How To Tame Your Child's Nighttime Fears

“But mommy, there are monsters in here,” my little girl cried as I tried to coax her to go to sleep a few nights ago. There have been nights when my children would run into our room and beg to sleep with us. But we wanted them to be able to go to sleep in their own beds and tried several different techniques to help conquer their fear of the dark. If your child has trouble going to sleep because of nighttime fears, try these techniques to help him tame those internal monsters.

Read stories, or make up your own stories, about children bravely, or humorously, conquering the fear of the dark, shadows, monsters, or whatever else about which your child expresses concern.

Give your child a totem that helps him take control of his fears.
—Fill a spray bottle with water and label it “monster tamer” or “monster spray” and spritz the room before bed.

—Shake a little talc mixed with sparkles or just an empty bottle with the words “magic dust” around the room.

—Help him make a sign for the door: “No monsters allowed!”

—Buy new pajamas or a pillowcase that you declare monster-proof.

Make a thorough search of the room part of your bedtime ritual.

Make a ritual of shouting, sweeping, or throwing out any lurking monsters before bed. Close doors to scary closets. Go on a monster hunt to reassure your child that the coast is clear.

Tell your child that the monsters are more scared of him, and he has the power to frighten them away.

Give your child a flashlight to keep next to his bed, or next to his pillow, to use if he wakes up afraid in the middle of the night.

Make your child protector of his toys. Have him reassure a favorite stuffed animal, and reassure him that his stuffed animals will watch over him.

Take a walk together at night, or lie out on a blanket under the stars to make warm, comforting associations with nighttime and the dark.

Eliminate violent or frightening books, movies, and cartoons.

Ask your child to draw you a picture of what frightens him, so you can talk about it and make it seem less powerful.

If your child becomes afraid of shadows in his room at night, use daytime to teach him about shadows, make shadow puppets, and play tag with his own shadow.

If your child is afraid of thunderstorms, make a game out of thunder and lightening, counting as high as you can between each bolt and the clap, and seeing if you can clap or roar louder than the thunder.

If your child is spooked by night sounds, keep a tape player by his bed with a soothing tape he enjoys to lull hime to sleep. If he wakes in the night, he can play it for himself.

Draw pictures of things your child loves, or cut them from magazines, to fill a box. Have him select a picture from the box to think about while falling asleep.

Tuck your child’s sheets around him snugly.

Give him something warm to drink to calm and sooth him before bed.

Provide soft lighting in his room. Move or remove a light that your child thinks throws frightening shadows on the walls.

Don’t trivialize your child’s fears. Acknowledge them and explain some of your own childhood fears and how you got past them. Confiding your own fears as a child will normalize your child’s fears and help him feel more in control of his emotions and hopeful about conquering his fears.

Allow your child to come to terms with his fear slowly, rather than confronting it head-on.

If your child wakes from a nightmare, talk a little about it with him. Sharing it should help him feel reassured. Rewrite for him a happy ending, in which he vanquishes whatever scary thing he faced in the dream. Hang a dream catcher in a corner of his room, and explain how it will help catch any nightmares or bad dreams. Let him know that dreams are magical things over which he as the dreamer has control.

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