28 Feb How to Conquer Bedtime Fears
Bedtime battles are part of parenthood. From the colicky baby, to the fear of a ‘big girl bed’, to the sheer terror of monsters your seven-year-old is SURE exist, bedtime battles and bedtime fears can be exhausting and frustrating.
Child development tells us that despite our frustration, and lack of sleep due to our child’s nighttime behavior, bedtime fears are a normal, albeit frustrating part of development (keep this in mind when you wonder where you went wrong- you didn’t!).
As children grow, so do their brains. Seven is known as the ‘Age of Reason’, aka the ‘Age of Anxiety’. Why? Because the brain is more developed and taking in more information than a child can emotionally process. Activities that children loved at four, may suddenly become their worst nightmare at seven. At four, your child jumped off the high dive with no fear; they had floaties, and ‘drowning’ was not a concept they understood. At seven, your child has been exposed to multiple swim lessons, safety videos and has been warned of the dangers, and possibly even seen someone being rescued from the water. Hence, along with reason and understanding, come additional fears.
So, what can be done when it comes to bedtime fears? Read on for tips on how to help your child navigate their bedtime fears.
Fear of the Dark
Your child is young and does not have enough life experience to know that nighttime is not to be feared; remember their developmental stage, and practice empathy.
- Let your child pick out their own special nightlight
- Leave a closet light on
- Leave the bedroom door open, and a light on in the hall
Fear of Being Alone
Your child went through the ‘clingy stage’ as an infant, this stage is known to reoccur throughout childhood, at different intervals.
- Let your child pick out a special nighttime stuffed animal, one that keeps them safe
- Lay down with your child for 10 minutes, before exiting the room
- Promise to check in on your child after 15 mins
- Let your dog sleep in your child’s room
- Allow siblings to have ‘sleep overs’ in each other’s rooms
Can’t Fall Asleep
Sleep regression happens at around 4 months for most infants, again when growing pains occur, and when your child reaches puberty and teenage hood. The developmental happenings in the brain, often rewire a child’s brain and desire for sleep.
- Create a predictable bedtime routine
- Cut out screen time 45-60 minutes before bed
- Share the highlights of your day together, to aid in your child’s brain unwinding
- Rub your child’s back, or complete tense and release exercises
- Read a story with your child
- Play soft music, or use a sound machine
- Look into a natural sleep aid, such as melatonin
Won’t Stay in Bed Throughout the Night
It’s the weekend and your child still wakes up at 6am! Maybe Daylight savings has wrecked your sense of well-being, or maybe, maybe your child is just ready for the day before you are ready to face yours.
- Invest in an ‘Okay to Wake’ clock
- Allow your child to sleep in a sleeping bag on your floor
- Walk child back to their room, and lay with them for 10 minutes
- Avoid starting screen time to aid in falling back asleep; the lights emitted from the screen will keep your little one awake!
Nightmares, and the Fear of Nightmares
Nightmares, we have all had them. But as adults we can usually shake the feelings of stress when we wake up from a bad dream, your child however, may need some help.
- Empathize and rationalize your child’s fears
- Share how you overcame nightmares
- Aid child in creating a happy thought/story for your child to focus on ‘create your own dream’
- Practice ‘Worry Time’ and put all the worries into a ‘Worry Box’ where they can’t get out
Bedtime fears happen at different intervals of life, but don’t fear, you are not alone! Get together with your parent friends and ask how they navigated the bedtime battles; share the tips above and remember don’t give up after one bad night! It takes 3 weeks to form a habit when you are a child, and 6 when you are an adult.
North Shore Family Services is a team of skilled and approachable therapists that help parents, children, teens, adults, and couples reduce anxiety and stress, learn effective problem-solving techniques, and manage emotions and behaviors that inhibit personal, school, family, and relationship success. We make therapy a productive, engaging and relaxing place for everyone to work hard and make the improvements they desire. To find the right-fit therapist for you and your family, visit our clinician’s page.