Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easing Nighttime Fears: How to Help Your Child Sleep Alone

“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Image: Giulia Bartra

 Many children suffer from nighttime anxiety. They either struggle to fall asleep by themselves or wake up in the middle of the night after nightmares. Many parents temporarily solve this problem by putting siblings in the same bedroom or sleeping with their children, but children must eventually outgrow their fear. Nighttime fear can result in lack of sleep for everyone. Frustrated and sleep-deprived parents may react in anger and threaten their children with punishment for failure to sleep in their own room. However, parents should note that the fear children fear is legitimate and punishment will only make it worse.

If you’re trying to move your child into her own room, here are the most important things you can do to ease nighttime fears:  

Help Your Child Decorate

Children are more likely to feel secure in rooms that match their personalities. Help your child create a room that’s perfect for him. Try covering the beds with superhero or fairy sheets and telling your child these mythical figures will help protect him. Allow your child substantial control regarding the way his room looks. Children tend to feel less anxious in environments where they have control. Kids love novelty, so adding unique furniture and decorations can be especially helpful. Bunk beds, a loft bed with a desk or a race car bed can all help your child feel good about sleeping alone.  

Hunt for Monsters

If your child is afraid of monsters, vampires or ghosts, telling her there’s no such thing will do little to alleviate these fears. Instead, validate your child by asking, “Where does the monster live? What does he look like? What is he scared of?” Then go on a monster hunt. Bang pots and pans, throw fairy dust and sing songs designed to scare the monster away. Because children believe in mythical creatures such as monsters, they also believe in mythical spells to make them go away. Use this to your advantage to help eliminate your child’s fears.  

Check for Potential Problems

Parents often forget that innocuous things can be terrifying to children. Check your child’s room for scary shadows, creepy images on the wall and anything else that might frighten your child when she wakes up in the middle of the night. If possible, put your child’s room close your own bedroom.  

Give Your Child Fear-Prevention Supplies

A flashlight and a stuffed animal can go a long way toward preventing fear. Put several big flashlights near your child’s bed and provide her with a radio to drown out scary noises. A big stuffed animal can also help her feel less alone in her room, and sometimes, sprinkling a little "fairy dust" (use some baby powder or, if you're brave, glitter, around the bed) can inspire bravery. Ask your child if there are any items that would help her feel safer, and then get them for her, no matter how weird they might seem to you.  

Allow Time to Adjust

If your child has slept with his sibling his entire life, it’s going to take some time for him to get used to sleeping by himself. Expect some adjustment difficulties, and reward your child’s successes. Consider getting a gold star chart and giving him a sticker for every hour or night he sleeps by himself. When the chart is full, get him a special treat.

If your child has nightmares, consider putting a pallet on the floor in your bedroom. This allows him to come into your room without waking you up. If you’re more concerned with his ability to sleep in his room, put a trundle or similar bed in his room that will allow you to comfort him while still keeping him in his own room. Avoid getting angry with your child, as this is more likely to exacerbate fear rather than stop it.  

About the Author Christobel Edwards became a grandmother 2 years ago, and views this as a new and important step in life. She’s learned that part of being a good grandparent is keeping your mouth shut! She frequently buys items for her grandchild such as kids’ bunk beds with stairs.

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