Inside this post: Learn the most effective way to respond when your child is afraid to sleep alone. If your child keeps getting out of bed and is afraid of the dark, this tip will help with nighttime anxiety.
“Mommy, there are monsters in here!”
Out of nowhere, my son was afraid to sleep alone, and if I’m being honest, I was about to flip my lid and give him a real-life mommy monster. We’d been at this for over an hour.
“Son, you’re fine. There are no monsters in here. Remember?”
The desperation in both our voices was palpable. Him desperate for me to stay. Me desperate to leave. I was pleading with him at this point.
How do I go from thinking “this moment is fleeting” to completely teetering on “the verge of a mommy volcano” ?
I continued to impress logical thinking upon him, “There is nothing to be afraid of. You are totally safe here.”
I was wrong.
One of the most difficult parts of parenting is realizing that the way an adult brain works is completely different than a child’s brain.
Adults brains are fueled by logic.
Kids brains are fueled by emotion.
I’m over here pumping unleaded into my kid’s brain, and it only runs on diesel. It seems like it should work just fine, but unfortunately, it’s just not the same thing.
Here’s the kicker.
One of the main principles of Language of Listening® is that kids will continue to communicate until they feel heard.
So the more I pumped him with my logical views of the situation, the more he needed to prove that his feelings, thoughts and ideas were totally legit.
When I said, “You’re fine.”
He thought, “Yep. Definitely not fine! I should convince her better.”
When I said, “There’s no monsters in here.”
He thought, “There’s definitely monsters in here. She doesn’t get it. I’ll keep telling her.”
This is the power struggle conundrum: the more you resist your child’s thoughts and ideas, the more they push back with their own thoughts and ideas.
It’s like hitting your head against the proverbial wall; you keep going in circles, and it starts to get pretty darn — ahem — maddening.
What to do when your child is afraid to sleep alone.
This is where Language of Listening® is so useful. It’s easy to apply to any parenting situation, and it works beautifully when kids are afraid of the dark!
When your child is afraid to sleep alone, dive into that experience and explore it with your child. In the evening, when it comes up, start with 3 simple steps:
1) Say What You See®.
“You saw monsters in your room somewhere. And wow, that just really stuck with you. There’s something about it that you can’t let go. And you want to feel safe. Right now, you think the only thing that will help you feel safe is me laying down next to you and sleeping. Hmmmm….there must be something we can do to help you feel safe AND fall asleep on your own.”
Follow the child’s lead, validate the emotions (no matter how illogical it seems).
2) Offer a Can Do.
- Create a special blanket together that could serve as a “shield” when they are in bed.
- The child could choose a nightlight that would help her feel safe.
- The child could listen to a song before bed that helps her feel safe.
- Create a special “monster spray” and let the child keep in on the nightstand.
Or you could use my all-time favorite Can Do for kids afraid of the dark:
Take the monsters out of the room, walk them to the front door, politely tell them it’s not okay to sleep here anymore, shut the door and lock them out.
(Just don’t use too much enthusiasm and dramatic play or your child will find this hilariously entertaining and become wide awake. Hmpf.)
2.5) If needed, use wants and wishes.
You can say…”You just really want me to sleep with you. You wish I could sleep with you all night, every night and never leave your side. You’d LOVE that!”
Then re-state the boundary using Say What You See®…”You want me to sleep next to you AND I’m not okay with that. Hmmm…there must be another way to help you feel safe.”
3. Name Strengths.
Each time your child manages to stay in bed or calm themselves, name those strengths.
“Wow, you stayed in bed even though you didn’t want to. That took a HUGE amount of self control.”
Or “Wow, you handled that. You conquered your fear and found a way to feel safe.”
So…did this “cure” his nighttime anxiety?
Every now and again, my son will pop out of his room to share a new fear that is upsetting him. Language of Listening® won’t “cure” my son’s feelings or emotions.
Nor will it switch off his vibrant imagination.
However, it does empower me to coach my child through nighttime anxiety and his fears over sleeping alone.
Without turning into a real-life mommy monster, who ignites fear, I still got the same results: a child sleeping in his own bed.
Except there was an unexpected bonus: a mom who felt good about the way it happened.
Want more on parenting?
- One Simple Trick to Help Kids Fall Asleep Fast
- The Real Reason Kids Never Want to Go to Sleep
- How to Handle Backtalk Like a Calm Parenting Warrior
- 10 Powerful Responses to Use With a Complaining Child
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