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Helping Your Anxious Child Overcome Bedtime Fears

 

mali desha on Unsplash

You are finally settling on your couch, with the remote in your hand and ready to binge watch your latest Netflix obsession. You are just about to press play when you hear tiny feets padding down the hall.

“Mommy, I can’t sleep, I am scared!”

How many times has this happened? Your child has struggled with nighttime fears for what feels like forever and you have tried all tricks you know- setting up a regular routine, reassuring them nothing will happen, night lights, warm milk, laying down with them, etc. Nothing is working. What can you do? Here are some suggestions that can help reduce your child’s fear at night and help him / her get better sleep.

 

PINPOINTING THE FEAR

One of the most important things to do is to figure out exactly, what is causing the anxiety. Is it the fear of dark? Is it the worry about something in the closet? Is it monsters? Is it spiders? Figuring out the cause of the fear will help you come up with ways you can help your child combat it. However, do not force your child to talk about the fear if they are not ready. It is not uncommon for children to have difficulty telling the difference as to what is real and what is imaginary. Never dismiss or make fun of child’s fear. What may seem silly for adults may seem very real to your child.

NOT TO SUPPORT OR BUILD UP THESE FEARS

Once you understand the nature of your child’s fear, it is important not to build up or support these fears. For example, if your child is scared of monsters, don’t get out the monster repellent or broom to sweep the monster away. These actions tend to make children think that you believe in the imagined objects as well. These attempts to comfort your child may inadvertently create a situation in which you are delaying the bedtime and providing entertainment to your child as opposed to providing comfort.

REARRANGE THE ROOM

Are there particular spots in the room that appear darker and cause more fear in the child? Go into the bedroom during the day with your child and talk about the spots that make your child nervous. Try moving night lights and furniture for the calming room arrangement.

KEEP A SECURITY OBJECT

It may be helpful for your child to keep a security object (e.g., Special blankets, stuffed toys) to keep during the night to help him or her feel more relaxed during bedtime.

A PET FOR COMPANIONSHIP

A pet for companionship (preferably an animal that do not sleep on the bed, a fish tank is a great option) can also provide security and reduce nighttime fears. Sometime sharing bedroom with your older sibling can help reduce bedtime fears. Be sure that children are not interfering in each other’s sleep.

READ A BOOK TO HELP CALM ANXIETY AT NIGHT

There are several children book that have characters that are scared of dark. Make sure you read them those books to make them aware that they are not the only one who are scared of dark. The cartoon characters or the book characters are role model for kids, and they tend to replicate what all they do. Make sure while reading the book, stress on how they overcome the fear of dark.

YOGA

Certain yoga poses are helpful in calming the body down and getting ready for rest at night. One of my favorites is to have your child lay down on their back with the legs perpendicular up against the wall. Have their arms put to their sides. Encourage them to do some deep breathing as they lay like this. Make sure you try to make them do it on bed so that it is easy for them to transition.

BUILD SELF CONFIDENCE

It is important for your child to have daytime experiences that serve to build self-confidence. If he / she feels confident during the day, this will help with security at night as well. Depending on the age of your child and how well he / she is able to talk about fears, you may want to give your child the option of telling you about the fearful experiences and what might help him / her to feel less frightened at night.

If your child has a difficult time separating from you after being tucked in for the night, or if she / he calls out in fear soon after bedtime, go back and ask what is wrong. Reassurance can be provided by making statements that communicate the safety of your child. For example, you might say, "You are OK. We are here to make sure that you are safe. We will make sure that nothing bothers you so that you can sleep comfortably in your own bed all night."

 

If your child's problems at bedtime and during the night continue despite efforts at implementing the previous recommendations, your child may have become dependent on your attention. If you have reached this point, you may need to increase your efforts to be firm and consistent at bedtime while also providing comfort to your child and reassuring that it is safe to be in bed.

If your child's bedtime fear and anxieties continue, are severe, or are also present during the day, you should consider having a formal psychological evaluation of your child to identify and treat anxiety.

Kids need help coping with nighttime fears, and they need a helper who is sensitive to their developmental stage and individual temperament. They need someone to reassure them, to provide them with a sense of security, and to teach them how to overcome their nighttime fears.

 

In short, they need responsive, rational parenting.

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