How can I soothe my child’s bedtime fears?

Bedtime can be tricky. It’s normal for young children to feel scared or worried about going to bed at night. They may be worried about having bad dreams or afraid of the dark.
But there are lots of ways you can help make bedtime easier and calmer.

Talk to them about how they're feeling 

Acknowledge their fears. Tell them that you can see how scared or worried they are. Let them know that you understand. That way, they’ll know they can come to you with their worries and fears. You can also:

  • Reflect on the positives. Encourage them to tell you what their favourite part of the day has been or what has made them laugh today.
  • ‘Choose’ dreams with them. Talk through with them what they might like to dream about. If they have woken from a flashback or scary dream, encourage them to ‘switch the channel’ like they would on the TV. Instead, they can choose a ‘happy dream’ channel.
  • Send the bad dream away. Ask them to imagine locking any bad dream away in a box. Then, imagine them putting the box on a big truck, which drives to a big ship. Imagine the box is loaded on to the ship. The ship sails out to sea, where the box is dropped over the side. Watch as it sinks down, down, down to the bottom of the deep, deep ocean.

Help them to feel calm

Try some techniques to calm and soothe:

  • Cuddle a soft toy. Encourage them to pick a favourite soft toy to sleep in their bed. This can help them feel comforted and less alone.
  • Tell or read a bedtime story or sing some favourite songs or rhymes together. Try singing a lullaby to them as they close their eyes.
  • Soothe them with gentle touch. This can be comforting for some children. Try stroking down the child’s arm from shoulder to hand. Or trace slow circles on your child’s back. Some children like to have their hair stroked, too.
  • Practise muscle relaxation with them. Ask them to tighten each set of muscles, hold for a few seconds and then let go. Notice how the muscles become soft and relaxed. Start with the toes then legs, bottom, tummy, shoulders, arms, hands and finally the face.

Check their environment

Make sure they have enough light. A night light can be helpful for children who are afraid of the dark. A dim lamp in a corner of the bedroom can do the trick. Or you could leave their bedroom door slightly open with a light on in the hallway. As long as it’s quiet, leaving the door open can help them feel less separate from you, too. Just make sure that any light is not so bright that it stops them falling asleep.

Check in on them every so often. If your child is worried about being alone, tell them you will check back on them in five minutes. If they’re still awake, you can reassure them again, and say you will check back in 10 minutes. Repeat this until they are asleep. Each time, increase the amount of time before you check in. Go to 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, and so on. Make sure you don’t spend too long reassuring them when you do check in.

If your child is very upset and you don’t think they will sleep if you leave them, it’s OK to stay with them for a while. Try not to do this often, or even for two nights in a row. Otherwise they might expect you to do it every night or think they can’t sleep without you staying with them.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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