It is normal for children to experience anxiety at bedtime and at the same time it is very important for parents to be prepared to provide age appropriate support that helps children to feel safe and not to feel dismissed or to have fears worsened.
Research indicates that children predisposed for generalized anxiety are more likely to experience nighttime anxiety. In other cases children may experience nighttime fears situationally such as after having had a nightmare or connected to fear inducing circumstances that have occurred during the day.
Nighttime can feel like a vulnerable time. It is in our human nature to need to feel safe and secure in order to relax enough to sleep. When it’s dark and a child is feeling alone in her bedroom, it is normal to have anxiety arise.
Here are some tips for what parents can do to help children with nightmare fears:
- Feeling secure at night begins during the day. Parents can set the state for a restful and sense of security at night by being readily available to help children feel seen, heard, understood and connected during the day. By cuddling with your child throughout the day when together with plenty of connecting activities and conversations, when children go to bed they are more likely to feel that sense of connection linger.
- Help your child feel prepared for nighttime ahead of time. It’s important to
acknowledge and normalize your child’s worries at bedtime. You can empower your child by working together to come up with ways the child can remember that he is safe and secure after going to bed at night. Does he need a night light? A special lovey to cuddle with? One of your shirts that smells like you? Soft music? Visualizing your love hugging him all night long?
- Keep it positive and affirming. It’s important to never dismiss a child’s fears but at the same time you want to affirm her safety, assuring her you are right downstairs or across the hall at night and that you will make sure the house and family are safe and secure. If a young child is afraid of monsters, it’s not helpful to tell her monsters are not real. It’s more important you acknowledge how scary those feelings and thoughts are that she is having and then help her realize with some help she can learn to use her mind powerful to overcome those scary thoughts.
- Children need connection first and then coping skills. While you want your child to learn to have a restful, autonomous nighttime experience, he first needs to have experiences that reassure he is not alone and he is connected and loved. If your child is getting out of bed with anxiety and fear, it’s important to first reassure, give a warm hug and with encouragement and some ideas for self-soothing and coping skills, empower your child to try again.
If the above efforts don’t seem to be helping, it might be time to bring your child in to see a child therapist for play therapy and parenting resources. Sometimes children have anxiety that is so great at nighttime both the child and the parents need a bit of professional support. Please feel free to contact me directly and let’s discuss how I can help you and your child!