When Sleep "Fears" Set In
I must admit, I had some pretty strong fear about what it would look like when my child developed her own specific fears. Around age three, children begin to sense their own vulnerability and aspects of the world around them can begin to seem frightening.
Most recently, my nearly four year old daughter has become afraid of going down tall slides, strangers, large dogs, loud noises and dancing in public. Her first fear was, of course, "the dark", which, upon further inspection, actually meant the shadows cast by the night light we had given her in anticipation of this fear.
After ditching several varieties of too-bright night lights we settled on Pam the Penguin by Zazu, that casts a red glow and creates very few ominous shadows in the room. Since then Hatch Baby Rest Night Light has come on the market, and it's easy-to-adapt app controllability has been a big hit with my clients. It's a night light and sound machine that can grow with a child from birth to childhood.
Settling Sleep Fears
When working with clients and with my own children, I've learned some great tools to help alleviate fears, cope with them, and some solutions that help to maintain sleep.
When to talk about fears
Avoid talking about fears before bed or in the middle of the night. Tiredness often leads to more "big feelings" and the darkness doesn't help. Breakfast or at the dinner table is a great time to ask about fears that might have come up the previous night. When dinner is over, so is talk of fears.
Listen and validate
We want to listen when our children develop a fear or hesitancy of their own. Stay calm, and acknowledge that you hear them. You can ask your child to tell you more about their dream or what might scare them about the dark, but try not to react in a way that will belittle them ("monsters aren't real!") or in a way that will play in to the fear ("Lets go right now and look under your bed for monsters"). Or worse, "If you're a good boy, the gobblins won't get you."
It's never too early to tell children that while fears are valid, we don't want to let them control our lives.
Coping with Fears
Age Appropriate Screen Time
What children see can have a huge impact on young children. Make sure to check ratings and suggestions before allowing your child to watch shows or play games. Startling, violent, or "bad guy" imagery - even if it seems mild to us - can be disturbing for youngsters and will stick with them for far longer than you want it to.
Games in the Dark - gift your child a rechargeable flashlight and play games in the dark. My child now asks to do this occasionally without prompting. Make shadows with your hands, or things around the room. You can also get several glow-in-the-dark toys or bracelets to explore in the dark. Shadow books are also fun!
Imaginary Dream Backpack
Talk to your kiddo about the importance of good sleep for kids and parents. Let them know that you see them struggling and you have a way for them to help themselves go back to bed when they wake at night. Walk them through the following steps to create their own dream backpack and then at night, "coach" them to get out their Dream Backpack and create the dreams they are wanting to have.
Help your child create their very own "dream backpack" by talking or even making some drawings or a list of their answers to the following prompts:
What color is your backpack? Is it big or small?
Great, now lets talk about what helps you feel happy and silly? A familiy member? A Character from a funny show? A song? Great - lets start by putting something in your back pack that will make you smile.
Now, what is something that helps you feel loved? A family member? A toy/stuffie? A song? Great - lets put those things in there, too.
What are 2-3 things that help you feel cozy and relaxed? Lets put those things in there, too.
When they wake at night, coach them to remember what's in their dream backpack. The tools they already have inside them.
At first it may take some time to walk through this, but in the future you can cue this quickly by just asking, did you get out your dream backpack?
Comfort and Relaxation
Allow them to have a special blanket and stuffed animal for comfort and strength. You may also find that a guided mediation is helpful for calming their body and mind, there are countless "yoga nidra" or guided sleep meditation options for kids on youtube that would help you learn to guide your child through relaxation before sleep.
Offer to check in on them If your child is dealing with new fears and struggling to achieve their normal level of independence, reassure them by peeking in at intervals. You can come back in 2min. and again at 10min. with no need to talk, but just to give a thumbs up or blow a kiss from the door. For some children, a reward can be helpful in the morning can be helpful, wether is it a sticker or extra snuggles as you say "You did great last night, so brave and independent! Every day you amaze me!"
Parents Fears are real too!
For parents with small children, there can be some anxiety about moving kids into their own room when it's time. It will reassure you to know that your child's sleep environment is safe and that you can check in on them with a monitor. For the latest research on baby monitors parents loved most, check out these reviews by the team at Reviews.com.
If you or your child are starting to dread bedtime and you are feeling frustrated at being woke night after night for some reason or another, then please book a 30min Sleep Consultation so that we can get to the bottom of what's going on for your child and help you create a plan to problem solve so that the whole family can get the sleep they need.