How can I soothe my child’s bedtime fears?

Bedtime can be tricky. It is normal for young children to feel scared or worried about going to bed at night.
They might 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.
Bedtime: a child asleep with their hand by their mouth
  • Acknowledge their fears. Tell them that you can see how scared or worried they are. Let them know that you understand. That way, they will know they can come to you with their worries and fears.
  • Try a bedtime story or song. Tell or read a soothing bedtime story or sing some favourite songs or rhymes together. Try singing a lullaby to them as they close their eyes.
  • 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.
  • 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 which then sails out to sea, where it is dropped over the site. Watch as it sinks down, down, down to the bottom of the deep, deep ocean.
  • Soothe them with gentle touch. This can be very comforting for children who like to be touched. Try slowly 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.
  • Talk through 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 the legs, bottom, tummy, shoulders, arms, hands and finally the face.
  • Make sure they have enough light. A night-light can be helpful for children who are afraid of the dark. You don’t need anything fancy: 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 is 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 ten minutes. Repeat this until they are asleep. Each time, increase the amount of time before you check in. Go to fifteen minutes, then twenty minutes, and so on. Try to make sure you don’t spend too long reassuring them when you do check in on them.
  • Stay with them until they fall asleep. If your child is very upset and you don’t think they will sleep if you leave them, it’s okay 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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