Less is more when it comes to dealing with children’s bedtime fears. It’s important NOT to fall into the trap of constantly reassuring your child and going through a long night-time routine of checking the room is safe. Try to limit your response to something simple like “everything is OK”. Putting on a variety of lights, checking the wardrobe and window numerous times and looking under the bed just reinforces the fear. Telling your child everything is OK is enough, you should not have to prove it to them. If you start to prove it, they will come up with more questions and more worries, some of which you will never be able to come up with a suitable answer for. The more information you give them, the more 'what ifs' they'll come up with so don’t go down that road in the first place! Instead try the following:
• Let your child know that it is your job to keep them safe and that is what you always do. Your job is to look after them and make sure they are OK and their job is to have fun, learn at school and have a good night’s sleep ready for the next day!
• Try to get to the root cause of what is worrying your child. Ask them during the day what’s happening at school, what their friends are talking about, and what they notice on TV or hear on the radio.
• If worries stop your child relaxing, introduce a ‘worry box’ where your child can write or draw about their worries and pop them in the box during the day. They can then begin to think about solutions and talk them over with you well before bedtime so they are not on your child’s mind when they go to bed. Deep breathing can also help children to relax. Take 5 slow, deep breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. They should be long slow gentle breaths and at the same time encourage your child to think about something they enjoy doing or somewhere they enjoy going. If necessary, you can offer your child something of yours, such as a scarf or jumper to help them feel more comfortable.
• Be mindful of what you are doing and saying when your child is within ear shot. Children are very perceptive. How often have you thought your child is not listening and you find out later that they’ve heard every word you’ve said! Don't turn on the news while you're in the car. Limit your own level of anxiety around them. Make sure they don't overhear you talking on the phone about someone being attacked or burgled. Children listen when you don't think they are, and there are many things happening in the world that can cause fear and anxiety to a child.
• Make sure your child has a good bedtime routine. Their room should be quiet, calm and dimly lit. Your child’s bedtime routine should start 30 – 45 mins before they get into bed and should be the same every night. Ideally your child should go to bed at the same time every night regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend and should get up at the same time. Weekends are too short to allow the routine to alter too much. During school holidays we often find routines are broken, so about 3 nights before your child is due to go back to school, reintroduce the bedtime routine so that your child is refreshed and ready for their first day back at school. Remember the 3 Bs; Bath (or shower), Book (story or allowed reading time for older children), Bed. I’d suggest the story or reading time takes place in bed as this creates an opportunity for the child’s imagination to switch on and for them to make the transition from conscious awareness to subconscious imagining. Ensure the story/book is suitable for bedtime – nothing too scary or with scary images!
• Keep computers and TVs out of the bedroom. Bedrooms need to be associated with sleep. Having distractions in the room such as TVs, computers and mobile phone, stops your child concentrating on going to sleep which will make it harder for your child to function the following day.