Is your child scared of sleeping?
You’ve been up since 5am. You think, only 30 more minutes and then it will be my time. You give your child a bath, read them a bedtime story and give them a kiss good night. And then…the nightmare begins and so begins the nighttime fears. When your child is scared of sleeping – there is no sleeping.
I am scared. I can’t sleep. Can you lie with me? What if…
You’ve tried all the usual tactics. Yelling. Punishment. Pleading. Nothing works. If your child is scared of sleep – your typical parenting judo won’t work.
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Your child isn’t trying to infringe on your time. They aren’t trying to be difficult. Children who are scared of sleeping feel like there is a real threat lurking around every corner.
The quickest way to help your child’s sleep issues is to address their nighttime fears. Until your child learns to overcome their fears– their nighttime troubles won’t go away.
So – how do you help that little mind relax and feel safe?
Here are 5 steps to help kids who are scared of sleeping:
FIND OUT WHAT SCARES THEM AND MAKES THEM SCARED OF SLEEPING
Don’t assume you know what scares your child. Ask them. Their answer might surprise you. For a great list of questions to ask your child, read the article Bedtime Battles or Bedtime Fears: Are you Missing the Signs? 8 Questions to Ask Your Child to Find Out.
SET UP THEIR ROOM FOR OPTIMAL SUCCESS
Lots of parents will splash out on expensive bunk beds, cute bed spreads and fun décor to entice their child to sleep in their own room. Save your money. When I talk about setting up their room for success – I am not talking Star Wars or Elsa – I am talking shadows and noises.
Sit down with your child in their dark room. Ask them what areas of their room scare them the most. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked with children in my practice who have referenced a shadow or toy that scares them at night. Often – they haven’t mentioned it to anyone else.
Remove toys and shadows that transform into creeptastic monsters when the lights go out. Save your breath and don’t tell your child there is nothing in the shadows. Instead – alter shadows, remove toys and rearrange objects that cast those monster shadows on the walls.
Ask them what areas they are afraid of the most. Under the bed? The closet? The window? Clear out any clutter under the bed that may be misconstrued as a monster in the dark. Get a flashlight and leave it under the bed. Tell your child that if their fears bother them – they can squash their fears by looking under their bed. Initially you might have to do this with them – and that’s okay.
Ask them if they prefer the closet door closed or open. Do they want the closet light on or off? Accommodating these requests will help them feel safer at night.
Are they afraid of the window? Sometimes kids feel like someone can break their window – even on the second floor. No one said fears make sense! Show them how the window is locked. If you are on the second floor – show them how it would be impossible to get to their window.
Ask them if they prefer their blinds open or shut. Many kids report feeling watched through their window.
Adapt the light and noise in your child’s room to help their nighttime fears. Often children want more light than we feel is necessary – but reducing the amount of dark corners in a bedroom can help your child relax and move past their nighttime fears.
Use a sound screen or play soft music to help your child avoid hyper focusing on sounds around the house. Children with nighttime fears are constantly listening for noises that seem unfamiliar – and this can keep them awake.
Ask your child what they worry about at night. Do they worry about bad guys? Monsters? School the next day? Their health? Do not make fun of their worries – as they are real to them. Do not try to convince them that their worries are silly.
If your child is six or older – you can help them problem-solve their nighttime fears. Have them develop rational thoughts to fight their fears.
USE GUIDED IMAGERY TO HELP DISTRACT YOUR CHILD
Guided imagery is one of my favorite methods to help kids at night. After you have made the room feel safe and you have worked on reframing their thoughts – you want your child to focus on something else.
I like to have children create a world that they can go to when they are falling asleep. You want your child to make this world as real as possible. Often children will pick themes like a candy land world or a Lego land world.
You want your child to imagine this world with all five senses. Ask them what their world looks like. Ask them what it sounds like. What it smells like. When putting your child to bed ask them to tell you about their world. When you leave their room – prompt them to think about their world.
Or you can read this book written by a behavioral psychologist that is actually designed to put kids to sleep. No joke. Desperate times call for desperate measures! You can read about the book here.
DO NOT ENABLE YOUR CHILD’S NIGHTTIME FEARS
As parents, we are tired and have a finite amount of energy to devote to these nighttime fears. The temptation to cave and lie down with our child as they go to sleep is hard to resist.
We might have our child sleep in our bed. Or it might seem easier to sleep with our child halfway through the night. If your parenting philosophy includes co-sleeping – this is not a problem. But, if you would prefer that your child sleep in their own bed – you aren’t doing your child any favors.
In a perfect world you want to teach your child that they can fight their nighttime fears and that you believe in them. You do not want to inadvertently send your child a message that they are not safe unless you are lying with them.
Often getting our scared children to sleep independently will take some time and won’t happen overnight. It has to be done in small steps – from sitting in their door frame, to walking them back to bed in the middle of the night.
Also check out my step-by-step guide on how to get toddlers to sleep – the same tactics can be applied to scared children of any age.
The key is to empower them – not desert them. You want to help your child build those coping mechanisms – and slowly encourage independent sleeping along the way.
Nighttime sleep issues are by far one of the hardest parenting issues. Everyone needs their sleep and when parents and children don’t get it – no one is happy. Hopefully this article has jump started a few ideas to get those little people snoring.
Have you had some success at helping your child who is scared of sleeping? Spread that knowledge and leave a comment below!
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