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Nighttime fears


My Gracie girl has been talking about ghosts for a few months now. It all started while we were on vacation and the topic has been with us ever since. She gets a little weepy at bed time. She wanted a nightlight and now an actual light on and she’s afraid we’ll turn off those lights in the middle of the night. Occasionally, like happened yesterday, she’s afraid to be alone during the day. She didn’t want to go in the kitchen by herself and while we were hanging out with friends watching football, I heard her crying in the other room because the other kids ran off and “left her alone.”

This fear has been tricky for us, mostly I think, because Gracie doesn’t seem like someone who is afraid of things. She separates from us easily at the gym daycare and with babysitters. She’s social and rambunctious on the playground. She was over the moon excited about going to school. So I wonder sometimes if she’s really afraid or if she just doesn’t want to go to sleep – and these endless requests for water, blankets, animals, lights, for us to lay on her floor, for her to sleep in our bed – is just a stall tactic. But seeing her get scared during the day makes me think otherwise.

Do you have a go to parenting book? We do. It’s Richard Ferber’s “How to Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.” I think it gets a bad rap sometimes – people joke about Ferberizing their kids, thinking it’s just about letting your kid cry it out while you drink a glass of wine and turn up the volume on the TV. The truth is that the book is thoughtful, research based, and fully supportive of you doing what is right for you and your child. Anyway, the progressive waiting method of sleep training worked really well for us with Gracie (although we found it not right for us with Neva). There is a whole chapter on Nighttime Fears and it’s wonderful. First, it describes the anxious child and has you think about and evaluate your child’s fears, deciding whether she is actually frightened. Then discovering how intense those fears really are as well as figuring out what your child is afraid of.

Ferber says that kids that are Gracie’s age (toddlers) often say they’re afraid of things like ghosts or robbers because they’re not able to articulate what the actual cause of their fears. He gives the example of a three year old waking up after wetting the bed. The parents are frustrated and get angry. The next night, the child fears going to sleep because he fears wetting the bed and having his parents get angry again. Since he can’t explain that, he simply says he’s afraid of bugs.

When he talks about helping kids with mild fears, he says, “if your child begins to have difficulty going to sleep because she is worried at bedtime, talk it over with her during the day. At night, be empathetic, reassuring, and supportive…simple reassure her firmly and calmly that she is safe and that you will take care of her…your child will be more reassured in the long run if you show her that you can take care of her than if you give into her fears.”

Makes sense to me. I could go on and on (and on) about all the different things I’ve taken away from the book – but for now, I think I’m going to do exactly as he says – address Gracie’s fears by being calm and supportive and reassuring her that her dad and I will be there to take care of her.

Do your kids fear bedtime? Or anything else? And how do you help them?

P.S. We’re (obviously) playing a lot of dress up during the day. Also, I’m on a mission to figure out how to shoot with manual settings on my camera so bear with me as I share some pictures and what I’m learning. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear :)

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September 17, 2012 - 3:22 pm

jessicasliman - Ohhhh….I read a chapter on night terrors too. I think it would be SO hard to see your kiddo that upset. How old was Lucy when that happened?

September 17, 2012 - 3:05 pm

Megan - I have no advice, I just want to say I feel ya! Lucy had night terrors for about eight months when we moved to a new home, and it was horrible. She would wake up screaming and shaking…it was really the worst. Thankfully she grew out of it, but those nights were just no fun. Good luck to you!

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