Nighttime Fears

Nighttime Fears

Nighttime fears are common experiences for children, often referred to as bedtime anxiety. They involve feelings of fear, apprehension, or discomfort that occur during the evening hours, particularly when it’s time to go to bed or during the night. Understanding these fears and how to address them can help create a more restful and peaceful bedtime routine for your child.

Common Causes of Nighttime Fears

Nighttime fears in children can arise from various factors, including:

  1. Imagination and Creativity: A child’s vivid imagination can lead to the creation of fantastical and sometimes frightening scenarios in their minds.
  2. Separation Anxiety: Fear of being alone or away from their parents can cause distress at bedtime.
  3. Fear of the Dark: Many children go through a phase of fearing the dark, also known as nyctophobia.
  4. Stress and Anxiety: Daytime stressors, such as school, family changes, or peer pressure, can carry over into the night, causing fear and anxiety.
  5. Media and Content: Exposure to frightening or violent content in books, movies, or video games can influence a child’s fears.
  6. Life Transitions: Major life changes, such as moving to a new home or starting a new school, can trigger nighttime fears.

Managing Nighttime Fears

Here are some strategies to help manage and alleviate nighttime fears in children:

  1. Comforting Bedtime Routine: Establish a calming bedtime routine that signals to your child that it’s time to relax and sleep. This routine might include reading a story, taking a warm bath, or practicing deep-breathing exercises.
  2. Nightlights and Familiar Objects: A nightlight in the bedroom or a beloved stuffed animal can provide comfort and reduce the fear of the dark.
  3. Open Communication: Encourage your child to talk about their fears and listen to their concerns without judgment. Let them know it’s okay to share their feelings.
  4. Empower Through Imagination: Teach your child to use their imagination for positive purposes. Help them imagine a happy place or a protective “dream guardian” who watches over them.
  5. Limit Exposure to Frightening Content: Be mindful of the media content your child is exposed to and ensure it’s age-appropriate.
  6. Gradual Desensitization: If the fear is specific, gradually expose your child to it in a controlled and non-threatening manner. This can help them become less afraid over time.

Providing Comfort and Reassurance

As a parent or caregiver, providing comfort and reassurance is key to helping your child through nighttime fears:

  • Be patient and understanding, offering a comforting presence at bedtime.
  • Reiterate that their feelings are normal and that they are safe.
  • Avoid dismissive phrases like “There’s nothing to be scared of.” Instead, acknowledge their feelings and reassure them.
  • Create an environment that promotes a sense of safety and security in their bedroom.


Your Child’s Peaceful Night

Understanding and managing nighttime fears in children is a vital part of their development. With a supportive and empathetic approach, you can help your child navigate these moments and create a peaceful and reassuring bedtime experience. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and many children outgrow their nighttime fears as they grow and learn to manage their emotions.


Parental dependency

For many children, nighttime fears persist and intensify.
Sleep disorders are a significant component of the clinical picture in children experiencing nighttime fears. These children encounter difficulties when it comes to bedtime and falling asleep. They frequently wake up during the night and struggle to return to sleep after these awakenings.

Children employ various strategies to cope with their nighttime fears. Some seek support from their parents, while others cling to soft stuffed animals or use different objects for comfort. It’s quite common for parents to be present by their child’s bedside during bedtime or in response to nighttime fears as a means to alleviate the child’s fear. In some cases, parents even permit their children to sleep in their own bed. This approach can yield positive outcomes in many instances; however, it has the potential to perpetuate, maintain, and even exacerbate both the fears and the reliance on this coping mechanism.

In reality, many parents do not initially plan to depend on co-sleeping as a long-term solution. Yet, some find themselves resorting to it over time due to the persistence of their child’s fears or their intensification. Numerous studies have indicated that infants who depend on their parents at bedtime are more prone to experiencing multiple nighttime awakenings. These coping mechanisms actually hinder the child’s capacity to develop self-soothing and self-regulation, causing children to rely on their parents for calming down, ultimately leading to an increase in fears. 
One of the primary objectives of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to assist parents in reducing their children’s dependency and teaching them how to cope independently. This is accomplished gradually and consistently. In most cases, this approach leads to a significant reduction in children’s fears and enhances their sleep quality, benefiting both the children and their parents.

Press here for Dr. Kushnir’s Nighttime Fears book for children

Press here for Dr. Kushnir’s Nighttime Fears book for parents