Help Your Child Cope With Nighttime Fears

By Olivia Pitkenthly
nighttime fears

Monsters, darkness and ghosts are among the top 10 fears of children, according to “Fears Stress and Trauma: Helping Children Cope” by Edward Robinson. In his book, Robinson reports that these nighttime fears are a normal part of a child’s development. They typically start at a young age and may last until middle school. If not properly addressed, these fears can affect sleep patterns, confidence, self-esteem and daily functioning.

Parents should be aware of their own reactions to their child’s fear. Dismissing it by saying, “There’s no such thing as monsters,” may be a truthful response, but it isn’t helpful. Making fun of the fear or using it as a disciplinary tool are also big no-nos.

Talking to your child about the fear and listening intently to them will help them feel that their concerns are important to you. Ask questions, such as, “What does the monster or ghost look like?” or “What happens to your body (butterflies in tummy, headache, crying, etc.) when you feel scared?”

Helping your child develop strategies to defeat their nighttime fear will also give them a sense of control and security. Arm them with a flashlight or a bottle of monster spray made from rubbing alcohol, water and lavender oil. At bedtime, surround your child with their favorite toys to help them feel safe.

Puppets: Ghosts, Goblins & Monsters

Read the book, “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet” by Mercer Mayer. Help your child identify how each character coped with their fear. Bring out materials to make puppets, such as socks, yarn, buttons, different colored felt, etc. Have your child design a puppet that looks like the feared object and assist in creating it. You can make more than one puppet and have them interact with each other, using different voices. Then help your child design a puppet that makes them feel safe or can rescue them. Play with your child with the hero puppets and the fear puppets and help your child come up with ways he can defeat the fear.

Send the Monster Packing

Bring out an old pillowcase and some scraps of colorful material cut into different shapes (polka dots, squares, circles, and cut outs of pants and shirts). Have your child look through them all.

Tell your child a story about the monster that left for good: Once upon a time, there was a HUGE monster who loved the dark. He stayed in the prince’s bedroom night after night. He grew tired of staying there because the prince was scared of how he looked. The monster really wanted to go home, but didn’t have anything he could use to pack his clothes! One night, the prince turned on the light and said, “What would it take to send you packing?” The monster said, “I was waiting for you to ask! I could use a sack to pack up my clothes!” The prince looked around, found a sack and helped the monster pack.

Then the monster said, “I’m sorry that I scared you and I’m glad to be going home to my monster family!”

Next, pull out the pillowcase and a piece of material and say, “I think the monster needs to pack this!” Encourage your child to do the same, asking, “Do you think this will help him find his way home?” Continue to place items in the sack, and ask your child “Are you afraid when the monster won’t go home?” and “What can you do? Can you send the monster packing?”

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