Some years ago my partner, A, and their spouse, B, separated, and now their daughter, O, lives with A and me.

At the time everything was of course incredibly stressful for all involved, but in the intervening time (and with alot of work from us) resulting issues were mostly dealt with and things started to settle down - however the relationship between B and A is hostile at best, there is alot of resentment and bad feelings still.

Recently there were some serious incidents between B and O, and O is worried sick about how they will treat her, what they will say, what questions they will ask when she next has to have contact with them. She has good reason based on past track-record of B to assume that these things won't be friendly.

The result is that O can hardly sleep before 1 or 2 AM each night, as her contact time with B looms. We are trying to figure out a solution to the problem, and I think we will, but until we come up with something she is exhausted each day and stressed due to her lost sleep.

The things we've tried to help her sleep are:

  • talking about her problems with her, offering appropriate advice
  • listening to her and validating how she feels
  • calm music, audiobooks
  • making her feel safe so she can talk openly about how she feels
  • making it OK to be awake, to avoid stressing about not sleeping (which was an issue before)
  • warm milk, hot water bottle, night light
  • night rescue, a bach flower remedy

Given how much stress and worry O is under, and that our efforts to reassure her have been proportional to that, is there a way that we can help O deal with her worry and sleep more easily?


We tried something new over the weekend, taking advice from some of the answers here. In the evening, after dinner we had 1 hour of quiet play and talk time, we played card games and fooled around mostly. O talked about her worries during this time and we responded as we would normally, and reassured her that. Then I filled up her hot water bottle, made sure she had her night light and some calm music to listen to, and gave her some night rescue ( a herbal remedy for worries and repetitive thoughts ).

And the result was a good nights sleep - not a peek!

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    Because you've supplied evidence that her emotional health and physical health are both being affected, I would suggest seeking professional help from a therapist or some sort of psychiatric specialist. You may also want to consider re-evaluating the length of time O spends at B's (presumably with B's current partner?). A qualified professional, again, can help you with that determination and maybe even give you advice on how to structure visits with O and B (and B's partner?) to improve their relationship, or at the very least not harm O's mental and emotional well-being.
    – user11394
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 3:22
  • @CreationEdge thanks for the advice, B does have a partner also. Unfortunately contact can only be changed by mutual agreement so B would have to agree to less contact, but O has expressed she wants less. I'll take your advice about a therapist, I know one who can atleast put me in touch with the right people. thanks.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 3:26
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    I see. It sounds like she really is justified in losing sleep over this, so there's going to be a real limit to how much you can do with reassurance, and you're already doing all the obvious things. If there is real abuse happening then you need to alert social services and you need immediate legal advice on calling an emergency hearing and suspending the ex-partner's unsupervised access to the child. Mechanism for doing that will vary by country - here in the UK you could be speaking to a judge later today, for a hearing in 3 to 5 days time.
    – A E
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:23
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    @AE you're right. we're taking things further... I don't want to post details but this is a line for me, today. It's time to make sure this can't happen again.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:33
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    @nurgle, glad to hear you're taking it further. Don't feel forced to post too many details.
    – A E
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:34

4 Answers 4


Without a thought, to protect my daughter, I would happily and honorably sacrifice my life. I have actually kidnapped her from her mother (legally, yes), denied legal visitation after being asked what to do when her mother went into a bar and she had to sleep in a plastic bag behind a bush outside, and rescued her when my ex-father in-law remanded her to my custody with the words, "Now she is in good hands."

Each time I had to act to protect her, my spirit was torn some... not because I had to act, but because her spirit was torn some.

I felt that preface to this answer necessary because there are unpleasant things and there are things no child should ever have to experience. I wish to address both since you said, "there were some serious incidents".

If the child is in imminent danger and a real threat to her safety exists, then do not hesitate to deny visitation to her other parent. In the US (I am not in the UK), a parent has a right to do that and the only recourse is for the police to get involved or a court order to be sought by the other party. Just be sure to document everything and know the laws in your locality!

Many courts have some policy of over a certain age, then the child is heard by the court. When I was young and my parents were divorcing, they asked my view in private chambers and reasons for my views so as to take them into consideration even though I was not within the statutory age.

Now, if she is forced to go to the other parent by legal means, then you cannot interfere. Since, however, she is 9yo, she does have the ability to occasionally find a phone and dial the police when she is being illegally treated (it is imperative that this be properly defined for her in a way she comprehends). She can also tell a school nurse or other official of any abuse since they (at least in the US) are obligated to report it to the authorities. Such action begins to force the hand of those who otherwise would not interfere, but it also opens the Pandora's Box of complication, so act thoughtfully in choosing which options to avail yourself of.

If her experience(s) are not so catastrophic, then the question becomes how to help her cope with those persons who touch our lives in unconstructive manners. For that question, there are a variety of answers which largely depend on her demeanor. Given that she is fearing her upcoming visitation with the other parent and in the context of this paragraph, I take it that she has a soft, loving, sensitive demeanor. In that case, I have found that letting her talk and explain her fears and then asking questions leading her to develop her own coping mechanisms is best... provided she knows that 24x7 -- and every microsecond inbetween -- she can reach out and you will be there... she needs a rock, a foundation, a safe place she can always retreat to.

As life progressed and her mother mellowed, per se, my daughter would call me crying that she couldn't take it anymore and tell me all about things. I would empathize, sympathize, and provide what wisdom I could (except where she was wrong, and then I would work to correct her thinking). Her mother would frequently get on the phone afterward and accuse me of all manner of thing, wanting to know what I said. She never believed that I almost always simply listened; that we all want to be heard and appreciated.

Unfortunately, no matter how we desire to bend space and time for our children, sometimes it is only space and/or time which can help them find the answer within themselves, very often with the words, ideas, or philosophies we have shared.

I hope sharing my view and our experiences helps your family to find as peaceful a resolution as can be had... and, at the very least, the safest solution.

P.S. Nature has never found a substitute for a parent's arms giving you strength in your hardest times... they are the word unsaid, the love untold, and the comfort of our soul.

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    Today, so many cell phone options are available. Giving the child a cell phone with limited capabilities, but which insures she has access to parent B at all times, might be a consideration. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 5:40
  • thankyou for this. my spirit was torn some... not because I had to act, but because her spirit was torn some. this is exactly how I feel. the serious incidents in my opinion were abuse, however to take it further I need proof, which I am seeking. Me and A are doing our best to limit the damage, but we are bound to allow the visitation, we can't deny except by mutual agreement, without breaking the law where we are. The good news is O will be able to choose... but not for another 2 years.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 10:23
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    Jeremy is right. If there is an abusive relationship, things can be changed. If she is that scared then clearly stuff has happened as you have said, and so it is actually an abusive situation for the authorities to make her go to them as it is dis-empowering her. Hopefully child psychologists and social workers where you are will see that, but she can't keep this up for another two years. I don't want to put an answer as Jeremy's is so spot on but this is getting long now, regardless you must get the authorities involved. You have a voice with the authorities and so does your daughter. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 11:03
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    It's also the case that in the UK that "if there is an issue of safety or violence then contact can be [unilaterally] refused" - 'Can I refuse contact?', Coram Children's Legal Centre, 'Contact' factsheet. See also the 'domestic violence' section in the same factsheet.
    – A E
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:39

I'll comment on the sleep issue since the other issues seem to be addressed.

Do whatever it takes to get your child the calm and sleep she needs. Focus on a very regular sleep ritual, comfort, teddy bear, flower essence, whatever, then if necessary some sleep medication (more on this later), then a song, a short story, and a goodnight kiss!

  • talking about her problems with her, offering appropriate advice
  • listening to her and validating how she feels

Are you doing this at bed-time? Listening to her verbalize her worries right before sleep? Validating negative feelings? I'm not sure, but it seems that could be anxiety raising. There are other ways to deal with her problems during the day, using play therapy, role playing with dolls, music therapy, etc.

I had severe trauma every day when I was 12. I found great comfort in sleep. I would think about how I was going to be able to be asleep and safe for hours and hours. Sleep preparation was a time to forget about all worries. It was a time to not-thing about the day or the next-day. Mornings weren't so great, but sleep wasn't a problem. It's all how one looks at it.

  • making it OK to be awake, to avoid stressing about not sleeping (which was an issue before)

Children are rarely, if ever, naturally "stressed" about not-sleeping. They tend to enjoy being up. Why would a child be stressed about not sleeping? The only thing I can imagine is that the parents got stressed about her not sleeping, and so the child became stressed. The answer is not to make it "OK to be awake" (which would be counter-productive to establishing sleep), but rather, for the parents to be not-stressed if she's awake. That doesn't mean it's "OK to be awake". She needs to be asleep. With calm, non-stressed parents. :)

I assume when you say "night rescue" your referring to one of the Bach Flower Essences, which are mostly placebo in affecting physiology. I'm a strong believer in the value of ritual, placebo, and love in producing calm. But worrying about "reliance" seems misplaced. There's nothing wrong with "relying" on love or a teddy bear or Bach Flower Essences or anything that gives your child comfort! Your child needs sleep. If a teddy bear solves that, then why not a teddy bear? If a nice smelling flower essence solves that, then why not? If she enjoyed story telling, would you withhold that for concern about her developing a reliance on that? Of course not. A more regular ritual is better.

The value of any therapy used to address a problem is assessed in terms of benefit vs. harm and compare that with not using the therapy at all. I get the feeling that your concern about reliance on the Bach Flower Remedy (nice smelling brandy and water mixtures) means sleep meds are out of the question? But the benefit of any sleep aid (incl. medication) may outweigh the psychological problems, stress, and related trauma this child is going through in what may be gyrations about his/her sleep. Given that you are (I assume) anti-medication, even if you did allow her some mild, Dr. approved medication (or Dr. approved strong herbal) to help her sleep, the chance of her becoming reliant on that long-term is about 0%. Because you're the parent.

I'm saying this sincerely as perhaps another perspective in order to try to help this child sleep and reduce this child's anxiety about the whole thing. Put the child's need for sleep higher than your own fears and ideologies. Compromise in his/her favor.

I'm not there. I'm giving armchair advice. I don't have to deal with all the nuances. I don't have the answers. I'm only suggesting a perspective based on my intuition. I could be right. I could be wrong. You sound very caring and I'm sure you'll do your best.

See a child health professional, of course.

  • to address your questions: talking happens not before bed, but if she can't sleep - we do make time for this at other points in the day but it may be an idea to make it more during the day and less at night. Validating how she feels - by this I basically mean listening well and empathising.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:05
  • OK to be awake means that it's not something to be disciplined for, we make sure we aren't grumpy or give off any signals that her being awake is somehow an issue - it's not encouraged but we make it clear that there aren't repercussions aside from the natural consequences of staying up late.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:15
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    lastly, the reliance thing - I totally concede this is one of my own principles, and having it pointed out to me makes me think about it. I think tonight I will try having calm down and talk time prior to bed rather than after bedtime, and night rescue after that. If it helps, maybe it can be a new ritual. Thankyou for the perspective.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 14:21
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    FYI - you may want to explain the connection between Night Rescue and the Bach Flower Remedies, as I didn't get that (and initially had a very different understanding of the post as a result!).
    – Joe
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 21:00
  • @joe good point, i notice more than one has asked about it - I've updated.
    – nurgle
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 0:12

I would like to suggest yoga and or meditation as well. The skills taught in these practices will help her cope not just with this stress but with any future stresses she comes across.

This is just in addition the the above answers. Seeing a professional is a great option as well, just as someone to talk to. Sometimes advice from an outside source feels more profound because we become desensitized to the people we are around constantly.

And a therapist can help her understand other peoples actions more than the yoga/meditation. She needs to understand that what her parents do is not a reflection on her or how they feel about her. As someone who came from an abusive household and was later adopted, I can tell you that this is very difficult to grasp as a child. Children naturally think "What did I do to make this happen," and "How can I fix this." When really, there is nothing that she can do to change her mothers behavior, nothing,

I personally wouldn't go to sleep medication, which is highly dependency forming (read: addictive), until all other avenues are exhausted. Medication will just cover up the symptoms but wont help the real problem.

Rather than thinking of it as "solve this immediate issue" think of the problem as "how to provide her with stress management skills that will last a lifetime."

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    zenhabits.net/zm Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 19:30
  • @ChrisShouts - Great resource!
    – user7678
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 20:53

Have you tried meditation? It might be good for all of you.

I used to consider meditation just a "hippy" thing, but there is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting its beneficial effects. Some of that, as well as the limits of the research so far, can be found here.

This is not really a forum for "how" but here are some basics:

  1. Find a quite space

  2. Sit in a comfortable position. As a beginner, don't worry about the "lotus" position or anything like that. I prefer a chair or sofa that has a little back support.

  3. Close your eyes

  4. Concentrate on your breathing. In. Out.

  5. As thoughts come into your head, just acknowledge that they are just thoughts and let them go.

  6. When you catch yourself stuck on a thought, don't beat yourself up, just go back to focusing on your breathing

  7. Start with a short time period, like 5 minutes and work your way up.

  8. You can either set a timer or put on some instrumental music that lasts that long. (I typically just go on youtube and search for "X minute meditation music"


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