Unfortunately, night time can be a scary time for many children, especially between the ages of 3 and 8. This is often triggered by something simple like a scary monster or 'bad guy' in a cartoon or movie or hearing a scary story. A simple creak of the house settling can be a huge monster climbing the stairs in the mind of a 5-year-old with a vivid imagination! Night time is when scary things hide in cupboards and wardrobes and goodness only knows what hides under the bed. I can vividly remember being too scared to let my hand or foot hang out over the side of the bed in case anything grabbed it! (and I was a lot older than 5 then!)
So, what can we do to help a child that thinks there are monsters in their bedroom?
Instead, you can say something like, "I know that you are afraid of monsters. It's a scary thought that there might be monsters in your room. It's no fun being scared. It must be really hard for you when you wake up at night." This will not reinforce his fears, but will help him to feel understood. Teach them that it's OK to be scared. You have to be scared in order to be brave.
Help him to externalise his fears
Encourage your child to draw pictures of the monsters he imagines and to talk about them. Give them silly names like snoopy, fluffy or Rupert! If you haven't already introduce him to his Chimp. This will help your child to understand that it's just his Chimp who is making him worried. Remind him that he is in charge of his Chimp.)
Role play with him and ask him to pretend to be the 'scary' monster with the silly name and silly voice. Then take his picture and ask him to draw it again but this time as small as he can make it. Then take both drawings and let your son tear them up in as many pieces as he can and throw them in the bin with a big "goodbye and good riddance fluffy!" (or snoopy or Rupert!) Explain that monsters are not real. Ask him to think of other things he sees on TV that aren't real.
Make up stories with your child that involve him becoming best friends with his silly monster
Listen for the sounds. Lay in bed with your child and listen. Ask him to identify the sounds that scare him. Sometimes it’s the creaking of the house, a car racing by or the screeching of a cat. A young child isn’t able to make sense of these sounds when he hears them in the night, and assumes they belong to something very scary.
Show them how to take control of their monsters
Empower your child to say loudly to 'fluffy' that is was time for him to go home, as it was time for bed!
Teach them how a simple "abracadabra" makes all the monsters disappear, every time!
Ask them what they think they should do about the monsters. What do they think will make them go away? The monsters are in their mind, so they may be able to imagine a far better solution!
When your child successfully faces her fears, praise and encourage her bravery. For instance, you could say something like: "Whoa! You are so brave! You checked that wardrobe all by yourself. I bet you could handle any scary situation!" or "I'm proud of you for spending the whole night in your own room!"
Help them to understand the difference between real and make believe
Checking under the bed for monsters and salt on windowsills!
Although this technique can definitely work, there is some argument to say that we shouldn't get into the habit of checking under beds and in wardrobes, as you are confirming that you think it's worth checking for monsters!
Same goes for the good old 'monster repellent spray' and 'monster squatters' Perhaps use these types of tactics in a fun way, such as asking your child what silly 'make-believe' weapon could they make for such a silly 'make-believe' monster?
Other similar tactics are:
Be aware of the Triggers
Create a relaxing bedtime routine
At bedtime engage your child in the same, predictable, wind-down routine to help them manage any anticipatory anxiety they might have. Have a bath, read a (non-scary!) story. If helps initially let them have a night light so they can see for themselves that there is nothing there!
Feel free to add your own solutions in the comments below.
Images courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net