What To Do When Your Child Is Too Scared To Sleep
Nighttime fears and nightmares are extremely common in children, especially during the preschool years, but they can definitely occur in older children and adolescents as well. They are part of normal development, as a child’s imagination develops and they begin to understand that there are things that exist that can hurt them. Here are ten things you can do to if your child is too scared to sleep:
- Listen and understand. Try to understand your child's fears, and don't dismiss or make fun of them.
- Reassurance. It is important to reassure your child if he is afraid. Communicate the idea of safety over and over again.
- Teach coping skills. Teach your child coping skills and discuss alternative ways to respond, such as "being brave" and thinking positive thoughts; you can also talk about how you deal with something that you are afraid of. Also, provide examples of coping role models by reading stories about children who are afraid and conquer their fears.
- Have fun in the dark. Make being in the dark fun. Play flashlight tag. Have a treasure hunt and search for things that glow in the dark.
- Use your imagination and be creative. Use your imagination to fight imaginary fears, like monsters. Many families have found “monster spray” to be a wonderful way to help a child cope with bedtime fears. Some children are comforted by having a pet nearby for nighttime company (even a bedside fish tank may help). Whenever possible, have your child be actively involved in coming up with solutions to help him gain a sense of mastery and control.
- Security object. Help your child become attached to a security object that he can keep in bed with him. This can help your child feel more relaxed at bedtime and throughout the night.
- Nightlight. No matter what your child seems to be afraid of, a night-light can help. Nightlights are fine as long as it does not prevent your child from falling asleep. Another thing to try is leaving the bedroom door open so that your child doesn't feel isolated from the rest of the family.
- Avoid scary television shows. Keep your child away from scary TV shows, videos or stories that may add to his fears.
- Relaxation training. Teach your child relaxation strategies to help him relax at bedtime and fall asleep. For example, have your child imagine a relaxing scene, such as lying on the beach or watching a sunset.” This will give him something else to think about while lying in bed and help distract him from his fearful thoughts. Also, it is physically impossible to be relaxed and scared at the same time.
- Discuss your child's fears during the day. Talk to your child about his fears during the day and how he can be less frightened at night. Additionally, build your child's self-confidence during the day. If he feels secure during the day, this can help him feel more secure at night, too.
To learn more about this topic, read our Ask the Experts with Jodi Mindell, PhD, a leading authority on clinical sleep disorders in children and the Associate Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.