Some kids are more fearful than others and it is not uncommon for children to experience anxiety related to night time and specifically going to bed. When this happens, it can be difficult to know what to do to support your child and how to act in a way that will not reinforce their fears. Here are 5 practical suggestions on how you can help your child:
Reduce daily stress
Is your child stressed during the day? How are they coping with this? When kids are in bed, often they have the time to think about their day and go over things in their mind. It could be stress at school – struggling with work, difficulty coping with the demands at school, friendships issues – or a recent event that was distressing, family issue etc. If they are finding particular events stressful during the day, they may spend their nighttime thinking over their next day. Taking steps to reduce your child’s daily stress can help them sleep better at night.
Support them to understand the difference between their imagination and reality
Kids have big imaginations! They may see things in movies or hear things when speaking to friends that make them believe that there is something to be scared of at night time. Speaking to your kids about things that are real and imagined can be a great start to helping them understand that not everything they are scared about is real. For younger kids, it may be beneficial to monitor what TV shows they are watching so that this is not fuelling their fears.
Help them to talk openly about their fears
Kids can be worried about things that may seem silly to you as an adult. However, it is important that they feel comfortable talking about them with you and that their feelings are acknowledged. If your child says that they feel worried, try not to react in a way that may feel dismissive, such as saying ‘you’re not worried, you’re fine!’ Tell them that everyone gets scared sometimes and that you can help them to feel better. Remind them that their room is a safe place.
Set up a consistent bed time routine that includes strategies to help them wind down
Some kids can relax when they know what is happening next. Set up a routine that is predictable and consistent and that includes activities that are relaxing. These activities can become habits that help your child to self-soothe. Every kid will have different things that make them feel calm; however, including activities that are quiet and support your child to feel relaxed may be beneficial. This can include deep breathing, reading, listening to music that soothes them and having some talking time with you.
Model calm behaviour
Try and model relaxing behaviour to your child. Kids can be quite good at picking up their parents emotions. If they think that you are worried, they may think that there is something to be worried about. Be positive about the way you speak about bedtime. Also, if you set up a routine that involves relaxing strategies, model and do this with your child.
If night time worries continue, are impacting on their daily functioning or are related to stressful events occurring in their life, it may be helpful to seek support for them.
Written by Kids At Max – Psychologist