Proven Tips on How to Deal with Nighttime Fears in Children

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Guest post by Sarah Cummings

Wondering why your child has bad dreams or how to deal with nighttime fears in children?

Kids have pretty wild imaginations sometimes.

That tree in the back garden becomes a gnarled wizard with an array of powers, that fish pond a vast ocean between mythical lands, that old bench a magic throne which can soar into the heavens when the right words are uttered.

For us parents, sometimes these imaginations work in our favour.

Like when we’re busy working on a big presentation and our kids are content to play ‘enchanted fortress’ with a couple of blankets and kitchen chairs. Or when we’re on a coffee date and they’re content to sit there for hours, lost in whatever romance their dolls are currently playing out.

Other times, these overactive imaginations can cause us… well, a lot more hassle.

Like in the middle of the night, and our little darlings come into wake us up before telling us fearfully that the monster under their bed keeps demanding peanut butter…or else.

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to curtail these nighttime fears in children; without diminishing the wonder of your child’s imagination.

Let’s review . . . 

How to deal with nighttime fears in children?

1. Switch off the screens

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It’s no wonder that your child’s having vivid nightmares if they’ve been watching the latest Spielberg offering before bedtime.

And even if what they’re watching is totally PG, or they’ve been playing educational games on your iPad, these screens aren’t going to do their sleeping patterns any favours. They keep the mind stimulated rather than helping it settle down; so basically, the last thing an overactive mind needs!

If your child is prone to night-time fears, and you’re wondering what could be the cause of them, these technological devices could certainly be the catalyst. So switch ’em off at least an hour before bedtime, and read them a book instead.

This quality time will help them feel safe and secure in your presence; hearing your voice to calm and reassure them before sleep. (Obviously though, stick to a non-scary story and if making up one of your own, avoid any talk of witches, ghosts and other unmentionables!)

2. Do a checking game

Is your child scared of monsters under the bed or in the closet?

Well, why not turn it from something to be feared into a fun game? Every night, make it part of your child’s bedtime routine. Have them check under the bed, asking: “Hello, monster, are you there?”, then the wardrobe, behind the curtains etc.

If they think the monster is there, make it seem like less of a scary thing by asking them to describe it.

Does he have a funny hat on? What colour are his pants? Etc etc.

Soon your child will feel comfortable going to bed, even if there is a monster there, because it’ll already be on the checklist and there’s no nasty surprises in store.



3. Try it yourself

It’s hard to put yourself in your kids’ shoes.

You have no idea what could be sending them running into your bedroom every night in panic. So the best way around this is to try their bedroom out for yourself!

Sleep in there one night, by yourself, and try to work out what could be causing their fear.

Does that dressing gown over the chair make a creepy shape? Is the nightlight throwing strange shadows around the room? Is that the fridge or the mattress making a creaky noise, or footsteps on the stairs?

If it is the bed the make sure to view the top kid mattress as noted on the official Sleep Advisor website.

This can be a great way to anticipate nighttime fears in children so that you have a reasonable explanation for each one (unless, of course, you get freaked out yourself!)

So the next time your child comes to you with a night-time fear you can assure them not to worry, you heard it too and it was definitely just the fridge.

Problem solved.

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What are the symptoms of a night terror?

Night terrors are a type of sleeping disorder.  Children often awake from sleep in a state of panic or extreme fear. The child may experience their fight-or-flight nervous system. They often wake up and may sit up crying or yelling.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, night terrors affect up to 6.5% of children & 2.2% of adults.

Symptoms of a night terror can include:

  • Fully or partially awake in an instant
  • Yelling or violent movement
  • Extreme fear of the unknown
  • Eyes wide open
  • Fast breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excess sweating

Is a night terror the same as a nightmare?

While similar, ultimately nighttime fears in children or nightmares and night terrors are slightly different.

One of the largest differences between nightmares & night terrors is how alert your child is.

With nightmares, kids often recall everything in great detail. With night terrors, like a sleep walker, they usually don’t remember a thing the next day.

Night terrors cause confusion and your child may not even be fully aware you have entered the room.

With nightmares, kids often seek out their parent for comfort and have little to no disorientation. Night terrors often happen in the first couple of hours before REM sleep starts. Standard nighttime fears in children, however, usually happen later at night during REM sleep when their dream state is most active.

Do night terrors go away?

Treatment for infrequent night terrors isn’t usually necessary and if you can treat the underlying issue, they do typically go away on their own.

If night terrors are an issue for your child, often times there is an underlying stress or issue at the root of it. If stress and anxiety are an issue with your child, I highly recommend you take a moment and review the best tips on Eliminating Anxiety and Panic Attacks in Kids.

Did we cover everything you wanted to know about how to nighttime fears in children?

Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is vital for both you and your children.

The effects of sleep deprivation on kids can impact your health, your happiness and your relationships with those around you…so it’s worth sorting out any sleep disturbances at this early stage.

With that in mind, try out these nighttime fears in children tips this week and see if they make a difference. Who knows, you might even get a week of undisturbed sleep… imagine!

May the sweetest of dreams and the soundest of sleeps await both you and your children – for every night this week, and every night thereafter.




About the author of this post.

Hi, I’m Sarah. Mom to two gorgeous kids (with very, very active imaginations!) Aside from hanging out with my girls, I love yoga, hiking and walking my dog Monty on the beach. Plus anything to do with chocolate. 😉


Want to write for Middle Class Dad too? Check out everything you need to know on my Guest Blog Page.


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