Mommy, I’m Scared
Every parent has awakened to this lament.
It’s important for parents to realize that a child’s fears are real and shouldn’t be discounted, said Vicki Panaccione, a Melbourne psychologist who works with children.
“For younger children, they are in the room by themselves with nothing to occupy them but their own thoughts, which can be very scary,” Panaccione said. “It’s legitimate and is usually about personal safety, monsters or anxieties about being separated from their parents.”
Fears can occur as young as 8 or 9 months and as old as 9 or 10.
“Waking up in the middle of the night varies with each child, and these periods can also come and go,” Panaccione said. “If the child is sleeping through the night and out of the blue is waking up, it may have to do with something the child is dealing with, like pressures or stresses at school or in families.”
Ultimately, children must disconnect from parents and sleep by themselves so they can develop coping strategies for other lifelong situations.
“They learn that they can be safe and secure without being attached to the parent, and they learn about self-calming,” Panaccione said. “If they don’t learn, it can result in children being anxious. They won’t be able to deal with an uncomfortable feeling in any situation without mom and dad constantly having to calm them and make them feel secure.”
To help ease fears, try nightlights, flashlights, soothing music, the sound of a fan or make promises of reward if the child stays in bed during the night.
These are some suggestions for getting your kids to bed and keeping them there:
1) Try to figure out what is causing the fears and anxieties. Is it a family move or pressures at school? Also, monitor what your children watch on television before bedtime. Scary movies or violent cartoons could prompt sleeplessness.
2) Offer solutions. A nightlight or flashlight kept by the bed can help eliminate fears of the dark. Soothing music will make the quiet seem less creepy. If they fear “monsters,” do a “monster check” before bed to help the child feel safe.
3) Offer incentives or reward (not bribes). The child can work toward these by staying in his bed. Use stickers, movie nights or special treats as incentives.
4) Plan a set bedtime. For children to go to sleep at a regular time, they need a set bedtime every night. This will condition their bodies to be ready for sleep when you put them to bed.
5) Plan a quiet activity. Always avoid over-stimulating your children before they go to sleep. Instead, read a story, sing softly or say a prayer. Save high-energy activities, such as piggyback rides or action-packed games, for earlier in the day.
6) Avoid lengthy daytime naps. Avoid letting children sleep more than an hour or an hour and a half in the afternoon unless they are 5 or under. Children older than 5 usually don’t require more than an hour’s nap. Long naps can prevent children from going to sleep at scheduled bedtimes.
As published in Florida Today.
© MMVI Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D.