How to Handle Nighttime Fears

Today, Katy shares 7 tips for coping with nighttime fears:

We're a little sensitive around the dark and night time at my house, and I've been looking for ways to deal with bedtime and late night anxiety. With all of our many sleep travails, we have a veritable library of advice books on sleep in general, including numerous chapters on fear of the dark and going to sleep when nighttime is scary; our own pediatrician has weighed in as well. Here's what we've taken away (and ignored!) from the legions on this topic:

1. Expect sudden changes. A child who may be fine with the dark and bedtime may suddenly develop new fears as imaginations develop and exposure to more mature books and movies increases. We learned this the hard way while on vacation; while it had been fine in the early years to put our son in his own room when sleeping away from home, at age three and a half the rules changed and we needed to be with him when on the road.

2. Let there be light! A night light or low wattage table lamp can help enormously. Finding the extra blanket at the foot of the bed, a dropped lovey, and being able to see the walls and the door can add a lot of comfort and security for kids. I've been experimenting with different combinations of lights, and my own worries of there being too much brightness to allow for settling and sleep are unfounded. Since we have an extremely consistent routine, our little ones will go to sleep easily, even with lots of mood lighting.

3. Get in a routine. I learned from watching my sister with her kids that a wind down period and a consistent bed time and nighttime routine are absolutely critical for getting the little ones to bed on time. The experts agree; consistent bedtimes help set the night time clock and the natural release of melatonin right when it's time to nod off. If you're kids are wired and amped up, they're much more likely to lie awake and let their fears take hold.

4. Don't look for monsters! The experts all agree on this one; don't indulge worries by showing your little ones there are no monsters by opening closet doors and peeking under the bed. Although we have lots of fun imaginary play during the day, at night time I'm clear: monsters, witches, dragons, and their cohorts are just pretend.

5. There's a time for tough love, and a time for gentle support. You know your kids better than anyone else, and you probably know the difference between stalling when saying good night and genuine fears from a scary nightmare. Whether you're cosleeping, room sharing, side by side in a tiny apartment, or on different floors of a large house,learn to gauge when it's time for some independence, or time for some reassuring hugs or lullabies. I have found that nighttime needs are greater during and after an illness, a big change such as the start of the school year, and during travel. And while I try to be vigilant, I've also had bad judgement with certain movies and books, resulting in some night time challenges. (Tip: check a parents rating website before committing to a new movie!)

6. Build in quiet time. We're off and about a lot, and have a busy calendar and some very packed days. I know that I need to give my guys a breather when we've had a lot going on, even after, perhaps especially after lots of fun and excitement. For my family, recharging the mental batteries a few times a week with quiet afternoons in the backyard or inside (with no screens!) has a big payoff at night.

7. Hang in there. Some of the most valuable advice I have received as a parent is this too shall pass. I think I have been sleep deprived since the second trimester of my first pregnancy (gah!), but the tough sleep challenges truly test the endurance of any parent! Keep calm and stay rested, and remember that no phase of childhood, good OR bad, lasts forever.

Do your kids experience nighttime fears? What helps keep your little ones calm and secure when the lights go out?

Image credit: with typesetting by Christine Koh

FamilyChristine KohComment