Nighttime fears

Ten tips to help kids to cope with fears and other bedtime monsters

1. Be aware of what your toddler is exposed to.
Children learn so much from books and television, yet don’t have the experience to know what is real and what isn’t. To make matters worse, children’s movies and stories are often filled with monsters, child-eating wolves, etc.

2. Don’t ever let anyone threaten your child.
For example, don’t ever let anyone say that “the bogeyman” is coming for them. It’s false and just plain mean.

3. Establish a bedtime routine.
At every bedtime, engage your toddler in the same, predictable, wind-down routine to help them manage any anticipatory anxiety they might have.

4. Allow your child to have a dim nightlight in their bedroom.
Thanks to a nightlight, you can watch over baby, feed them and gently get them used to the difference between night and day without waking them up.

5. Make his/her bedroom cozy.
It is important to acknowledge that even though monsters are not real, your toddler’s fear of them is very real. And real fear needs real comfort, even in the middle of the night.

6. Reassure toddlers.
Be honest with your kids, reassure them that monsters don’t exist and that their bedroom is a safe place. Teach your child about dreams by letting them know that dreams are just our ideas while we’re asleep.

7. Avoid phrases such as “You’re a big boy now” and “Only babies do that.”
Focus instead on encouraging your child to do the things you know they can do. For instance, if they’re usually able to climb the ladder on the slide but get ‘stuck’ halfway up and ask for help, start by moving near so they know you are close and willing to help if needed. Then verbally encourage them, “I know you can do it. I’m here if you need me.” But don’t pressure them. If they get upset or insist they can’t do it, help them down. Remember, it isn’t really about the slide at all. It’s about seeking reassurance that you can still be trusted to take care of them, that they are still safe with you.

8. Try playing a game with your child.
You both take turns thinking about something with your eyes closed, then open your eyes to check whether just thinking about it made it real.

9. By day, storytelling is a wonderful therapeutic tool.
For children who are afraid of the dark or scared of monsters, the story should try to change the child’s attitude towards monsters or the dark using an approach that doesn’t include fear. An example would be telling a story which ends with your child making friends with the feared monster.

10. Art is also an amazing communication tool.

Art is also another great medium to help children overcome strong feelings. Having your child draw their fears for you (even if it looks like toddler-scribble) can be really helpful as you try to understand what is happening inside their heads. Seeing the drawn version of their scary monster with you, their big brave grown-up, by their side can also help children feel braver.