Children and Bedtime Fears and Nightmares

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Jodi Mindell, Sleep and Children Expert

Jodi Mindell

What should I do if my child says he or she is too scared to go to sleep?

  • Listen and understand. Try to understand your child’s fears. Don't dismiss or make fun of them.
  • Reassurance. It is important to reassure your child if he is afraid. Communicate the idea of safety over and over again.
  • Teach coping skills. Teach your child coping skills and discuss alternative ways to respond, such as "being brave" and thinking positive thoughts. You could talk about how you deal with something that you are afraid of. Also, provide examples of coping role models by reading stories about children who are afraid and conquer their fears.
  • Have fun in the dark. Make being in the dark fun. Play flashlight tag. Have a treasure hunt and search for things that glow in the dark.
  • Use your imagination and be creative. Use your imagination to fight imaginary fears, like monsters. Many families have found “monster spray” to be a wonderful way to help a child cope with bedtime fears. Some children are comforted by having a pet nearby for nighttime company (even a bedside fish tank may help). Whenever possible, have your child be actively involved in coming up with solutions to help him gain a sense of mastery and control.
  • Security object. Help your child become attached to a security object that he can keep in bed with him. This can help your child feel more relaxed at bedtime and throughout the night.
  • Nightlight. No matter what your child seems to be afraid of, a night-light can help. Nightlights are fine as long as it does not prevent your child from falling asleep. Another thing to try is leaving the bedroom door open so that your child doesn't feel isolated from the rest of the family.
  • Avoid scary television shows. Keep your child away from scary TV shows, videos or stories that may add to his fears.
  • Relaxation training. Teach your child relaxation strategies to help him relax at bedtime and fall asleep. For example, have your child imagine a relaxing scene, such as lying
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