Children and Bedtime Fears and Nightmares
What causes my child to feel scared of going to sleep?
Nighttime fears and nightmares are extremely common in children, especially during the preschool years, but they can definitely occur in older children and adolescents as well. They are part of normal development, as children’s imaginations develop and children begin to understand that there are things that exist that can hurt them. There are times that fears and nightmares are the result of a frightening experience, from being scared by a large dog to being in a car accident to watching the news, but other times they seem to come out of the blue. Family conflict and parental anxiety can also play a role. Anything that makes a child more emotionally aroused is going to make his fears worse and make him feel more anxious. Children also typically have different fears at different developmental stages. Young children are often afraid of monsters and other imaginary creatures, whereas older children are more likely to fear being hurt by more realistic dangers, such as burglars or a natural disaster.
Some children learn that saying they are afraid is an effective stalling tactic or a way to avoid bedtime. On the other hand, some children and adolescents with sleep issues really have an anxiety disorder; these are generally children who also worry a lot during the day or have things that they are anxious about or avoid.
How should I respond to my child's nightmare?
Your child is going to need reassurance after having a nightmare. This is especially the case with younger children. As your child gets older, though, you will want to start teaching him coping skills that he can use when he is anxious or scared.