Our 4 year-old son is scared at bedtime and doesn’t want to sleep in his own room. We have a sound machine and night light and he shares a room with his brother so he’s not alone. But what can we do to help him transition into sleeping there, instead of in our room?
First I want you to know that fear of the dark is a very common challenge at his age, and can occur even if the child was never afraid of the dark before. And one of the main causes is that the child is growing and developing in their pre-frontal cortex in exciting ways. This growth leads to the development stage of “Object Permanence”, where children are starting to realize that things can exist even if they can’t see them. So, first off just know that it doesn’t have to be that a child saw something scary or you did something that “caused” this new fear.
Here are a few ideas to help your child through fear of the dark at bedtime:
- Solve as problems as possible, to give the child a feeling of control. Does he want a second night light? A flash light so he can see anywhere easily if he needs to? Maybe the transition out of your bed could be helped by putting one of mom or dad’s shirts on a teddy bear so he can snuggle it and smell you. Giving these options is meant to increase the child’s sense of control because research tells us our fears are often fueled by feeling out of control in a situation.
- Teach Him How to Calm His Mind: Have a kind a firm attitude of “We have solved all the challenges. Now it’s your job to remind your heart and mind that you are safe, and your room is just as wonderful at night as it feels in the day.”
Here are a few great resources that help to teach a child to see the beauty in night time.
- Daniel’s First Sleepover episode (Daniel Tiger – PBS Kids) – mentions a shadow and daniel shines his flashlight. Emphasizes a song that says “See what it is, you might feel better.”
- or “Nighttime in the Neighborhood (Daniel Tiger – PBS Kids) where Daniel and his family walk to the library at night and point out the neat sounds they hear.
- The Very Lonely Firefly board book – talks about beautiful things at night.
- f he is struggling with scary “What if..” thoughts, you can discuss ways to “change the channel” on those thoughts. Something like, “You know what’s cool about our thoughts? We have the power to shift to NEW thoughts, just like we can switch to a new show on the TV, or new song on Spotify. You simply think of the new through, and focus on that. You can shift to telling yourself a story, or replaying a recent cartoon you watched, or singing a song to yourself that you love to dance to.”
- Teach Him How to Calm His Body: Many children (and adults) don’t realize that fear can be effectively addressed through the body, just as much as through the mind. Here’s what I mean. Fear shows up as a parasympathetic response in the body, so it CAN be calmed through the body. You can also teach a child to calm their heart racing, tummy aching or jaw clenching by using “steel and spaghetti”. This is a kid version of progressive muscle relaxation to help the child “squeeze out” any worries in the body. You can google the term: “Child progressive muscle relaxation” and find several simple videos and visuals. But the basic approach is that you start at your head and work your way to the opposite end of the body with moments of squeezing 1 muscle group for 5 seconds (while taking a breath in), and then relaxing the muscle group over 5 seconds (while you exhale).
(Also acalming animal I discussed on Monday would be helpful for that – it’s zenimals. Zenimal. “I ended up becoming an affiliate
The child can even turn it back on in the middle of the night if he wakes, to calm himself.You can go to zenimals.com/empoweredbeginningsatx and use code EMPOWEREDBEGINNINGSATX at checkout for 5% off.
Click here to view the full magazine article in Montana Parent Magazine.
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