Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Three Year Olds and Fear During Bedtime

Our second child has recently started sleeping with the night light.  She never was afraid of the dark before but turning three somehow turned on the "fear" button in her.  She has always been such a  good sleeper but a few times now we hear her crying out after we put her down.  "I'm scared" she would sob.  Thankfully, she is easily consolable.  A hug, a kiss and word of comfort usually does the trick but recently I added changing the sound machine to little birds instead of the usual white noise and adding a little night light so she is not in complete darkness.  We have not resorted to bringing her in bed with us as I know some may be tempted to do.  No... once you cross that line, it will be hard to ever cross back!  Plus, it gives the wrong message that their room is not a safe place.

So what is it with three year olds being afraid of the dark?  During this developmental time their young minds do not quite know how to differentiate fantasy and reality.  Their little brains are absorbing so many things from day to day... both from real life but also from things they see on tv or even read in books.  So it is best to limit these exposures to "scary" movies and books.  It is actually hard to find anything that is "not scary" since most all the Disney movies have a frightening villain.  At night when there are few distractions, the child's imaginations run wild.

Of course personality plays a part as well... but in general, fear at night is a common thing.  So what to do?
  • Stay calm when you talk to them about it
  • Show understanding but don't support or build up these fears
  • Don't dismiss their fear
  • A stuffed animal or favorite blanket may help
  • Keep bedtime routine consistent and soothing, not overstimulating
When our older child went through this, we started playing music from an ipod as part of her bedtime routine  We'd set the timer to 30min so it would play music for that long then stop.  This helped her get her mind off of "scary things".   She also started praying every night for "good dreams" as part of the routine.  One of her favorite songs to sing is "When I am afraid, I will trust in You...I will trust in You..."  by Steve Green.

Finally, need to watch out for stresses in life that may be causing the child more anxiety which can display itself as fear at night.  So things like...
  • divorce
  • death of a pet
  • birth of a new baby
Whenever unsure about how to handle a situation, can always bring up with child's physician to explore whether more help is needed.

So below is the Steve Green CD where that "I am Afraid" song is from.  Every song on there has scripture set to wonderfully catchy easy to sing music.  My kids love it!