Learn how anxiety may be behind your child's sleep problems and get age-by-age strategies to help your little one (and you!) drift off
Two to three years
What’s likely keeping them awake Bedtime fears, such as monsters in the closet.
How you can help Your preschooler’s expanding imagination is a normal part of development — up to 70 percent of young kids have nighttime fears — but you can use your own imagination to combat their anxiety.
If your son is concerned about monsters, for example, fill a spray bottle with water, label it “monster spray” and spritz it around his room before bedtime. Or you could suggest that monsters are afraid of the family pet — any scenario you feel comfortable with.
If you’d prefer to discourage your child from believing that monsters need to be repelled because they really don’t exist, try redirecting her toward happy thoughts: suggest she close her eyes and mentally replay her favourite part of the day, for example.
“Come up with creative solutions that reassure your child, maintain your normal bedtime rules, and teach them some coping skills,” says Mindell, co-author of Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep. Keep in mind if you stay with your child until she falls asleep, it may teach her that there must be something really frightening; this doesn’t teach her how to cope.
Four to six years
What’s likely keeping them awake Nightmares.
How you can help At this age, symbolism can be a powerful but effective force. A dream catcher, for example, can be reassuring to a child when you explain that some people believe it snares bad dreams while letting the good ones through. It’s something your child can look at and have faith in. You can even get children to play a more active role by helping them to make their own dream catchers with wire, coloured beads, feathers and yarn.
If the same theme persists (say, a dream about nasty spiders), it’s helpful to address this with your child during the day. Read books on spiders to help ease fears, or encourage him to draw a picture of his dream, then have him crumple it up and throw it away.
You can also encourage a child to simply “change the channel” on bad dreams that wake her up in the middle of the night — just as she would on a scary television program. Or suggest she flip over the pillow for a fresh start, Mindell says. It’s a small gesture, but the other side really can feel different.
Read on for sleep tips for school-age kids and you>