It’s a family struggle that’s as old as time: Putting the kids to bed.
“But, I’m not sleepy!” is the rally cry of choice for the oppressed as they shamelessly wield tears while begging for mercy. For most parents, it’s a war of wills every night. And it’s exhausting.
Fear of the dark typically appears during the ages of 2 or 3 and coincides with when children begin developing an imagination. Whether it’s being afraid of sleeping alone or of the dark, fear is powerful and real, especially for a child. But, parents have an incredible power to help their children overcome this fear.
Create a routine that’s rooted in the familiar and the comforting. Children are creatures of habit, which brings comfort and security in knowing what to expect. Routines can include brushing teeth, putting on PJs, reading a story or singing. End the night with positive, reassuring conversations. Talk about what he or she wants to dream about and why. What’s one thing they really want to do this weekend? These positive nuggets of conversation can help ease an overactive imagination.
Sideline the screen. For kids (and adults, too) electronic media can have an overwhelming effect on the brain, especially as we’re trying to get to rest. Avoid midnight mayhem by ensuring your child is watching age-appropriate content. Also, turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before bed and do not allow screens in bedrooms.
Get a head start on sleep. We all have busy days that work us up, and children are no different. Take a few minutes to decompress with your child as you’re tucking them in. Practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation. Doing so will help them settle down and get a head start on falling asleep.
Be mindful of your words. Be respectful of your child’s fears and show them you understand. Don’t belittle their fears or tell them they’re silly because in addition to being scared, they’ll also feel ashamed. Reassure them that their fear is normal and empower them by telling them they’re safe.
Avoid sleepovers. As parents, our job is to protect, which makes it easy to justify a scared little body crawling into our beds. Instead of dealing with the problem, sharing our bed creates a bad habit. Promise to check on them before you go to bed. Discuss a middle-of-the-night plan, which can include self-comfort tactics, such as snuggling with a stuffie or blankie, getting up to use the bathroom or having a drink of water.
It’s never too late to begin dealing with fear. Today it’s a fear of the dark, while tomorrow it may be a bigger, scarier culprit. Creating open, honest channels of communication, while equipping kids with tools they can use goes a long way in building long-term trust.
Written by: Benjamin Ihms, D.O., Family Medicine Physician, Desert Grove Family Medical, part of Steward Medical Group
Benjamin Ihms, D.O. is a Family Medicine Physician at Desert Grove Family Medical, part of Steward Medical Group. To schedule an appointment to discuss common sleep problems or other family health and wellness issues, contact Dr. Ihms and the team of physicians at Desert Grove Family Medical by calling 480-834-7546 or visiting desertgrove.net.