HOW TO HANDLE NIGHTTIME FEARS
Does your child worry about monsters at bedtime and ask you to check for them hiding in the closet? Do they call for you to make sure there aren’t any creepy crawlies in their bed? Or maybe you find yourself having to constantly reassure your child because they are afraid of the dark?
There is more to these bedtime fears than we may be able to see at first glance. Sleep can be scary for our children because they are separated from you and separation is the most terrifying monster of all.
Have you ever noticed that monsters only exist when there are no parents?
Bedtime for a child who is not co-sleeping with a parent represents up to 12 hours of separation from the people they love most and separation is the most wounding experience for all of us.
What happens is that bedtime itself becomes the monster. When a child knows they are going to be facing separation, their defences go up and alarms are set off. They lose the ability to see what is actually wrong. Instead of understanding that they are missing us, the threat shows up as a monster lurking in the corner or spiders crawling across their blankets.
If a child is facing too much separation, you may notice an intensified drive to be with you, feelings of frustration, and a sense of alarm and all of these things are going to show up at bedtime.
Beyond using the concept of play to chase away the monsters at bedtime for our children (which you will find likely won’t do much), or spending hours giving all of the logical reasons why a monster cannot get them (again, likely won’t do much), what else can we do to help them through the night time separation so everyone can get the rest they need? We need to reduce the separation.
To guide our children from being scared to secure, the following 3 techniques described by Deborah MacNamara can be very useful:
1. Take the Lead in Holding On
It is always important that we see our children for who they really are. Their immaturity is something that we must acknowledge. As parents, we need to make space for the emotions surrounding bedtime and be sure that we are validating how our children feel while also guiding them through becoming more comfortable in holding on through the separation. When our children are able to feel more connected to us, the monsters at bedtime become less scary.
2. Bridge the Nighttime Divide
When bridging any separation, we need to take the focus off of the separation and instead focus on the next connection we will have with our children. When saying goodnight is hard for our children, there are many things we can do to help them hold on through separation. Possible ideas may include:
- Giving them a blanket or piece of clothing that smells like you.
- Creating a recording of you reading a book or singing to them.
- Leaving a love note for them to find under their pillow in the morning.
- Ensuring there are pictures of their loved ones in their room.
- Make up a story that you need to finish telling in the morning.
- Tie an invisible string from your bed to theirs.
- Tell them you will see them in their dreams and share a story about what’s happening in your dreams when you see them in the morning.
- Encourage them to listen to you making sounds as you clean up the kitchen, work in the other room, or get ready for bed yourself.
- Tell them about how you tucked them in throughout the night while they slept.
- Consider leaving a lipstick kiss on their hand or face for them to look for when they wake.
- One of my personal favourites is visiting them every 5 or 10 minutes to give them a small token like a paper heart. Once they are asleep, you can leave a stack for them to see in the morning so they can believe that you checked on them throughout the night!
3. Listen Generously to Their Stories
As bedtime approaches, you may notice that your little one starts to ask questions or tell stories with a creative touch. The more we listen intently and provide the opportunity for them to confide in us, the less they will need to tell us these stories. As with attachment in general, dependence invites independence. Instead of allowing feelings of frustration to flood us, it can be beneficial as parents that we cherish these times of them needing us so much.
Children need to take their attachment needs for granted. When it comes to bedtime, we want our children to rest in our connection and the fact that we won’t let them go, instead of them desperately trying to hold onto us.
HOW DO YOU REDUCE SEPARATION FOR YOUR LITTLE ONE AT NIGHT? COMMENT BELOW!
For more information on toddler bedtime challenges, read here.
MacNamara, D. (2019). Taming Bedtime Monsters: When Sleepy Time Is Scary. Retrieved from http://macnamara.ca/portfolio_category/sleep/
Neufeld, G. 2013. Neufeld Intensive 1: Making Sense of Kids. The Neufeld Institute. Vancouver, BC.