This is a guest post by Amy Douglas, a Maternal & Child Sleep Consultant. This is the ninth installment in my Children’s Healthcare Series. This post is for informational purposes only, always consult your healthcare professional.
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Helping Your Young Child Feel Safe & Secure in Their Bedroom
Children being afraid of the dark, or fearful of their rooms is nothing new. It is common, and it is tough to pinpoint where exactly this so-called fear originates. As a mother to two boys, and a Certified Sleep Consultant, this is something I am privy to hearing about quite often. I had this topic on my mind after a recent consult with a family of twin 3-year-olds and wanted to share a few ideas surrounding bedtime jitters.
Listen to Your Child’s Concerns about Their Sleep Environment
It is sometimes hard to seriously entertain conversations about the boogeyman, coming from a tot’s mouth, but let’s try. It is important for your child’s voice to be heard, and not ran over with scoffing. Now, that doesn’t mean you want to indulge in the conversation or make the character come to life. Just simply listen to the concerns your child has so you can come up with a plan of action. It is important for your little one to feel safe in their room, and though their issues are imaginative, the fear may be real.
Where Does This Fear Stem From? Why is Your Child Troubled?
Now that you are tuned into your child’s emotions, thoughts, and feelings surrounding this matter, let’s take it one step farther. Consider where this fear originated from – was it a dream? If so, manifested from a movie or a conversation? Now, it’s not realistic to think you can stop all lurking fears in their tracks, but you can be mindful of what your child is watching and listening to these days (they are little sponges, aren’t they?). This could be an easy fix if there is something bothersome in your child’s room and you can remove it. Or perhaps, the addition of something such as a nightlight can do the trick. Not just any old night light parents; make sure you are getting a traditional red or orange lightbulb and not the white or blue-tinted ones (those interfere with sleep).
Helping Your Child Feel Safe in their Room
Many of the times, your child is only visiting their bedroom at the point of sleep. This is usually the result of one of two reasons. First, parents try to keep the bedroom just for sleep and not for play, hoping this helps promote more sleep for their child at night. The second reason is that the child is busy with activities, school, or daycare which limits their ability to spend time in their room. However, if your child is fearful of their room, not sleeping well at night, and prefers to sleep with you rather than independently, then more room play is the solution. You may have to take it a step further than just encouraging your child to play in their space – you may have to join in on the fun. Additionally, just being present may not be enough, because you are trying to help your child create very positive, happy, and wonderful associations to this room. Therefore, you may have to pull out all of the stops and really engage with your child during this time.
How can you do this? By playing with your child’s favorite toys, reading special books, and anything else that makes your child smile or laugh. That is your goal: to go for giggles. This isn’t something that you have to make a big production over, but I would spend 10 minutes on it, at least twice a day to really focus on connecting in your child’s room. This is an easy fix that takes a few weeks to really take shape, but it’s effective nonetheless.
What Else Can I Do to Help My Child Minimize Fears?
Earlier we talked about listening to your child’s concerns. Let them share their story, and then be done with it. Don’t dwell on the matter and instead try to promote positivity towards the room. Let your child pick out some new room décor, or even room decals (no monsters, parents). Always let your child make choices whenever possible to help them drive the decision making. Also, consider if something is waking or startling your child at night? A white noise machine that plays a consistent fan sound can help drown out sounds and lull your child back to sleep.
For nighttime sleep and middle of the night wakeups, have a plan of action in the meantime. If your child is truly upset, tend to your child quickly and shush and calm them. Children look to adults and thrive on consistency. With that being said, it is very beneficial for your child when you respond in the same manner each time. This helps your little one understand your intentions and takes the guesswork out of what will happen next. Once your child understands your predictable response patterns, you may start to see fewer night wakeups for attention seeking behaviors. When you do tend to your child, be incredibly boring. Refrain from singing, humming, or truly engaging (remember – that is for daytime!). Also, keep the lights off or low, and just comfort them silently. You want to show you are there for them, but that it is time to go back to sleep.
These strategies are simple and effective for children that are waking out of habit at night or seem fearful of their sleep space. Stay positive, optimistic, and realistic and you will be on the other side of this problem before you know it!
Guest Post Bio:
Amy Douglas of Baby Sleep Central is a Sleep Consultant that understands the perils of sleep deprivation all too well. She’s been in your shoes, and after the birth of her first anti-sleeper, was inspired to find the answers. Now, she is helping other exhausted families from around the world to take back their sleep. Her philosophy ensures you feel completely supported during this collaborative process. Sleep is very complicated, but you don’t have to peel back all the layers on your own.
Amy’s educational background has always centered around maternal and child wellness; holding licensure and/or certifications as a Massage Therapist (Prenatal & Pediatric), Newborn Care Specialist, and most recently as a Maternal & Child Sleep Consultant (2014). Additionally, she is a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. Douglas has expanded her ongoing education to include Sensory Based Protocol and Early Behavioral Intervention to further understand the delicate and complex sleep needs of children with ASD, SPD, and ADHD. Follow Amy on Instagram and Facebook for more practical parenting advice and sleep tips.
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