I heard my three-year-old in the middle of the night open the door to his room and give a little whimper. “What’s the matter?” I asked him. As his lip quivered, I pressed on, “Are you scared?” He was, and after several more questions, I learned that he was concerned about an ominous stain on the ceiling; a blob of a shape that seemed to loom over him and feed his imagination. My little boy was scared, and I needed to help him cope, face his fears and feel secure in his bed. But how?
It’s easy to dismiss your child’s fears; groggy at two in the morning, I could barely see in the dark, much less have any desire to talk with a three-year-old. It’s just a stain on the ceiling! was what I really wanted to say. Still… these are his genuine fears, just as adults are afraid of spiders and ghosts and yes, the dark.
And so I listened, and we talked. We sat on the bathroom floor as I tried to piece his emotions together. He needed to know that someone was on his side, that he wasn’t going crazy, and that it’s perfectly normal to feel this way from time to time. I also mentioned a few times when I’ve been scared so he knows he’s not alone.
If your child brings the episode up the next day, use the opportunity to elaborate on what happened. Without the dark or the need to go to sleep, discussing your child’s fears in the safety of the day can help him open up.
Don’t reinforce the fears and pretend the fantasies exist
Most parents’ reaction to monsters and other scary fantasies is to “banish” them away, such as sweeping the creatures out of the room or ridding them with monster spray. I know I thought so. Kids are surrounded with fantasy and imagination and use pretend play to sort through feelings, so it could seem like a good idea to apply the same approach to their nighttime fears. Plus, monster-banishing can even turn into a laugh-fest, arresting their fears and turning them into a joyful moment.
But on further research, here’s what I learned:
…then tell us: How have you handled your child’s nighttime fears? What has your child been afraid of? Let us know in the comments below or on www.myfriendbetty.com!
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