Halloween Special Article: Tips on Coping with Young Children’s Night Frights

Children’s imaginations may run vivid when the lights go out, and monsters lurk in the closet and creep in the dark. A child’s yell for “Mommy” or “Daddy” usually alarms the parent enough to run to the child’s bedside. How can we help children cope with their night frights?
The basic principle revolves around balance. The most common parental mistakes fit into two major categories: either (1) We ignore or inadequately address the child’s fears, or (2) We tend to over-comfort the child and, thus, reinforce the child’s fears. The most effective strategy is to find good balance by reassuring the child and adequately addressing her fears, without unintentionally reinforcing the message that there really is something to be afraid of.

7 Practical Tips for Night Frights!

  1. Most parents are familiar with their child’s stalling tactics, such as “I’m thirsty” or “I’m hungry”. A parent doesn’t want to fall for the child’s tactics, but it is true that hunger can keep a child up at night. An important tip to remember is that 45 minutes before lights-out is the optimal time for a bedtime snack. Some good snack choices are yogurt with fruit, crackers, and applesauce.
  2. Do indeed check the closets to reassure your child that no monster is lurking there, and then talk about how you, as an adult, deal with scary things, such as, “Darling, when I’m afraid, I think about places and things that make me feel safe.”
  3. Listen to your child and then discuss the common weird and creepy noises that he hears and be sure to explain what really causes them.
  4. Provide positive reinforcement by telling your child how proud you are of him for being brave.
  5. Try encouraging your child to draw a picture of the monster, and then discuss what’s real and unreal. For instance, snakes and bears are real, while many fictional characters in books, TV shows, and movies are unreal.
  6. Help your child not to watch potentially scary TV programs before bedtime.
  7. Take advantage of your child’s imagination to ward-off monsters with a nightlight, a water-filled spray bottle, labeled “Monster Spray” that she can use to spritz the night creatures away, or a bedside magical wand that can turn monsters into friendly protectors.

Happy HalloweenHappy Halloween, without the night frights!!!
Tobey Leung, MD

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