Calming Your Child's Night Fears
By Katrina Cassel
You've put your little one to bed, straightened the house; now it's time to relax. Suddenly you're interrupted by "Mommmmmy..." from your child's bedroom. Upon investigation you find out that there are scary things under the bed or in the closet or maybe outside the window.
Why children are afraid
Young children are often afraid of the dark. Fears may be triggered after seeing a scary movie or hearing a spooky story. One mother found that her son suddenly became monster aware after hearing the story, Where the Wild Things Are.
Children also have vivid imaginations. A shadow cast by a tree outside becomes a giant. A scraping at the window is a hairy monster trying to get inside.
Night fears may also occur because of life changes such as a move, starting daycare, the birth of a sibling or unusual stress.
Chasing away the night monsters
Since both you and your child need sleep, the goal is to help your child sleep through the night in his own bed without needing you. Here are some suggestions.
Listen to and acknowledge your child's fears. Saying, "Monsters are not real" or "There's nothing to be afraid of," won't help. Instead say, "I know you are afraid in your room in the dark. It must be scary for you."
Assure your child of your presence. Let him know you are nearby and will come when he calls.
Avoid exposure to "scary" books, TV shows and cartoons. Even shows that aren't meant to be scary might be misunderstood by a child.
Establish a comforting bedtime routine. Stories, talking and patting a back may all be part of the routine.
Ask your child what would help chase the scary things away. It might be a special nightlight, leaving on a bedside lamp or role-playing what to do if he becomes afraid at night.
Decide what to do when your child is afraid. Should the child call you? Will you sit beside him while he falls asleep? Letting your child know you're there for him will comfort him.
Be consistent. Stick with your game plan, unless it just isn't working. Then look for another solution or talk to other parents who have been through the night fear problem.
If your child doesn't outgrow the fears or they increase over time, you may want to have your child talk with a counselor or therapist to find out if something else is troubling your child. However, with love and consistency, most children are able to overcome their night fears.