Inside: 12 proven strategies to help your child's anxiety and help them settle in for a long night’s sleep
You're finally settling onto your couch, remote in hand and ready to start binge watching your latest Netflix obsession. You're just about to press play when you hear tiny feet padding down the hall.
“Mommy? I can't sleep. I'm scared!!”
How many times has this happened? Your child has struggled with their nighttime fears for what feels like forever and you've tried all the tricks you know - setting up a regular routine,, reassuring him nothing will happen, night lights, warm milk, laying down with him, etc. Nothing is working. What can you do? Here are a few ideas that have worked for my clients and my own children.
Pinpoint what the fear is
One of the most important things to do is to figure out exactly what is causing the anxiety. Is it fear of the dark? Is it a worry about something in the closet? Is it monsters? Is it spiders? Figuring out the cause of the fear will help you come up with ways you can help your child combat it.
Rearrange the room
Are there particular spots of the room that seem to be darker or cause more fear at night than others? Go into the bedroom during the day with your child and talk about the spots that make your child nervous. Try moving night lights and furniture around for a more calming room arrangement.
There are scripts written specifically to help calm children and relax them at night. You can read them a script like this one from Inner Health Studio that is focused on helping them not be afraid of the dark. Or you could have them listen to a pre-recorded script. Here's one I love called Sleep Tight from the Book Sitting Still Like A Frog by Eline Snel.
If your child has a hard time separating from you, try a transitional object. This is a special item that helps your child feel comforted. It helps them feel like part of you is still present even when you're not there. It could be something like a stuffed animal or a special stone or necklace, or a sweatshirt of yours. The object isn’t what matters, it’s what the object represents. They can keep it and hold it all night long to help them relax and go to sleep.
Read a book to help calm anxiety at night
There are several children’s books that have characters who are afraid of the dark. Sometimes it helps kids to know they're not the only ones who get scared. Try reading one of these to help your child realize they’re not the only one who gets scared at night.
Certain yoga poses are helpful for calming a body down and getting ready for rest at night. One of my favorites is to have your child lay down on their back with their legs perpendicular up against a wall. Have them put their arms out to their sides. Encourage them to do some deep breathing as they lay like this. If it’s possible, have them do this pose in their bed, so it’s easier to transition them to laying in bed for sleep.
For other ideas, take a look at these yoga poses for sleep from Parents Magazine.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR, is a systematic way of going through all your muscle groups to tense and relax the muscles, typically starting at the top of your body and going all the way down. Usually after tensing and relaxing muscles, your body feels more relaxed. Try doing a whole body progressive muscle relaxation designed especially for for kids.
One thing my kids love to do is listen to audiobooks in bed. There are so many great kids’ titles out there. The beauty of apps like of Audible is that they usually have a sleep timer. They can distract themselves from their anxiety by listening to a story while they relax in their bed.
Try a different nightlight
There are so many types of night lights you can try. When my kids were younger, they both loved the what they called their “Turtle” night light. It was the Cloud b Twilight Constellation Night Light, and when it was lit up at night, it showed constellations on the ceiling and walls in their room.
Now my son is partial to the Projectables LED Plug-In Night Light of Spider-Man. This displays a huge image of Spider-Man wherever the light is pointed. My son loves the idea that a superhero is in his room at night with him.
There are some other neat nightlights too, try a new one and see how your child responds.
Calming Sounds Apps
There are apps that have sounds you can have your child listen to as background noise, if they get scared of unusual noises at night. Some have nature sounds, some have soothing music. Others have sleep scripts as part of the app as well. Try out a few and see what works best for your child. Here are some free ones I like:
Did you know there are podcasts with bedtime stories for children? Usually the hosts have a soothing voice and the stories tend to be pretty short. You can even listen to these podcasts during the day as a way to have some down time, too.
Watching the glitter settle in a calming jar is a simple way to help kids settle their minds. Have them imagine their mind settling and calming as the glitter settles in the bottom of the jar. You can make it really simple with glitter paint and sequins or make it fancier with glow in the dark stars, Legos or other items.
Your child sits in bed watching their calming jar swirl. He spins it again and watches intently. “I'd like to listen to James and the Giant Peach tonight” as he snuggles under his sheets and gets ready for a peaceful night’s sleep.