Helping a child who is scared at night can be an exhausting task! If you have a toddler who is scared of the dark, a 7 year old afraid of sleeping alone, or a 10 year old who is still afraid of monsters, I feel your pain!
I have been working with my now 9 year old son who was extremely afraid of monsters and couldn’t sleep alone from the time he was 7. Thankfully, we have emerged from those sleep deprived nights.
Having a 7 year old afraid to sleep alone can bring up a lot of emotions for parents. For me, I felt so sad for my son who was scared of everything at night.
I also felt embarrassed and so worried that I was failing as a parent because I couldn’t fix this for him.
And to be honest, I also really wanted to spend a whole night sleeping without a kiddo in my bed.
How to deal with a child who is scared to sleep alone
I spent hours researching, reading, and trying out ideas. We tried monster spray, collecting the monsters and throwing them out, praying together, and so many other things that I can’t even remember!
If this sounds familiar, you are probably asking yourself how to help your child overcome their nighttime fears.
Today I want to give you a quick and simple actionable list of my top 10 ideas to help children who are afraid at bedtime. Whether they are a 7 year old afraid to sleep alone, a toddler who is scared of the dark, an 8 year old scared of monsters, or a child at any age struggling with nighttime fear, then this list is for you!
Top 10 Ideas to Help Kids Who are Scared at Night
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1. Get a Sound Machine to block out scary noises (This is the one we use.) Using a sound machine helped my son manage his fear in a couple of ways. First, it gave him a sound to focus on rather than straining his ears to listen for monsters. Second, it gave him a sense of control. He was able to turn it on or off as well as change the volume anytime he wanted. Control was an important element for him in his nighttime anxieties.
2. Ask your child for ideas that they think will help. (Again, this is allowing them to take charge of the problem. My son came up with the idea that he calls “turtling” where he hides under his blankets like a turtle shell. It sounds silly but it works for him.)
3. Work on Coping Skills during the day when they are not afraid. (We go through the projects in the Little Brave Guide to Being Afraid.) You can also check out this article on calm down skills for kids who are scared and pick a few to try out and practice. Coping skills work really well for elementary-aged kids and older. For my son, starting coping skills when he was 7 and afraid of sleeping alone really grabbed his imagination. He was open to trying deep breathing, creating a personal affirmation, and many other skills that he still uses today.
4. Create reminders that help your child use coping skills at night. (This is why I created the Calm Down Card Deck. My son has it in his nightstand and can pull it out anytime he is feeling afraid. You can purchase one here or download a free mini-deck by entering your details below.) This deck has multiple deep breathing exercises, distraction techniques, and many other great coping skills that work for kids!
5. Get a night light. Okay, I know this is probably sort of obvious but allowing your child to choose to have a little light at night can help take away some of the scary shadows and calm their minds. This adjustable clip-on nightlight is very similar to what my son has.
6. Write a letter to your child (or draw a picture if they can’t read) for them to have by their bed. This is one of the things I tried and liked so that I didn’t have to stay in his room for hours every evening. Having the letter allowed my 7 year old to not be as afraid of the dark.
7. Try lavender pillow spray. This idea sort of evolved from our monster spray experiment. We talked about how lavender is a naturally calming scent and how it could help him sleep. We also decided together that monsters hated the smell of lavender. I let my son be in charge of spraying this. Anywhere that you can give your child power and allow him to take charge of this fear helps!
8. Make deep breathing exercises part of your nighttime routine. I placed deep breathing posters in my son’s bedroom and every night I allow him to choose which one we practice together. Deep breathing is a great tool for 7 and 8 year old kids who are scared to sleep alone because it helps to regulate their breathing and calm their bodies down to encourage sleep.
9. Set a routine and stick to it. I know this is hard – but it is actually one of the best things I have found for getting my son to sleep through the night in his own room. Having a routine helps in a few different ways for kids who have nighttime fears. Bedtime routines help signal the brain that it is time to start shutting down and preparing for sleep. Studies have also shown that bedtime routines help kids fall asleep quicker, stay asleep longer, and wake up more rested.
10. Make sure your child is getting enough exercise. This tip is an interesting one in that it doesn’t immediately seem to relate to a child’s fears. However, exercise is another important element to a healthy sleep cycle which includes falling asleep quickly and easily. Make sure that your child is getting at least 30-60 minutes of heart-pumping play/exercise every day.
What to do When You’re Scared at Night
It is important to understand that there isn’t a one size fits all solution for little kids who get scared at night. If these ideas don’t work, don’t give up! Encourage your child to keep using the coping skills that they learn. Encourage your child to try new solutions – empower them to take ownership and find solutions that they feel good about. Eventually, the nighttime fear will begin to diminish!
Sending you love and light,