- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dear Ms. Vicki, My 4-year-old son has been sleeping with me for the past five months. He refuses to sleep alone and doesn’t want the lights out, even though he is in bed with me. He has become uncontrollable at times and refuses to cooperate. Some parents have complained that he is hitting their children and refusing to share.

As for me, I wake up in the morning very tired and unable to perform at work because I can’t sleep. I know I am overwhelmed with caring for my son and with the Family Readiness Group. I also work outside the home part time.

I would hate to blame my current feelings on my son. Is this about deployment and my husband’s absence or what? - Coping With Deployment

Dear Coping,

It sounds like you are managing a big load right now. You mentioned a number of things, such as your son’s behavior, his refusing to sleep alone, your work schedule and your feelings of being tired and overwhelmed.

To be brief, during a parent’s deployment, it is typical for children your son’s age to have some regression, i.e., cry, become clingier and refuse to sleep alone. There are some strategies you may try, such as talking to your son according to his level of understanding about the deployment. Allow him to tell how he feels about his father’s absence.

Staying in touch with his father is important. Allow your son to make tapes on a tape recorder and send them to his father and vice versa. Your husband could even send tape-recorded bedtime stories. Keep pictures in your son’s room of his father and other family members.

Obviously, you want your son to resume sleeping in his own bed and to decrease his acting-out behavior with other children. You should establish a quick reward system using a 3-to-1 ratio. In other words, you want to provide three positives to one negative, such as saying, “You are a great helper” and “I like the way you are sharing.” Keep a daily chart on the refrigerator and reward him with gold stars for his cooperation and for getting along with his peers.

Begin getting him back to sleep in his own bed by visiting him in 10- to 15-minute intervals. It’s OK to keep the light on if this will make him feel more secure. Sit with him, read him a story, cuddle with him and verbally reassure him. Leave the room and tell him you’ll be back in 15 minutes. You need to come back at the stated time and reassure him of your presence.

Another essential part is to have a consistent schedule for your son that includes a bedtime ritual, such as dinner, a bath, spending time with you reading bedtime stories, then going to bed. Avoid things that could provide too much stimulation at bedtime and make it harder to fall asleep.

I’m not going to say these suggestions will work overnight, but you should see a difference in a couple of days.

Regarding your own schedule, it is important that you get plenty of rest, eat right and get exercise. You should discuss your feelings with your primary care physician about your tiredness and feelings of being overwhelmed to rule out any other medical problems.

You should set priorities for your duties, and forgo some of them if necessary. We often can try to do too many things at the expense of our own emotional and physical health. Deployment can be quite overwhelming because of the additional duties and roles the nondeployed spouse incurs. Make sure you have a “battle buddy” you can share your feelings with regarding the deployment. The more battle buddies, the better. Hope this helps.

Vicki Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker, military spouse and mother of three, has been counseling service members and their families for 15 years. Her column, Dear Ms. Vicki, runs in The Washington Times on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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