Children and Bedtime Fears and Nightmares

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  • on the beach or watching a sunset. This will give him something else to think about while lying in bed and help distract him from his fearful thoughts. Also, it is physically impossible to be relaxed and scared at the same time.
  • Discuss your child’s fears during the day. Talk to your child about his fears during the day and how he can be less frightened at night. Additionally, build your child's self-confidence during the day. If he feels secure during the day, this can help him feel more secure at night, too.
  • Set limits. At the same time that you are reassuring your child, you do need to set limits. Setting limits is necessary to prevent your child’s “being scared” behavior from being reinforced. Also encourage appropriate behavior, such as remind your child “Remember, no crying and no calling at bedtime.”
  • Have him stay in his bed. Don't encourage your child to get out of bed. He should stay in bed and find out for himself that he really is safe so that he can learn to overcome his fears. It is much better for you to stay with him in his room than it is for him to join you. If your child is too frightened to stay in his room alone, it is okay to occasionally stay with him until he falls asleep. Don’t do this too frequently, or even two nights in a row, as he may come to depend on your presence. If your child gets up in the middle of the night and comes into your room, it is better to take him right back and gently tuck him into bed.
  • Check on him. If your child is anxious about you leaving, check on him frequently. It is better to check on him on a predictable schedule, every 5 or 10 minutes, so that your coming and reassuring him is not based on him crying or calling out for you.
  • Star system. Some children get reinforced for being scared at night by getting lots of attention for being afraid. If this is the case,
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