Try these steps to reduce nighttime anxiety and improve compliance with evening time routine.
At the end of a long and exhausting day, how do you effectively transition your kids from the stimulation of the day to the peace and quiet of the night? Now, combine that tall order with nighttime anxiety. It would appear as though this would be more difficult, but there are simple strategies to integrate into the nighttime routine to reduce anxiety and increase overall compliance with this tricky transition.
1. During non-triggering times, talk with your child about what causes them to feel nervous or anxious with regards to bedtime. Are they afraid of the dark? A monster under their bed? A zombie in the closet? Identify with them what they are afraid of and then problem-solve with them ways to reduce their fear. If they are afraid of the dark, offer to keep their door open with a hall light on in addition to a nightlight. If they are spooked out about creatures living in their room, add an additional step before lights out to go through their room with them and search for these alleged monsters. When they see they are non-existent prior to bedtime and with support of their parent, they can feel more at ease going to sleep. Set up a plan with your child to eradicate irrational thoughts to facilitate more restful nights.
2. Begin the transition to bed earlier. If it takes a long time for your child to “unplug” and transition to bed, starting earlier can be helpful – even if it is just a conversation about starting the routine soon. If a child has anxiety about nighttime, the more advanced preparation and warning they have, the better. They can begin their thought-process and, in turn, anxiety-reduction process sooner to aid in a smoother transition. Create positive, self-coping talk that you can model for your child about bedtime such as “Sleep is important because it recharges us for the day,” or, “Bedtime is a chance for us to reflect on our high points from the day and set positive goals for the next day,” and, “Everybody sleeps.”
3. Integrate the use of a “worry doll” or “worry journal” that the child can externalize their fears and worries prior to bed to reduce rumination of irrational thoughts or fears. The worry doll can be a doll or figure that can hold the child’s worries while they are asleep. The child can tell the doll what it is worried about and clear their mind before bed. This can also present an opportunity for the parent to listen and hear what is concerning the child. If it is not appropriate for the child to have a doll (i.e. older child or male), encourage the use of a worry journal to either draw or write out concerns prior to bed. The journal will house the worries so the child can clear their mind and focus on positive, coping self-talk prior to bed.