For some children, nighttime fears are common, and can interfere with falling asleep. This can result in a child stalling at bedtime, not getting enough sleep, and/or being sleepy and irritable the next day. So how is a parent to deal with these “monsters”?
Part of normal development is imagination, and for younger children the ability to tell the difference between real and imaginary is not yet developed. In addition, all rational thought is gone when a child (or adult) is tired at night. So simply telling your child that there is no such thing as monsters will not work.
That said, allowing a child into your bed or staying with him or her while they fall asleep is also not the answer. This simply teaches the child that by saying “I’m afraid” they will get extra attention from you, resulting in long bedtime routines and disrupted nighttime sleep for everyone!
So what is a tired parent to do? To start, it is important to validate your child’s fear without saying he or she is wrong. Something like, “It sounds like you are really scared right now,” tells your child that you are listening to their feelings.
Give your child control over his or her fear. First, have your child create signs such as “No Monsters Allowed” or “Monsters Stay Out!” They can hang these on their door or the walls to tell the monsters to stay away. Second, use “monster spray” (or witch, ghost, or boogeyman spray) to keep the monsters away. This is a water bottle (or air freshener) that is labeled “Monster Spray”. Your child can then spray this around his or her room to protect him or her from monsters. Simply tell your child that monster spray keeps monsters away the same way that bug spray keeps bugs away. Or you can say that monsters are allergic to this spray and they don’t like it because it makes them sneeze. Children can use their spray as needed both at bedtime or if they wake during the night.
Finally, don’t allow children to watch television shows or play video games that have any sort of scary content (even the news is scary for young kids). They will often keep these images in their heads at night, helping to increase their fears.
Helping your child sleep is one of the best gifts you can give him or her. By recognizing your child is scared at bedtime, and giving him or her ways to be in control of this fear, everyone will sleep a little better!