Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Night time fears of a four-year old

Our four-year old son has been waking in the night fairly frequently of late, coming to tell us about something that has scared him, awoken him and made it difficult for him to get back to sleep. Sometimes, he is visibly upset and crying a bit, other times he just seems a bit puzzled and half-asleep about whatever it was.

To give some examples, there's been general strange noises, feeling something near him on his bed, last night it was flies (which this morning he explained had come in through a hole in the wall in the kitchen and come up to his bedroom). Weirdly, he showed me a hole in the kitchen wall that I had never even noticed before (it's a significant circular hole too).

We're aware that he's at an age now, where his imagination is really developing and it has its advantages and disadvantages. He is going through a stage of loving made-up stories from my husband and I, instead of reading story books before bed. He likes to be involved in the creation of the story we tell, often making suggestions of scenarios, characters and events. It's fascinating to watch and listen to him come up with these ideas.

Yet at the same time, the make-believe world crosses into the real world and it's difficult for a young child to always distinguish between what is imaginary and what is real. Sometimes they may have a vivid dream, sometimes they may have been awoken by something external and then lie there in the dark with their imagination running wild. Books and television can introduce new ideas to their minds that may fuel new fears.

So how does one deal with the night time fears of a four-year old? So far, we have been giving big hugs, listening to what our son has been scared of, tried to offer some reassurance and then suggested a toilet visit before bringing him back to bed. This has generally been working and he has managed to get back to sleep but I have been reading a bit online to get some more ideas.

The overriding piece of advice seems to be to acknowledge your child's fear, whatever it is and not to dismiss it and tell them they are being silly. To your child it feels very real, so you want them to know that you realise they feel scared but then to offer some reassurance.

In some cases, it is easy to provide a solution to the scary situation. It seems quite common for a child to be afraid of the dark. To put them at ease, you can put a night light near their bed, or leave their door open with a landing light on so they are no longer in complete darkness.

Scary monsters are another typical cause of night time fears. Some children may be comforted by a favourite soft toy to cuddle up to in bed. Another suggestion I read that I liked was to make a 'monster spray', consisting of water with a few drops of lavender oil. Spray away any monsters in their bedroom and the lavender will also help calm and relax the child, making it easier for them to go back to sleep.

I'd love to find some good story books that deal with the issue of night time fears, I'll let you know if I find some that I would recommend.

Of course, night time fears are not just for four-year olds! Children as young as three can experience scary night times and older children of all ages too. Have you had to deal with night time fears with your children? What were they and how did you tackle them? Was it something they grew out of fairly quickly or something that would come and go?
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  1. Watch Monsters Inc. with him. It may help. Also, has your daughter started walking or doing something new recently? could it be a cry for more attention? As usual you are loving and caring mother. I'm sure he will sleep well again soon as he feels understood and supported.
    We didn't experience much of that. Whenever it would happen we would do what you did.
    Do keep us posted.

    1. Great suggestions Maryse, thank you. No walking yet and nothing new with my daughter but that's certainly an interesting thought to bear in mind in future. I haven't seen Monsters Inc so that sounds like a fun way to enjoy monsters togther one day :-). Last night we had no awakenings so that was good. We'll see how it goes...


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