For weeks, Mark and Lora's 3-1/2-year-old, Kelly, woke up screaming in the middle of the night. Each time, one or both parents flew out of bed to comfort their daughter. Some nights they stayed in her room, some nights they let Kelly come into their bed. It wasn't long before sleep deprivation and frustration set in.
Sound familiar? Here's what was happening developmentally. Kelly had matured to the point where she could recognize her vulnerability. More and more, she identified real dangers in the world outside the safety of Mom's protective arms. Then her vivid imagination went to work, stirring up the night fright even more.
Here are five steps that can restore peaceful slumber?for your child and for yourself.
Find the source of the anxiety.
Take your family temperature. Is something going on that requires specific reassurances? Is your child getting enough closeness with you? Also check for too much stimulation?fast-paced tv shows or roughhousing?close to bedtime.
If darkness causes a problem, leave on a nightlight.
If shadows are unsettling to your child (nightlights cause them), turn the lights on and off to display your own shadow. Also, close the closet door and store extra pillows and folded blankets under your child's bed to dispose of two scary black holes.
Demonstrate your nearness.
Let your child sit up in bed and hear your voices in the other room. Then let her talk while you listen from another room. Explain: "At night I can hear anything that might happen in your room, and I will come if you need me." Also demonstrate your nearness with plenty of hugs and kisses.
Supply tools to build trust.
We not only want to help our kids conquer their fears, we also want to teach them to tell God about their feelings and concerns. Let your child fall asleep while listening to praise tapes. Also, learn a short verse or song about God's protection, such as "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety" (Ps. 4:8).
Provide all-night friends.
Child psychologist Penelope Leach recommends letting your child have "company"?a turtle, some goldfish or maybe a large family photo.
Work on a worthy goal.
Since Kelly wanted to start taking ballet, her parents told her that when she could be brave at night, they'd know she was old enough for dance lessons. That reward provided needed incentive.
As you help your child build confidence, be patient. She will finally sleep through the night. By working through night frights, she'll grasp important certainties?that you'll protect her, that God is present and powerful, and that nighttime is a great time for peaceful rest.
Author, chaplain's wife and
mother of two
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