The imagination is a very powerful thing, able to stir up all sorts of fears and worries. Most grownups aren’t afraid of the dark. As adults, we can tell ourselves that we’re being silly, reassuring ourselves to the point that we can get back to sleep at night. To a child who decides that the looming shadow in a corner is a horrific monster about to pounce, convincing himself or herself that there’s really nothing there isn’t so easy. Plenty of children have difficulties getting to bed because they’re afraid of the dark. Here are some ways to help:
Have a small nightlight on or turn on a lamp. By reducing the shadows in a room, parents can reduce fears. If the child wakes up, he or she can see what’s in the room; nothing is hidden. Try not to have lighting that is too bright, as that will disrupt sleep. If you must, install two or three small nightlights around the room.
Use white noise to help children sleep. Studies show that white noise, continual sound in the background, can help people sleep better. A CD of a burbling creek or surf on the beach can help soothe the sense. A fan, pointed away from the child’s body, also provides good white noise.
Make the child’s room a comfortable one that he or she loves to be in. Paint walls a bright, cheery color. Put up wall stickers of favorite cartoon characters. Have furniture the child likes. The room should be one where the child feels secure and safe. Sometimes a theme can help, like a princess or superhero style.
Whip up some monster-fighting spray. Provide kids a tool to help them feel more confident and less helpless in the nighttime hours. Fill a spray bottle with water, add a drop or two of food coloring (no more than that!) and a few drops of perfume, and hand your child the magical spray. They can douse the shadows, spray under the bed and in closets before going to sleep.
Don’t be too far away. While our Western world loves to encourage independence, children aren’t always developmentally ready to face the world alone. Make sure the child’s room isn’t one far down the hall or in the basement. Change rooms if you have to.
Let your child know that he or she can come to you during the night if reassurance and comfort is needed. You may have a few disturbed nights of sleep, but it’s important for kids to know that they have someone they can depend on for help.
You can let your child crawl into bed with you or join your child in his or her bed, but don’t make a habit of it. A better idea is to set up a chair next to the child’s bed where you can sit while the child relaxes back into sleep. Weaning kids off nighttime company is easier with a chair that can be moved away a few inches at a time until the parent is out of the room.
Be patient ? nighttime fears won’t last forever. Children grow, and they do ease their way out of bad habits. It just takes some time, some love and some understanding.