There is nothing like the imagination of a child. Couch cushions become stones floating on molten lava and tree branches become magic wands. However, there is a dark side to this imagination that manifests itself right around bedtime...
It is incredibly common for young children to be scared of the dark or the faceless monsters beneath the bed--in fact, nearly every child will experience some sort of "night fright" in their younger years. As a guardian, how are you supposed to deal with this terror?
Here is Snoozeenie's advice for "fighting monsters" and helping your little one fall asleep.
1. Don't tease them for being afraid. Listen and assure them of their safety. While it can be tempting to dismiss or giggle at "little kid fears," these trepidations feel very real to children. Ask them to explain what they are afraid of and then reassure them that you will keep them safe. Tuck them in. Give them a kiss. Validate your child's feelings!
2. Determine the cause for their fear and help them cope. Maybe it's the based on the sheer uncertainty of the darkness or rooted in a scary TV show they watched earlier that day--Get down to the cause of their fear so you can properly tackle the problem and teach them how to conquer it. Use an example of how you conquered a fear of yours by being brave. (Note: If the root of the fear lies in some sort of trauma, professional help is absolutely recommended.)
3. Create a nighttime routine that helps them fall asleep more easily. One way to combat their bedtime fears is to make it easier for them to fall asleep in the first place. Have a set bedtime and then lull them to sleep with soft music, a sweet bedtime story, or other relaxing activities. Determine what works best for your child and what eases their minds before bedtime. These bedtime rituals help kids feel safe in their predictability.
4. Edit their entertainment (especially right before bedtime). Be aware of what TV shows your child is watching or what books they are reading--sometimes even "kid movies" can have seriously scary stuff! Instead, opt for very light and happy entertainment options (such as a sweet fairytale) before bedtime to end the day on a positive note.
5. Create a "sleep safe space." It is important for children to feel safe in their beds. For very young children, getting a "security blanket" (either an actual blanket or stuffed animal) can help a child feel more secure and relaxed. If no amount of convincing will remove imaginary monsters, further measures may be necessary for those children with especially active imaginations--think "Monster Spray" to spray in their closets or a "Monster Shield" to sit on the end of their bed. We think Snoozeenie is particularly awesome for this job. Check it out:
6. Make clear rules, such as no leaving the bed or calling out in the night. Most of our advice so far has been very tender and understanding. However, there is a certain amount of "tough love" needed to combat nighttime fears. Clearly lay out the bedtime rules to your child and stick to them--this means no leaving the bed in the middle of the night or crying out for mom or dad. Don't constantly give into your child or risk reinforcing their scared behavior.
7. If their fright continues on into their older years or worsens, consider getting professional help. While being scared of the dark is totally normal for little kids, there is a line of concern as the child gets older or as the fear intensifies into anxiety. If your child is well into their elementary years and still scared to sleep alone, there could be more serious issues afoot. Here is a list of Symptoms and Behaviors Associated with Exposure to Trauma. Also, as mentioned in #2, if a traumatic event is the root of the fear, professional help is always recommended. This is not meant to worry you--it's just something to keep an eye on as your child matures.
Hopefully, this advice will help your child (and you!) get a better night's sleep. What other advice do you have for kids who are scared to sleep alone?