Helping Kids Overcome Bedtime Fears

It is not surprising that kids might experience new fears, worries or struggles at a time like this. We are dealing with so many changes in our world, communities and homes right now. I have shared some thoughts about ways you can support your child if they are experiencing bedtime fears, or struggles with bedtime/sleep during this COVID-19 crisis.

  • First, breathe and remind yourself that this is uncharted territory. Everyone is feeling a heightened sense of fear and worry. There are so many unknowns, so much uncertainty.
  • If you are a person who already struggled with worry, you may be experiencing more of these feelings now yourself. Kids will pick up on these feelings in adults. Be sure to take good care of yourself and talk with other adults to get the support you need.
  • Provide validation and reassurance. It’s okay to share with your child that you have lots of questions too. However, let them know that it is your job to take care of them and keep them safe. You can explain that this is the reason so many things are being done differently right now, so that everyone can stay healthy/safe.
  • Try to reserve conversations about worries for earlier in the day, not at bed time. It is important to allow kids time to talk about their fears (if they want to). If they bring up something they are worried about at bedtime, simply state, “Aren’t you glad I know you are safe.” And if they persist, you can ask, “When do we talk about this?” You will want to have had a conversation about reserving these conversations for daytime, that way when you ask the question they will know what the expected answer is. If they say they don’t remember, simply state, “Daytime” and move on, not giving it a lot of attention.
  • Parents should also be having conversations with their kids about tools they can use to help them when they experience fear, worry, or any other uncomfortable emotions (deep breaths, focusing on positive thoughts, visual imagery, etc.). These conversations should take place during the day (when they aren’t experiencing the uncomfortable emotions). At bedtime parents might simply ask, “What tool are you going to try tonight?” 
  • Begin bedtime routines about 45 minutes before you would like your child to be asleep. This time should be a quiet and calming time, helping their mind and body prepare for rest. Keep your regular routines. With so much changing in the world and their lives, you want to give them as much of a normal routine as you can.
  • Allow your child to have a security object if this provides them comfort. For example, a blanket or stuffed animal.
  • Having a night light in their room and allowing them to have their bedroom door open can be comforting.
  • Even when kids are having a difficult time sleeping, it is best for them to stay in their own bed/bedroom. It’s important for them to recognize that their room is a safe place. If kids are fearful and they are allowed to avoid their rooms, they may begin to associate the fear with their room and resist returning to their own bed to sleep.
  • If your child is having a difficult time going to bed on their own, it’s okay to occasionally stay in their bed until they fall asleep, occasionally. Parents should let their child know ahead of time that they will lay with them until they fall asleep, then check on them periodically. If they continue to call out to you before you return, simply make a reassuring statement, “You are okay. You are safe. I will be in to check on you when it’s time.” Let the amount of time in between your check-ins gradually get longer. Be careful not to spend much time when you check in on them.
  • If your child comes to your room in the middle of the night, calmly walk them back to their bed and provide loving reassurance. You want them to learn that their bed/bedroom is a safe place. The best way for them to believe this is if you show that you believe it too.
  • Be sure that you are spending time during the day, and during their bedtime routine, showing love and giving them a healthy amount of attention.
  • Regularly give your child “You are capable” messages. This might sound like, “If anyone can sleep in their own bed, I know you can.” “If anyone can do this, I know you can.” When kids hear that the adults in their lives believe that they are capable, they begin to believe it too.
  • It can be helpful to give kids lots of little choices as they are doing their bedtime routine. For example, “Will you brush your teeth first or have a story first.” “Would you like the light on or light off.” “Would you like the door open or door shut?” “Would you like to get your drink of water from the bathroom or the kitchen sink?” Silly little choices that don’t matter to us, but give the child a sense of healthy control.
  • It can also be helpful to call this time “Bedroom time,” versus “Bedtime.” We cannot make kids fall asleep, but we can have an expectation that they will stay in their rooms. This is why we call it “Bedroom time.” It’s another opportunity for kids to feel a sense of healthy control.

During times like this, when things in our world are so uncertain and we feel a lack of control over what is going to happen, it is reassuring to have control over something. This is true for adults and it’s true for our kids. Look for opportunities to share control. Every opportunity you can take to give your child a healthy amount of control will be helpful.