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Bedtime Fears

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Sleep > Bedtime Fears


Questions - Toddlers & Preschoolers More Advice about Bedtime Fears

22 m/o afraid to sleep alone

Aug 2011

For the past 10 days, my almost 22 m/o is afraid to fall asleep in his crib in his room by himself. He used to be a good sleeper (slept from 7pm-7am, fell asleep on his own, etc.) Now, to get him to go to sleep, we have to sit by his crib until he is in a deep sleep and then sneak out. Otherwise, he'll stand and cry out for us. We tried sleep training again (Ferber approach), but that didn't work. In the middle of the night, he will stand and cry for hours until we go in, so we end up bringing him into our bed. We've tried additional lighting in his room, keeping the door open so he can hear us, etc. Nothing works. I can't think of anything that has changed that would lead to this, except for the fact that I am 7 weeks pregnant. Could these be connected? Has anyone else experienced this? How did you get through this? What technique did you follow to get your child back on his/her original sleep routine? Desparate for more sleep


I feel your pain, our daughter didn't want to sleep for her first year. We did end up co-sleeping for quite some time which did help the situation.

Something that may cheer you up at least is this book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xtcB457jqQ

Some useful suggestions on different techniques on helping small children fall back to sleep on their own: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=53833&page=2 ybrown


2.5 yo wants door open at nap/bed time

June 2007

Our 2.5 yo daughter is suddenly petrified of the dark and of having her door closed. We bought her a nightlight, but she still insists on having the door open. When it's open, she wakes up much earlier than usual and shows signs of being tired during the day. If we close it after she falls asleep, she wakes up shrieking with fear. We're empathetic, but tiptoeing around the house is driving us nuts, as is having a tired child. Is this a phase she's likely to grow out of? Any advice on how to manage this now? Thanks very much! Supportive and Sleepy


I was terrifed of the dark when I was little. I had to sleep with the door open AND a night light. I don't know that I got less sleep but looking back, I felt more connected to everyone in the house if the door was open. Hard to explain. It's possible it's a phase but it might be a long phase and I dont' know that it's something you should insist on. Have you tried going to sleep with her with the door closed? Maybe that would be helpful. Can you put her to bed in your room? Would that feel more secure for her? Just some thoughts. By the way, I''m now 54 and have slightly older kids(pre teen and teen) and though I love quiet and time alone, I still like to sleep with the bedroom door open...I feel more connected to the house and my kids. anon
This is really normal at this age. My son, 9, is finally able to sleep with the door closed and alone in a room. Be patient. good luck michelle
Try a white noise machine, fan, music CD, or nature sound machine to drown out noises that might wake her up. Then you don't have to fight her issue. I think most kids are scared of being alone when they fall asleep or wake up. mary

2 1/2 year old's bedtime anxiety

Jan 2007

My 2 1/2 year old daughter, about a month ago, starting feeling more afraid at bedtime. I know it is normal around this age to start getting night frights, so I indulged a bit and slept in her room on a couch a couple of times, then started to sit right next to the door of her room until she falls asleep. Now, we're stuck in this habit and it's making me nuts. She doesn't fall asleep until after 9pm, and while she's in the crib she's constantly asking me questions, asking me to put her blanket back on, for another book, all the rest. I do my best to ignore but it's very hard. And, I have no evenings to myself anymore, as I'm stuck by her room. I just bring a book or my laptop to try to get something done while I'm there. How do I extricate myself from this pattern, while also being sensitive to her night fears? I've tried leaving in short increments (saying I have to get something, or I have to go to the bathroom, but she immediately screams bloody murder.) Help! feeling trapped at bedtime


It is very frustrating to feel trapped. I noticed a few things in your note.

First, your nighttime routine. It sounds like it changes sometimes (another story, for example). Without being rigid, if you make the routine very consistent it will help settle her. Do you ease into it with calm time before bed? She may need a gradual transition from active play to going to bed. We used to go around the house dimming the lights, shutting things down for the night. Sometimes we read our story by candlelight (I'd read the suggestion and then one night our power was out so we tried it). That really helps slow my kids down. Make sure you have her water, all the things she needs, ahead of time. Once the routine is done, and you're either lying with her or sitting on the couch with your nightlight, don't let yourself be distracted. Be as boring as possible - answer her very briefly but kindly. We use a ''special'' CD once lights are out - quiet music, the same every night. We chose ''Matriarch'' by Joanne Shenendoah, soothing Indian songs. The kids are so conditioned by now that they are out very quickly.

Your daughter is still very young. Can you lay with her until she falls asleep? If she can snuggle up to you to fall asleep she may go to sleep faster. Does she still nap during the day? If so, maybe that is contributing to her being wakeful.

Otherwise, it sounds like you are doing the right thing - being a presence for her instead of leaving her alone. If you can change your expectations it would help also - she is still young and needs your presence to be able to settle into sleep. So, bring your book and nightlight or something similar, and plan to sit there until she falls asleep. If it takes her 30 minutes to fall asleep, it doesn't mean you don't have evenings to yourself (unless you go to bed right after her?). With four children, my bedtime routine takes at least an hour. View it as helping her end her day on a peaceful note, while enjoying some relaxing reading for yourself. Your role is a very powerful one as to whether she finishes her day happy or stressed. shannon


We went through the same thing with my son at that age. It got to the point where he would wake up and end up sleeping the rest of the night on the floor in the living room with my husband. Bedtime was also becoming a nightmare of hours of stories until he fell asleep. To top it off, we had a 3 month old baby who also wasn't sleeping all night. After several months of this, we were the worst zombies we had ever been since my son was born. We finally had to just let him cry it out all over again. I know it can be hard to hear your child cry, but at this age, they are old enough to ''work the system.'' She knows how to keep you close, even if she doesn't need you all the time. Prior to leaving our son to work things out on his own, we discussed his fears and told him he was safe in our house. My husband worked this in to his bedtime stories to help reiterate the point. We were all much happier once everyone was sleeping well at night again. sympathetic mom
Hi there. My son also started having anxieties at about 21/2 and I too indulged him in staying with him. But at some point I realized he was using his fears to manipulate me. I'd ask him what he was afraid of. He told me one night robots. When I got rid of any ''robots'' the next night it was too dark. The next night it was something else. So eventually we shut his door, told him we were right out side, gave him his lovey and left. Sure he screamed bloody murder - the first night. We popped our heads in every few minutes, told him it was time to sleep and we were right outside. Once he realized he were not going to play his game, putting him to bed has not been a problem. We read our books, tuck him in, cuddle for 5 minutes and then I tell him mommy nad daddy are right outside. Sometimes he whines, but when we put our ear to the door we hear him playing wiht his animals and cars. Now as for keeping him there all night . . .hmmm Anon
My daughter was terrible about the bed-time routine for six years! If she couldn't see my husband or I, she would scream down the house. Neither of us wanted to let her cry herself to sleep. Here's how we gradually broke her of the habit: 1) We bought a baby monitor and set it on a nightstand by her table. We explained that if she became frightened, she could call out and we would come immediately. It took a while (several months) to get her to recognize that she couldn't call us every second, but eventually, she began to understand. 2) I took her to the store and let her pick out a ''sleep companion'' (stuffed animal). This was her special friend. She could have it only at night- time, while in bed. The rest of the time, he went on a shelf. I even fashioned a nightgown made from one of my old ones so it would smell like mommy. 3) We had a system for checking on her every five minutes until she fell asleep. If she screamed, we told her we wouldn't check on her until AFTER she stopped. I know this seems cruel. Some people tell us we were making her fears worse. But this worked. She wanted us to check on her so badly that she eventually stopped screaming and crying altogether. Good luck. Hope you find a solution soon. Sleeping better these days
Whatever you do, you have to be consistent. It's going to be hard at first to insist not staying in the room, but you have to stick to your guns otherwise she'll know she can manipulate you into staying. There will be crying and her getting upset, but it'll past with no lasting damage done. What has helped for us is doing things like getting a stuffed animal, say a bear or a dog, and saying it was special and will keep all the scary stuff out of our son's room. Other times we've distracted him with leaving music on. Does she have a night light? That helps too. In any case she's getting to the age where she should be getting out of the crib, and you'll be dealing with her leaving her room for a while to come find you every time she's anxious. We'd just put our son back in bed, over and over and over again until finally days later he got the message and it's no longer an issue. anon
First, I want to acknowledge that you are not alone in this difficult pattern of trying to balance between easing your daughter's fears while also maintaining somewhat of a distance so she will go to sleep. Children at this age are also becoming more communicative and she may have realized talking to you or asking questions is a great way to maintain your attention and get you to stay in the room. My advice is to ensure that you have a regular bedtime routine where your daughter gets ample attention in the form of cuddles, books, songs, etc. for at least 15 minutes before putting her in her crib. You've done well to get yourself to the door....the trick is to continue to reassuringly be there but not verbally engage or make eye-contact with her.

2.5 yr old hates being alone @ night

July 2004

I need help with everyone's favorite topic: sleep! I don't see anything similar from previous postings...

Our current bedtime issue for our daughter, 2y 9mo, is that she repeatedly says ''I don't want to be in here [her bedroom] by myself'' when we leave her room at night. It's a logical complaint, and my husband recalls hating being left alone at night. (With many siblings, it wasn't an issue for me). She wants one of us to sleep with her, which is not acceptable to us, but is sometimes the only way we can get her to nod off. The dog would love to sleep with her, but she says she wants a ''real person.''

As a baby and young toddler, she was always able to put herself to sleep. but last month when visiting family, she and I shared a bed - out of necessity - for 9 straight nights. She grew accustomed to that, although there have been several nights since when she's done just fine. It's only been this past week that her sad but logical request leaves us completely stumped for a response. We have a nice bedtime routine, and we've tried removing any potentially-scary elements from that (certain videos, books) and those nights I mentioned where she did fine? Well, we had a reward system set up and she earned a pretty cool prize from it. I feel I can only bribe her so much.

Suggestions? Anyone?


My son is about the same age and having a similar problem. The way I have dealt with it is that I tell him he has no chioce, he has to sleep in his bed by himself, in a nice but firm way. I sit with him (and sing) for awhile then I tell him I'm leaving to do something specific (like cleaning the kitchen) but I'll be back to check on him. I leave then come back 30 - 60 seconds later. I rub his back, tell him I'm checking on him but I'm leaving again to finish cleaning. Then I leave and come back in 2 or 3 minutes. I repeat this gradually lengthening the time until he is asleep. When I started he was awake a long time. Now he's asleep the 2 or 3 time I check. Hope this helps. Anon
You said it yourself. She's gotten accustomed to sleeping with you and likes it. What kid wouldn't? She's smart....and she's testing you. Stick to your guns. If you have removed all of the scary elements and she still enjoys/employs the bedtime routine, don't give in. You will regret it later if you do. Reward systems aren't the worst thing. We recently went through the same thing at naptime. We tell our daughter how important it is for her to take a nap, that she'll feel better, etc. and occaisionally rewarded her for taking one. She is now back in the habit of napping regularly and rewards aren't necessary always, ;-) )We just stuck to our guns(it took a few weeks) and that was it. It's all about controll and your daughter wants it. Good luck. anon
I just have to thank the person who posted the advice about the 2 1/2 year old who didn't like being alone, who suggested telling your kid that you would be back to check on him in 5 minutes (or however long it was). We had been having problems with our 2 3/4 year old that were similar and we spent one week lying in his bed to help him go to sleep, the next week lying next to his bed on a mat to help him go to sleep and the 3rd week we did as you suggested and go in at periodic intervals (3- 5 minutes until he seems almost asleep then 8-10) and it has worked like a charm! Because he knows we are coming back regardless, he isn't frightened (as opposed to before we tried only coming in when he cried), and because we don't spend 30-60 minutes in his room, we have our evenings back and with each other!! Thank you!!!!! very relieved

2.5-year-old is afraid of the dark

July 2004

I hope someone out there can help. Our oldest daughter (2 yrs, 8 months) is having serious fears when we put her to bed. Up until about two weeks ago, she was going to sleep pretty well on her own, after our bedtime routine of tooth-brushing, stories, singing, and then a lullaby CD. We've had a nightlight in her room for some time, but starting a couple weeks ago, she started getting more scared of the dark. We solved that problem, but now she's afraid of noises (airplanes overhead, cars outside, house creaking, etc etc). We're trying very hard to be empathetic, but it's hard. We've given her animals to snuggle with, which helps a little, but not all the time. The end result is that we leave her room after our bed-time rituals between 8:30 and 8:45, but she can be up for another hour or more calling for us.

We go in and try to calm her, but as soon as we leave, she starts getting upset again. We were co-sleeping with her until about 6 months ago, and I'm sure we could get her to sleep if one of us stayed with her, but we're not keen on going down that path again.

We also have a 3 month old, so that might have something to do with this, though the night-time fears only came recently.

Any suggestions would be great! Empathetic but tired....


Our son is also 2 3/4 yrs. old. We co-slept as well for just under two years. Our son has been sleeping in his crib for some time and going to sleep on his own after our bedtime routine around 8:30. About 2 months ago, he began to say he was ''scared of monsters'' and wanted us to hold his hand. We did this, but the time he needed us with him became longer and longer, up to an hour or so.

Last month my husband left to tour with Ozzfest for 2 months. In preparation for the prolonged parental absence, one of the things we did was to have Daddy make a recording of himself talking and reading stories. Well, the tape has become the charm we needed to help our son go to sleep. Sometimes he does need to have me rewind the one-sided cassette once, but he always falls asleep to it eventually. I place ! the tape recorder on the top of the dresser where he can see it and hold his hand for a few minutes. I tell him that I will see him in the morning and Daddy's voice will stay with him until he falls asleep. It works wonderfully. Maybe the sound of you and your partner's voice will block out other sounds and help your child feel like you are still with her. Hope this helps. Heidi


When my son was this age I started him on guided meditations based on a book by Maureen Garth called ''Sunshine''. She wrote several books of meditations for children. He's almost six now and every night after his bedtime story he says, ''Tell me about my star.'' He closes his eyes and I start a 5 to 10 minute story that always begins, ''Picture the light from your own special star shining down on you, making you feel peaceful and relaxed. Take a d! eep breath in and let it out. Follow the light from your star down the path to the Worry Disposal. If you have any worries, throw them in, and the Worry Disposal will grind them up.'' My son pretends to pull the worries out of his head and names them as he throws them away. ''Now your worries are all gone. You feel light and happy as you walk down the path to your secret garden. Open the magic gate that only you can open, and close it behind you. Inside the magic walls of your garden you are safe.'' And so on. The idea is to make him feel safe and relaxed. Often he falls asleep before I finish. Two other things that helped when he went through fearful stages: a dreamcatcher (he always made me spin it to ''turn it on'') and designating his biggest teddy as the Papa Bear who would protect him and the other stuffed animals. Hang in there! Sympathetic Mom

2.9 year old waking up scared many times a night

Feb 2007

Ok, so I'm getting the idea that this is typical for this age, but what do we do? None of the previous posts seem to hit our situation on the nose. My daughter was, up until about a few weeks ago, sleeping through the night most nights, with the occasional wake-up due to a poop or for a random reason. But every night now for the past week and most nights last week, she is up 3 to 5 times in the night, saying she's had a bad dream or that there's a ''scary thing'' that won't let her sleep. And now also getting her to fall asleep at bedtime has become nearly impossible unless she's so worn out from the day that she just crashes during songs. (Our bedtime routine is stories, then songs, then one more song in her bed with soft pets on her head.) She asks us to stay in her room repeatedly, her eyes look so scared and it seems that whatever rituals we go through, she is still not completely satisfied that she's safe. (Together we ask all the bugs on the mobile by her bed to watch over her and protect her, and we tell all bad dreams and scary things to go away, once in each corner of the room.) She is in a toddler bed and so will often just come into our room and try to get in bed with us. At first it was cozy and sweet but we don't want to make a habit of having her in our bed with us, so we take her back to her bed, and then have to go through the whole ritual of making her room ''safe'' and then basically staying with her until she falls asleep again.

Just last night she woke up at 2 am crying, so my husband went in, was in there for about 40 minutes and came back to bed, then 20 minutes later she was up again, a wreck. So then it was my turn. And so it goes through the night! At 5 am we just let her come sleep with us, so that we could all get some sleep. Needless to say, we are SO TIRED. But there's got to be another way!! Can anyone give me some magical advice on how to deal with this? Do we just see it through, and like any other phase it will just resolve eventually? Is there a homeopathic remedy? I was scared of the dark as a child and my parents never really validated that fear. I don't want to do the same thing to our daughter. Thanks in advance for any suggestions. one tired mama


My son went through the same thing at the same age. For weeks he said he was afraid monsters would bother him/wake him/hurt him/hurt me...etc and I always, lovingly told him there are no monsters; he is safe with us; he can come find me if he is scared, all to no avail. My reassurances of his safety and denial of monsters did not comfort him. The I picked up the book ''the happiest toddler on the block'' and read a tip to address his very real fear (for him) in a way that would make him feel acknowledged and empowered: i got an empty spray bottle, filled it with water and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil (calming) and put a wolf sticker (his fave animal) and labeled it ''monsters-go-away-spray''. I made a big to-do about it, a dramatic presentation and his wide eyes gleamed with hope and I could sense he instantly felt both reassured and acknowledged since I usually brushed his fears off. That was a year ago. Since then we spray a few spritzs of the spray over his bed and his baby brother's crib before tucking them in and he has never mentioned any monsters again--sleeps like a dream 12 hours a night!!! nicole
It's been a while since we were in this phase but I remember it was MISERABLE so hang in there while you work it out. You are not alone. Around this age (28 months) with my now 4 y.o. daughter she started having ''night terrors.'' The difference with night terrors is that no matter how long you stay, they don't seem to be able to hear what you are saying or settle down. They are simply hysterical. The advice I got when this happened was as follows: Go in and tell the child. ''Mommy needs to sleep now, Daddy, siblings, etc (limit to your household, not the whole universe of people you know). And YOU need to sleep now too. Good night, I love you, I will see you in the morning.'' If this sounds like what is going on at your house (with the night wakings, not the bedtimes) this might work for you. You just go in, say it and get out. Don't drag it out!

Bedtime is a different issue, but you could try the same approach. We did something different because our daughters share a room. The one who was being disruptive got moved out of her room into the family room, where I guarded the door -- literally sat outside the door and read a book -- to make sure she stayed in bed until she fell asleep. She was allowed one dolly and one potty visit, and after that I told her to pee in her pullup, I did not care. At times I had to hold the door closed, but I did not go in. After 5 nights of staying in bed all night and no bedtime shenanigans, she earned her way back to her room.

Not a fun process but we got back on track. Hope this works for you! Mom who took back the night


3.5 year old daughter freaks out at night

March 2008

My three and a half year old daughter is having a difficult time with sleep. She FREAKS out every single night, many times a night, that she is scared to be alone. She has a night light, sleeps with her closet light on and the door of her room wide open. She has a sound machine and her ''night night music'' that play all night. She sleeps with all her ''friends'' every night (Sesame Street friends, teletubbies, care bears, etc), has her beloved blankie, her cup of water, photos of mommy and daddy in her bed. What else can I do to stop all this drama around sleep? She is now refusing to nap. Sometimes when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she gets up and plays with her dollhouse for hours.... and then is a miserable wreck the next day. I also have a 19 month old daughter and a 4 month old son who also need me at times during the night. The baby is still nursing and fortunately my middle child is so easy. What am I supposed to do about my non-sleeper who screams and cries half the night? I have tried EVERYTHINg. She always has a good, soothing night time routine, lots of hugs and kisses and reassurance. However, I am getting very fed up and very impatient. Should I just ignore her? What should I do? Any advice welcome. Stephanie


You might want to check out the book, The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron. Here is a link to a webpage about, and on the webpage is a link to a checklist to see whether your child is highly sensitive.

http://www.hsperson.com/pages/child.htm

It was really a great help to me along with a yahoo group named hscbook. I had all sorts of issues with my son that were greatly helped by the book and also emails from other parents dealing with the same things. They typical parenting book stuff didn't work at all for my son--backfired really--but the ideas in this book were immensely helpful.

Good luck! Laurel


I would suggest asking your daughter what she thinks would help. Our nearly 3 year old daughter has also started having night time fears. At her request we removed the night light from her room, which seems to have helped. I think it was keeping her up and causing her to wake up when she entered the lighter part of her sleep cycle, and then it exaggerated the shadows in her room to make them look scary. She also suggested that our cat should come into her room and ''tell the scary things to go back to sleep in their own beds.'' (I think she came up with this idea from the last line of ''There's a Nightmare in My Closet'' which goes something like--'I suppose there's another nightmare in my closet, but my bed's not big enough for three.'') We haven't made this part of the nightly ritual, because the cat doesn't always cooperate--but when my daughter remembers to ask about it we call in the cat (or say he's already come in while she was taking a bath) and we say that he's telling the monsters not to bother her because she's tired and needs her sleep. The next morning she'll come in and say ''the things didn't bother me last night because (our cat) told them to go away.''

Normally, I always try to give my daughter the rational explanation for things rather than some made up story to pacify her, but I remember being very young and having my parents give the old 'there's no such thing as monsters line' and never really feeling comforted. At this age, there's a pretty fine line between what's real and what's imagined and I don't think the grown up explanation that there's nothing to be afraid of suffices for the kid who wakes up terrified in the middle of the night. So we went with the ''magic feather.'' So I'd suggest asking your daughter to decide on a talisman of some kind and undertaking it with due seriousness, even if it sounds totally ridiculous. Other similar solutions I've heard of: ''monster repellent''--a mister bottle full of water spritzed in your child's room right before lights out or a lotion; or a pre-bed time parent and child check under beds, in closets and in other places where monsters reside just to make sure none are there. k


4-year-old is too scared at bedtime

July 2006

My nearly four year old daughter suddenly is too scared at bedtime to go to bed in her room. She asks to sleep in my bed or for me to sleep in hers. This is difficult I can't linger indefinately in her room at bedtime as I am also putting down a baby.

I need help understanding her fears in order to come up with a plan to help her deal with them. Up until now I have hestitated to either let her sleep in my bed or for me to stay with her. For one thing, she has a sister who shares her room who will then also want either to sleep in my bed or for me to alternate sleeping with each of them.

I don't know how to help the frightened girl as I'm not entirely clear what is making her afraid. When I ask, she gives me a differnt reason every time: ''I''m afraid of my clock'' (I took it off the wall), ''I'm afriad of that picture'' (which is face down now). ''I'm afraid of the entire room.'' (hence the need to sleep in my room)

We have a night light, we sing ''monster go away'' songs (which used to work well) and we make the house magic so that no mean things can come in. Now, the only remedy is to sleep in my bed. While I've sometimes wondered if this request (and the claim of fright) was a ploy to simply sleep in my room, her reaction to eventually being left in her room after about 20 (failed) changes to it was that she was genuinely hysterical the other night. I'd like to find a way to help her over this.

I am willing to let her sleep in my bed but if I do, for how long and what do I say to her sister who will want to also (who is three) (will this then create a similar hysterical reaction in the sister?) I am also willing to come back into the room once the baby is down for extra snuggles but not to stay all night (which is what she wants and on hard nights she can't go to sleep). I not only do household chores after the kids go to bed, but it is my only quiet time and I' hoping to not have to give it up. Dad works long hours and can't help much of the week. Any insight is helpful mom of scared child


You describe your daughter as ''genuinely hysterical'' which tells me that you can stop wondering if this is a ploy. I think she needs you for whatever reason and you may have to sleep with both girls for a time and give up your ''me'' time or else lie down with them in your bed until they are asleep and then get back up for your chores and alone time. You may be able to get more insight into the problem by letting her sleep in your bed and being more on her side instead of trying to figure it out from the outside in a somehat adversarial position Anon
This fear is developmentally entirely normal -- and what makes it most difficult is that it really seems to be ''the big unknown'' that kids are afraid of at 4. They can't articulate their fears; they don't themselves really know what they are afraid of, as you've seen. But 4 year olds are really much more aware of the world around them than 3 year olds are. They are beginning to be aware of scary concepts like ''things die'' and ''people are mean'' and even ''parents aren't perfect and all powerful.'' How long does it take her to go to sleep? If she falls asleep fairly quickly once she feels safe, could you sit in her doorway with a book (where she can see you) until she's asleep? Or would it work for you to check on her, say, every 5 minutes until she falls asleep (you'd have to be very faithful with this)? It would probably ultimately be better for her to stay in her own bed, because then you won't have to deal with the transition back, or with her younger sister (at least, not yet). On the other hand, does she sleep deeply? Can she fall asleep in your bed and be carried back to hers without waking? Could both girls do this, or would they just keep each other awake? And would this mean you'd have to be in your bed as well, or is she OK in your bed without you? Also, it will probably ultimately help for you to try to engage her, during the day when she's calm and with you, in conversations about her day, and to listen very carefully for clues about specific things that might be scaring or upsetting her. I do this witth my son in the car on the way to and from preschool, and I know it has helped us deal with some of our issues. It takes a while, and a bit of sleuthing, but it pays off Karen
Well, I could not write last night because my 5.5 year old son was having trouble falling asleep! From your post, it seems that you have a lot going on, a new baby and two preschool age children. Your daughter may be having more anxiety because of changes in the family. Knowing that does not help much when you are trying to calm a frightened child at bed time so what can you do right now?

All the things you mention that you've tried deal with the child's environment. That's all fine but your goal is to empower the child within that safe environment. Talk with your daughter some time during the day when her anxiety is at its lowest, perhaps, ''You've been having trouble falling asleep on your own lately. You could do that when you were three-and-a-half, and I know you will do it again soon. So what can we do to help you do it again?'' If her only suggestion is to sleep in your bed offer her others, but it may be that when she is problem-solving during the day time she'll come up with great ideas.

Here are some things that have helped my son: His anxiety in falling asleep usually comes during times when he has nightmares. In order to feel safer in the face of nightmares, we turn one of his stuffed animals into a dream animal who will go with him into sleep and help him. If he has a bad dream, I try to work with him during the dream--he usually wakes up scared--reminding him that he is strong and safe, and that his dream animal is there to help. Then I ask him ways he might change the fear to something else: what is the monster's favorite ice cream? If we shine a light in the cave, does it sparkle with gems? He can rarely answer, but the suggestions that he is strong and safe and has power to change the dream really help.

All this did not help much last night, so I tried something different. I askedhim how he would help one of his stuffed animals who was having trouble sleeping? Would he sing to it, tell it a story, stroke its back? Maybe he could try those things for his animal. The idea was to give him the power to settle the animal, which of course was the part of him having anxiety. It still took another fifteen minutes, but he did not need my help after that. I hope this helps Carolyn


4 1/2 year old afraid to sleep at night

March 2005

For the past few months, my 4 1/2 year old son has been afraid to sleep at night, but recently the situation has worsened. Not only is he afraid at night but during the day as well. He has stated to me that ''monsters come into his room and step on him while he is asleep.'' At first, I told him that monsters do not exist but he refused to believe that. Since he did not buy the ''monsters do not exist'' line, I told him that I had ''thrown the monsters'' out of the house and that they could no longer come back in. He somewhat bought into it for one night, but the next day he said he did not believe my story. He said ''the monsters have keys to the house.'' I've also tried ''spraying the monsters'' away for good. Nothing seems to be working. He wants me to sleep with him in his room. Obviously I cannot do that every night. Every night I stay with him in his room until he falls asleep, but at around 2:00/3:00 in the morning, he wakes up afraid and in need of telling me the type of ''bad'' dreams his had. I then take him back into his room and end up sleeping in his room until morning. I am thinking of purchasing an air mattress to keep in my room, so that when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he can just come into my room and sleep on the air mattress. As I mentioned earlier, he is also afraid during the day. He follows me everywhere around the house. If I am upstairs and need to go downstairs to the kitchen, he follows. He does not want to be or feel alone for one second, and is constantly calling out for me to make sure I am near by. He is my little shadow. I don't know what else to do and am very concern about what my son is going through. I am in need of new advice for I have ran out of ideas to remedy this situation. Any advice that anyone could provide me will be greatly appreciated. Thank you, R


I realize my below suggestions are very strange-sounding, but you've gotta work at his level. Clearly, he feels these things exist, so telling him that they don't only serves to make him more afraid and insecure.

You can't really fix what you cannot see. He gets that you don't see them and feels alone and terrified. It is possible he is seeing shadows and thinking they're monsters. I did this as a kid.

At any rate, you need to empower him to fight them off himself. After teaching him how, let him be in complete control of this, because he'll have no power if you fix it for him. Teach him to not give into the fear (because that is a losing proposition). Teach him a little secret that monsters really are very scared themselves, but they don't want kids to know that. Teach him to growl and roar angrily, and fiercely yell at the monsters to get out of his house and that they are not welcome here. If sounds travel well in your house, teach him how we can do these things in our heads, and not outloud. Tell him monsters get very scared when they get yelled at and they run away.

Teach him to be mad at them, not scared of them. You can guess which posturing would hold more power - the anger.

Depending on your success, you can talk about ''fake power''. Say that the monsters are like big balloons, but really they are full of hot air and not really that big. Tell him to poke his finger toward the monster and ''pop'' the balloon, letting all the air out, making the monster shrink small, while taking his own power back to have his bedroom for himself only.

Basically, he needs to be taught that he doesn't have to be vulnerable, and how to stand up to these monsters himself. Ali


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