Every parent knows this scene: the sun has already set and you and your child have just finished your bedtime ritual. Now it’s time to go to sleep but the toddler refuses – he or she are afraid of the monsters under the bed. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to make your child feel safe and sleep well. Now what do you do?
The first thing to note is how common nocturnal fears are in kids. A study in the Netherlands found that 73.3% of the children reported nighttime fears. This phenomenon is well-known and prevalent, and it’s important that you acknowledge your son or daughter’s fears and be sensitive and patient with them. The monsters under the bed may not be real but the anxiety absolutely is!
Try to be honest with them and use the opportunity to build trust and feelings of security rather than pretend to chase the monsters away yourself. Think about it this way: what will you do if they come back again tomorrow? Or worst yet, if it returns during the night? Chasing the monster away for them may actually signal to them that the monster is very real and that they depend on you to fight it.
There are several things that can help you and your child “deal” with the monsters. Try and maintain a fixed, predictable routine in the evenings. This might help your toddler feel safe. Additionally, keep track and be aware of what content your children are exposed to. Maybe their seeing things in TV shows that are scaring them and feeding into their fears?
As mentioned above – with nighttime fears, honesty is often the best policy. Teach your child the difference between dreams and reality and reassure them that while dreams can be very scary, they can’t hurt them. You can read a book together and learn that these monsters are only made-up characters and not real.
During daytime, you can find fun, creative outlets for the child’s nightmares and use them as a therapeutic activity. You can try storytelling: let the child describe their fears with a narrative. Let her or him describe the monster to you and then you can ever fight it together in pretend play. This might help the child realize that their fears are coming from inside, from the imagination, and cannot hurt them in reality.
Or how about art – for instance drawing the monsters on paper. Encourage your kids to really create a detailed image. This allows them to express and confront their anxieties in a safe environment. After the image is ready you can even lighten it up by making it cuter (googly eyes, anyone?!), dressing it funny etc. The more power you can take away from the monster, the better.
You can also use comforting objects and helpers: a small night light, a stuffed animal to sleep with and so on. If your child is afraid of the night, remind them of all the great things about it: you get to see the moon and stars, everything is peaceful and quiet, they can cuddle in bed.
How do you help your children with nocturnal fears?
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