Tips and Tricks to Help Alleviate Children’s Nighttime Fears

I think everyone can remember from their childhood at least one nighttime fear. In fact, research indicates that almost all children experience nighttime fears, with peak occurrence between 3-6 years of age. Children in this age group tend to be afraid of things like imaginary creatures, the dark, specific places in their bedroom, or loud noises like thunder.

The trick is to provide your child with support and assistance with his/her fears without inadvertently reinforcing them. Too much reassurance and parental involvement could subtly provide positive attention and actually increase reoccurrence of the fears. Also, some children may interpret lots of parental focus on their nighttime fears as proof that the fears are well founded.

Tips on What To Do

Probably the most common childhood fear is a fear of the dark. Here are some options:

First, prepare the room. The best bedroom environment is a dark one, but it doesn’t have to be completely dark. Nightlights offer a perfect solution, or projector lights that projects shapes, stars, etc. onto the ceiling. Avoid using the television, iPad or any electronics with a screen once it is bedtime. The light emitted from electronics can negatively affect a child’s circadian rhythms (our internal sleep clock) and actually make it harder for a child to fall asleep (despite what your child says :-)). Also, consider using white noise (a fan, white noise machine) or even soft music, to help block out ambient noise.

To make the dark less scary, you could play games in their bedroom in the dark, such as a scavenger hunt with flashlights, or make a game out of sitting in the dark with your child and trying to identify the sounds that you hear (or make up funny things they could be). You can also try this for storms/thunder. These games should be played in the evening, but not right at bedtime.

Are there monsters under the bed or in the closet? You and your child can do a quick (less than 1 minute) monster check, and/or use “monster spray” (It’s water :-), but be creative with the spray bottle and presentation so it is believable. Some pharmacists will even print out a “prescription” label for monster spray.)

For fantasy-based fears (e.g. monsters, zombies) help your child understand the difference between “real” and “pretend”, and focus on how “pretend” things can’t hurt your child because they aren’t real. Sounds like a simple concept, but young children need parental help with this.

Also, give you child models for being brave that they can relate to: Is there a cartoon character they identify with that is brave? For example: be strong like Superman or use your lasso like Wonder Woman. Additionally, most children’s biggest protector is Mom and/or Dad. Put a picture of yourself on their nightstand (or maybe give them an object of yours, like a t-shirt) so they are reminded that you are keeping them safe even when you aren’t in their room.

Finally – everyone likes prizes. A simple, inexpensive reward program like giving a sticker in the morning for staying in the bed is fun and gives them a sense of accomplishment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips. What has worked with your kiddos? Share your tips and tricks with us.


Sleep Well!

Kevin C. Smith, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine (CBSM)
Board Member, Sleepyhead Beds


The information provided on this site is not medical advice. The content of this site is made individually by the author and is not made on behalf of Sleepyhead Beds or any other entity. Should you have questions about sleep issues, please consult your personal physician.

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