Scared Sleepers :: Six Bedtime Tricks for Your Anxious Child

This post is part of an editorial series, “Sweet Sleep,” brought to you by the Fort Worth Moms Blog. We hope these pieces provide you with helpful information, encouragement, and insight as your navigate your family’s sleep journey.

child standing in pajamas holding a teddy bear

Bedtime is an “in the trenches moment” for many mothers. It’s the end of the day, we are tired, our kids are tired, and everyone is a little bit at the end of their ropes. Add an anxious child into that mix, and the outcome is more likely to end up in tears for everyone involved.

Nighttime is often when children’s fears come out in full force, and they are not to be dismissed. One of my kids deals with anxiety, and we have tried many different methods of helping him calm his brain and overcome his fears in order to get the rest his body needs. Here are some of our more successful tips and tricks:

  1. Listen. I’m a fairly no nonsense mom and patience is not always my strong suit. However, one of the most important things for my son is for him to feel heard. If he is scared about something, he needs to tell us exactly what is worrying him and not be brushed off. Sometimes just listening and saying, “That must be really scary,” with a hug is enough to help him relax.
  2. Check in. We’re big fans of coming back to check on our kids. Typically we say, “I’ll be back to check on you in five minutes,” and walk out of the room. Sometimes, they’re still awake at that time, and we tell them “good job laying quietly,” and give a kiss, and then start the clock over, this time for 10 minutes. I can count on one hand the amount of times anyone has been awake longer than the 10-minute check in. There’s a lot of security in knowing that you will be checked on, and it allows kids to relax and trust that it will be okay.
  3. Meditations. Children with anxiety often suffer from racing thoughts in their brain, and it’s hard to turn that off. We have used several different meditation CDs, recordings, apps, etc. to great success. All three of our kids enjoy them and request them on nights when they feel spun up or like they need some extra help to relax.
  4. Dream box. We have a small box in the boys’ room that has several small pieces of paper in it, each with a dream idea. Small thoughts — like sailing on a ship or climbing trees with monkeys — gives them something to focus on and keeps the scary things at bay. In a pinch, I have also “given” them a dream when requested. These dreams are big hits and take less prep work.
  5. Sleep masks. My sister gets all the credit for this one. Her girls wear sleep masks to bed. You know what’s awesome about them (in addition to making blackout curtains unnecessary)? You can’t see shadows. No shadows means less monsters or whatever else their active imaginations can come up with. It’s also an immediate signal to their brain that it is time to sleep.
  6. False alarms. My son has worked with a play therapist regularly since the age of three. One of the things we have taken away from the therapist is discussing real alarms versus false alarms. A false alarm is something we know isn’t true, but we are still scared. We can tell our brains to stop if something is a false alarm, but a real alarm will not go away (like the sensation of being sick). Our kiddo uses this technique regularly, but it helps for us to sometimes gently ask him if a fear is a false alarm or real.

I firmly believe that sleep is one of the most important gifts we can give our children. It is essential for healthy growth and brain development, not to mention the effect it has on behavior. The tips and tricks we have used have allowed our kids to develop healthy sleep habits and also learn techniques that can help them manage stress and anxiety later in their life. More sleep and less stress is result everyone can agree on.

sweet sleep editorial series

Emily H
Although born in Austin, Emily grew up on the Eastside of Fort Worth. After marrying her high school sweetheart, and following the military's whims for a few years, the lovebirds wound up back in the Fort, with their three children in tow. Currently, Emily shares her love of books and writing with both her children and her middle school students. On the weekends, you'll find her outside running local streets and trails, as well as being her kids' biggest fan at whatever sport may be in season.


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