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Children and bedtime fears

Children and bedtime fears
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Many young children will go through a period when they are fearful of going to sleep. This is a perfectly normal stage; it can be triggered by any number of things. For some children it is the dawning realisation that night time represents a separation from Mum and Dad, a developing and vivid imagination, or simply a greater understanding of the world and the fact there are things out there that aren’t always nice .

For other children, fears may be sparked by a nightmare, something scary they’ve seen on TV, or a bad dream. Wherever your child’s fear is coming from, it is a time when they need your support and understanding. Here are some tips to help guide them through with compassion and sensitivity.

1. Take them seriously – dismissing your child’s fears as silly will only serve to make them believe their feelings are worthless, driving them to suppress their fear. It is vital that you allow them the opportunity to express their concerns and offer consistent and repeated reassurance that they are safe

2. Teach coping skills – experiencing strong emotions is one thing, but knowing what to do with them is entirely another. By coaching your child in the skills they need to cope with their fears you are empowering them, helping them to feel more in control. Discuss ways of dealing with fears, such as thinking happy thoughts and being brave. It can also help to confess that grown-ups get scared sometimes too and to read stories about children who have mastered their fears

3. Be creative – imaginary fears feel very real to children, so sometimes it requires a little creativity to deal with them. Many families have a ‘Monster Spray’ that they use to banish beasties lurking under the bed or in cupboards – encouraging the child to come up with a creative way of dealing with whatever is scaring them will help them feel strong and brave. Other parents find that having a small pet in the bedroom can help their child feel protected – a goldfish, hamster or mouse can work well

4. Keep it light – most kids need a degree of subdued lighting if they are to settle to sleep, but a gentle nightlight can add a warm and friendly glow that takes the edge off the dark. Choose one together. An alternative is to leave your child’s door ajar, with a light on the landing or in a room nearby – this generally allows just enough light in to make most kids feel comforted

5. Embrace security objects – a lot of children have a favourite toy, teddy or security object that holds great significance for them. Ensuring this item is tucked up with your child at night can help enormously – they have magic powers you know …

Children and bedtime fears

6. Avoid scary imagery – some children are very visually sensitive, the merest glimpse of a scary face, monster or animal can leave a mark that lingers in the mind long after dark. Avoid watching TV shows or films that may scare your child, check through any picture books before you read them too – my son has a fear of bears, even the cuddly ones in books can spark fears that are very real to him

7. Use relaxation strategies – your child may be too young for meditation in the true sense, but it’s never too early to teach your child how to relax. Simply lying still and breathing can work well, especially if you do this together, perhaps while singing a quiet lullaby, or whispering a tale of quiet play and happy times in a peaceful setting for your child to imagine

8. Talk in the daylight – fears at night can seem far less real when discuss in the bold light of day. Take time out to chat with your child in their bedroom about what makes them scared. Often simply discussing it gives a sense of ownership that is enough to dispel the fear altogether

9. Be kind but firm – we all know that children are experts at delaying bedtime. Fears are real and should be respected, but they cannot be allowed to be an excuse for cheeky behaviour. It will help your child to feel secure if you establish limits at bedtime, such as staying in bed, no calling out and so on. While it may be tempting to cave in when your child is a sobbing, scared wreck, it’s important that they learn that bed is a safe place to be, you will only help them with that if you gently reinforce the expectation that this is where they have got to sleep

10. Be present – try staying in the room with your child if they are very afraid, gradually working up to moving out of the door altogether. And reassure them that you will check on them regularly too, then follow through on that, gradually increasing the time intervals until you no longer need to do it.

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About Cally Worden

About Cally Worden

Seasoned freelance writer Cally Worden lives with her family and dog in a quiet corner of rural France. A love of the outdoors, and a fascination with her children's ability to view life with fresh eyes provide the inspiration for much of her work. Cally writes regularly for various websites and UK print publications on subjects as diverse as parenting, travel, lifestyle, and business, and anything that makes her smile.

Website: Cally Worden

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