there is a nightmare of some sort causing his wakefulness, one of us goes in and scoops him up. To be honest, not “up” so much anymore as he’s too big, but he allows us to wrap him up in the biggest hug we can, rub his back and shower him with comforting words. Once his shaking stops, we ask if he wants to talk about what he dreamed (which he doesn’t in the middle of the night) and so we continue to lie next to him, occasionally give a reassuring pat on his arm or head and just ask random questions to shift his brain in to thinking about anything other than that dream. And then, unlike at bedtime, we just lie on the floor next to his bed until he drifts off the sleep with the bad dreams chased away, at least for a while. Even though it means a deficit in our sleep, it shows him our love, care and concern for him…and even though it’s often inconvenient, it is absolutely an opportunity to connect with him in a way other events don’t provide.

So as you can see, even though these are both different needs, the ritual is basically the same: Attend to the needs, then provide directions and then show care and comfort…and then exit (if possible).

And as I said, your middle-of-the-night rituals might be very different needs, but they can still have routine and provide stability which leads to felt safety. I hope this helps you realize that even the not-very-often events can become rituals if you treat them with that regard.