Recently, my oldest child has been experiencing a lot of overnight fears, and “bad dreams”. These periods of time seem to come and go, and often do correspond with times where he has been more busy, more overstimulated, and somewhat overtired.
Anxiety is a prevalent issue that many adults and children deal with. In fact, “experts” say that up to 40% of children are believed to struggle with sleep for reasons related to anxiety. But, did you know anxiety can appear in children as early as 6 months of age?
For most young children (age 6 months to 3 years), separation anxiety is the predominant form of anxiety related to sleep issues.
But what about the monsters under the bed, the dark, that doll that looks just a little too real, or the infinite number of scary things their little minds can create?
When kids are up all night, you are too, but it can be incredibly difficult to convince your little one that they have nothing to be afraid of, and that their mind is simply playing tricks on them. So what can you do to help your little one overcome their fears? Whether your child is 2 or 12, you can handle things much the same way:
Empathize: Even though their fear may be irrational or impossible, helping your child feel emotionally safe is a vital part of overcoming any fear or anxiety.
Validate Their Emotions: Use phrases like, “I know you’re feeling scared right now,” or “I know what it’s like to feel afraid,” and “I’m going to help you” to reassure your child.
Identify the Fear: Try to have your child tell you what they’re afraid of rather than guessing and potentially giving them new ideas.
Fact Check: Explain to them and give examples of why their fear is unlikely to come true (using age appropriate information of course)
Eliminate stimulants: Avoid caffeine or sugary food/drinks before bed.
A Bedtime Story or Song: A good story or song can help refocus your child’s mind. A positive imaginary world is likely to promote healthy sleep and less fear.
Make bedtime fun! Consider buying a fun night light or keep a flashlight under the pillow. Let your child choose a favorite blankie or bedtime buddy. Talk about being brave or read stories where heroes conquer a fear.
Reassurance: Remind your child constantly that you are there, and they are safe.
Bedtime routines are sure to be unique to each family and how you deal with anxieties or fears is sure to be too. Hopefully building an arsenal of tips and tricks will help you along the way.
One of the things that does work best for our 5 year old, is a place to stay the night in our master bedroom when he is feeling scared. We have a mattress set up for him, and if he feels he needs close proximity that night, he comes in and tucks himself in. He doesn’t need any intervention from us, so we all get more sleep this way!
As always, if there is anything more I can do to help – please let me know. Sweet Dreams!