The fear of going to bed at night in the dark is one that is very real to many young children. Children usually begin to fear the dark, or have anxiety about monsters in the closet, or under their beds, or simply just be terrified whenever they have to go to bed around age 2. This can last till age 8 or 9.
These are the years when your child’s imagination is exploding, which means he can now imagine new and terrifying things to be afraid of and add to the list of nighttime fears.
Because they spend so much of their days immersed in the fantasy company of dragons, spaceships, evil princes, dinosaurs, and general bad guys, it can be difficult for them to switch off their imaginations and fall asleep.
Even familiar things that have never been frightening before, such as their darkened bedroom, may suddenly appear frightening in the context of what they’ve been conjuring up all day.
In addition to having a more vivid imagination where the possibility of an invisible creature under their bed seems very real to them, kids at these ages are also beginning to understand that there are things in the world that can harm them.
As your child learns to distinguish between fantasy and reality, you, as a parent, international nanny, or guardian, have to address and reassure your child so that those fears will not inhibit his or her ability to fall and stay asleep.
Your job for the next ten years or so, will be to help your child distinguish between a true danger, like accepting a ride from a stranger, and something that just feels like one. For instance, the “witch” in the space between the wall and his or her bed.
If your child’s nighttime fears are preventing him or her from falling asleep or sleeping through the night, you may want to consider some of the suggestions below to help reduce your child’s fear during the night and help him or her get better sleep.
Find out what scares them and why it makes them feel that way
Kids at this age are not very articulate, but they do know how to express what they feel. Talking to them gently and asking them what they are afraid of should be the first step.
It makes them feel heard, and reassures them that you care about understanding these nighttime fears instead of being mad at, disappointed, or upset with them.
Once you know what scares them, you need to put in measures to fix that fear. For example, if it’s the dark they’re afraid of, you can get him or her a nightlight. Ask questions like:
- What is the most difficult part about going to bed?
- What is one thing you’d change about your bedtime routine to make it better? What would it look like?
- What kind of things do you think about when you’re trying to sleep?
- What keeps you up the most when you want to sleep?
- What makes it hard to go to bed?
- Is there something you’d change in your room when going to bed? What is it?
- How does it feel when I say it’s time to go to bed?
These are easy but descriptive questions that will help them feel more at ease to tackle the bedtime horrors. However, if your child is not ready, do not force him or her to discuss the fear. Never dismiss or mock a child’s fear. A fear that appears ridiculous to an adult may appear very real to a child.
Do not reinforce those nighttime fears
Once you understand the nature of your child’s fear, it is critical that you do not support or reinforce it. For example, if he or she is afraid of monsters, do not use monster repellent spray or a broom to chase the monster away.
These actions give children the impression that you believe in the imagined object as well. It may be beneficial for your child to explore fears during the day. Take care not to create rituals to “clear the room of monsters.”
You might just make them believe in these nighttime fears. And these attempts to comfort your child may inadvertently result in you delaying bedtime and providing entertainment for your child, rather than comfort.
Instead, encourage your child to confront and understand their fears in a safe and supportive environment. Engage in open conversations about what might be causing the fear and offer reassurance. Implementing a consistent bedtime routine can create a sense of security, making the transition to sleep smoother.
Remember, the goal is to empower your child to manage their fears independently. Provide tools like a comforting night light or a favorite stuffed animal that can act as a source of comfort. Gradually exposing them to the idea that they are capable of overcoming their fears fosters resilience and a positive mindset.
By promoting a healthy approach to fears, you not only assist your child in overcoming nighttime anxieties but also contribute to their emotional development. Understanding and addressing fears during the day helps build a foundation for lifelong coping strategies, allowing your child to grow with confidence and emotional intelligence.
Set up their room in a comforting way
Sit in your child’s dark room with them. Inquire as to which parts of their room scares them the most. When the lights go out, toys and shadows transform into creepy monsters that fuel their nighttime fears. Tell your child that there is nothing in the shadows and remove toys, and rearrange objects that cast monster shadows on the walls.
Inquire about their most fearful areas in the room. Remove any clutter from those parts that could be misinterpreted as a monster in the dark. Hide a flashlight beneath the bed and tell your child that if their fears are bothering them, they can get rid of them by looking under their bed. You may have to do this with them at first, which is fine.
Inquire whether they prefer the closet door closed or open. Should the closet lights be turned on or off? Meeting these requests will make them feel more secure and ease their nighttime fears. Are they frightened of the window? Even on the second floor, kids have the impression that anyone can break their window. Nobody ever said that fears make sense! Show them how to lock the window.
Show them how difficult it would be to get to their window if you are on the second floor. Inquire whether they prefer their blinds open or closed. Many children report feeling watched out their window.
Adapt light and noise levels in your child’s room to alleviate their nighttime fears. Children may often want more light than we believe is necessary, but reducing the number of dark corners in a bedroom can help your child relax and conquer their nighttime fears.
Don’t forget positive reinforcement, or reward systems
This could take the form of a sticker programme turned in for a favourite treat, breakfast treats, small toys, or other special prizes for your child. Use positive language, such as “you’re doing a fantastic job of staying in bed.” Don’t forget to let the child talk about his or her fears during the day.
Allowing your child to snuggle with his or her favourite soft toy or security blanket throughout the night can provide additional comfort and security. If your child wants to use the light, leave it on the lowest setting or provide a night light. You may also leave the bedroom door open, as long as the child understands that walking out while they’re supposed to be in bed is not acceptable.
If your child wakes up in the middle of the night and is afraid to go back to sleep, reassure them that they are safe and that you are nearby to help battle the nighttime fears. If your child gets out of bed during the night and comes into your room, return them to their bed and reassure them of their safety. It is critical not to force your child out of bed; instead, teach them that their bed is a safe and comfortable place.
Losing sleep takes a toll on both you, and your child. If you can’t be home on any day or number of days, there are many international nanny jobs open with professionally trained bedtime nannies who can stay with your child at those times. Take advantage of such services.
Remember, your child is just a normal human like you, only a little smaller, and is legit scared of something, and treat them with the same kindness you’d want if you were scared of something. All the best!