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Do you have a little one who is scared to go to sleep? We have the top 10 ways to help when you find your child afraid to sleep alone.
When I was three, my parents accidentally took me to a haunted house. They thought it was for kids, very family-friendly, maybe a place filled with bobbing for apples, jack-o-lanterns, and the odd scarecrow.
It wasn’t. Going through a real, grown-up, terrifying haunted house at not-even-preschool-age could have scarred me for life. But it didn’t, because my dad held me and showed me how to cover my face in his fleece-lined coat. I remember having that special little place in my daddy’s arms, and nothing else. It’s one of those stories of an event that worried my parents much more than it worried me.
Now that I’m a mom of two, I know that giving your kids nightmares is also a parent’s worst nightmare. We do everything we can to keep our kids feeling safe, but this world isn’t perfect, and fear is usually part of the equation for every child.
So, what can a mom do when her little one is afraid? How do you soothe and help your kiddo understand reality without downplaying her fears or ignoring her imagination? What do you do when you find your chld afraid to sleep alone? When he’s anxious about the crack in the window or the shadows in his closet? How do you help them understand that monsters aren’t real without dampening their creativity and imagination?
In our Facebook group for Christian women, we often get questions by moms of who say their child is scared to go to sleep. Many parents say that their children are afraid of “everything” and they can’t figure out how to help them. I hope that by sharing some ideas and tips, we can all work together as a community to help our children grow into secure adults!
Children and Fear
So what’s the real deal with monsters and why do so many kids seem to be afraid of them? What does this mean for parents? Where do they come from? How do I help my child manage his fears without traumatizing him or sending the wrong message?
To understand why our children are afraid of monsters, we first need to understand what fright is and how it works. Infants start out with one kind of fear – survival instinct. This kind of fear actually keeps us alive! If something moves suddenly and we don’t know what it is, this triggers our survival instinct and we either freeze or flee. We call this startle reflex “Fight or Flight.” It’s a very important step in self-preservation that all animals have.
As children grow, they also develop another response to fear – displacement behavior. This happens when a child becomes increasingly distressed but doesn’t know what to do, so they cry or lash out. This is a way for them to release energy and tension when they feel overwhelmed.
For example, a child might hit another kid if they are angry at them, but don’t know how to express themselves in a healthy manner. They might also bite their nails, twirl their hair or play with a toy when they are worried or upset. This is not uncommon and it’s important to allow children the opportunity to release this energy in a constructive way. When you find your child afraid to sleep alone, they may ask for another glass of water, or cry or sneak out of their room. You get the picture.
Now let’s get back to monsters…and your child scared to go to sleep.
Thankfully, we have loads of experience in working with kids and parents. Here are a few tips that we can all use when our kids are scared to go to sleep.
10 Ways to Help When You Find Your Child Afraid to Sleep Alone
1. Change the channel
Instead of telling your kiddo that what they’re afraid of isn’t a real threat, help them imagine something else. Say, “let’s change the channel,” (or if you don’t do TV, how about, “let’s change the story”?) and guide your kiddo in imagining something beautiful and happy. I love talking about a real memory of a good time we experienced together.
2. Monster Spray
This works because it gives your kiddo power by taking action against their fears. Make a little “monster spray” that your kiddo has at their bedside. Fill a spray bottle with distilled water, a teaspoon of rubbing alcohol, and several drops of their favorite essential oil. Teach them to shake it and spray at their fears. We loved using monster spray when our boys were scared to go to sleep.
3. Talk about what they know.
Reciting truth will help your child get a bit more grounded in reality. My son has been afraid of wolves lately, and he imagines that they prowl in his room at night. When I ask him to tell me what he knows about wolves, he’ll say, “Well, they hunt and sleep in packs, they howl, and they don’t eat people.” I might remind him about where they live (i.e. not in our area!) and how safe our home is. If your child can learn facts about the source of their fears, it goes a long way in helping them feel better about it. Knowledge really is power.
4. Grownups Come Back
I’m stealing this one from Daniel Tiger for good reason – this little song has made a difference for my daughter. She simply lights up when we sing it and it’s come to our rescue more than once. Music is a powerful way to communicate, and children learn so much easier when a concept is taught in song. Even if your kiddo isn’t afraid of your absence, any song about being brave may just make a difference for them.
5. Scary Things Check
If darkness poses a problem for your child, stay with him after the lights are out and ask him if everything looks ok. If he finds something scary, go over to it and show him what it really is. You can cover up anything that looks scary, or put it in the closet. Before you go, tell your child that you are always close by and they are safe. This is a common tool for parents who find their child afraid to sleep alone.
In any situation that brings out your child’s fears, taking deep breaths can make a very big difference. A study found that deep breathing triggers neurons in the brain that tell the body to relax. So teach your child how to breathe deeply and practice together so that they have this technique down when he needs it.
Regularly practice simple ways to bond and physically soothe your child, like hugs, brushing hair, cuddling while you read together, or holding hands while you pray. Having a calm time together will also prime your child for relaxing, and it should be used before she faces her fears.
My husband and I pray with our kids every night, but we’ve also found it’s important for our kids to pray on their own, especially when they’re afraid. Let your kids say the prayer before bed, suggest prayer to them in different situations, and model a healthy prayer life. When my son saw my prayer board with sticky notes on it, he asked to make his own, and boom–he’d turned his bedroom into a war room without any prompting from me.
If you do these things, it’s likely that your child will develop his own prayer habits and turn to God when he’s afraid. It’s pretty amazing as a parent to know that your kiddo turns to God for help with facing his fears.
We also really like this book God Talks with Me About Overcoming Fears by Agnes and Salem de Bezenac.
9. Role play their fears.
Grab some of your child’s character toys or dolls, and act out the situation that triggers your child’s fears while he’s watching. First, show your child’s fearful response. The second time, have the character wonder what they can do, get an idea, and then respond differently. You can allow your child to be involved however she’d like, whether it’s offering up ideas or playing a role as one of the characters. As the parent, try to come up with more than one solution ahead of time, and get creative to see what might connect with your child. This is a great tool to try when you find your child afraid to sleep alone.Do you have a child who is scared to go to sleep? What can we do when our little one is afraid? How do you help your kid understand reality without downplaying fears or ignoring imagination? Here’s 10 ways to help when you find your… Click To Tweet
10. Make a safe place.
Kids love things like tents and forts because it sends them the message that they’re safe and cozy, much like they felt in the womb. If your child is prone to experiencing mild anxiety, create a small space for them to escape to. It could be as simple as a play tent filled with a blanket, stuffed animal, and a pillow. This always helped our boys when they were scared to go to sleep.
I hope these tips were helpful, and that will be helpful if you find your child afraid to sleep alone. My motto is to do what I can as a mom, but leave what’s out of my control safely in God’s hands.
That’s my best advice for you as well. Help your child afraid to sleep alone out with these tips while you trust that God will soothe her fears. And whenever possible, wear a fleece-lined coat.