The lights are out. Everyone is asleep. The whole house is quiet. It’s a time when the activities of the day begin to blur with our inner thoughts. As parents, we have a lifetime of experience on our side. We know that ominous click is just the fridge turning on, and that the only monsters under the bed are no match for the vacuum cleaner. Children don’t have the same luxury. For them everything is new and unfamiliar, even the scary things.
When your child is faced with nighttime anxieties, it’s easy to see it as a challenge to be overcome through rationale, research, and sometimes treatment. Often we forget what it’s like from a kid’s perspective. The fact is, those fears are a normal part of development, and understanding their lived experience is an important part of helping your child develop a healthy relationship with sleep.
Here’s a look into what’s “normal” when it comes to nighttime fears.
Fear of the dark isn’t irrational, it’s evolutionary.
Despite our many advantages, a basic fact about humans is that we have very poor night vision, compared with many other animals. Before electricity and deadbolts, night meant vulnerability. Our heightened suspicion of things we can’t see is a way to make up for the loss of control that comes with darkness and sleep.
Childhood anxieties about nighttime and the dark are perfectly natural.
Research suggests that over 73% of children experience a fear of the dark. Your child has a rich imagination, but very little worldly experience. That means when they can’t explain a sound or sensation in the dark, they fill in the blanks with whatever’s in their mind: maybe a monster from TV, a story about a burglary, or a wild animal. The good news is, that also means that as they accumulate a better sense of the world, their fear of the dark will typically diminish.
Nightmares are going to happen no matter what.
There’s no definitive answer to why we dream. Pioneering psychologist Carl Jung believed nightmares were a source of psychological growth, and show a healthy engagement with the world around us. But whether you think dreams are a key to the unconscious or our brain’s way of making memories, everyone has them, and sometimes they’re going to be nightmares. Early on, it may be hard to convince your child that nightmares aren’t real, but gradually they’ll learn to separate reality and fantasy. The important thing is to listen to your child’s fears. Find out what specifically is scaring them, and talk through it so they know there’s no real threat. Avoid having them rehash details of nightmares over and over, however, as that will make your child remember a nightmare longer than is necessary.
Night terrors are nothing abnormal.
Night terrors can be truly frightening to witness. You may feel helpless and unable to console your child. It’s an awful feeling, but luckily it is generally more traumatic for you than for them. Unlike nightmares, your child won’t remember any part of a night terror, and will settle back into normal sleep once it has passed. When discussing night terrors with your child, it’s important to let them know that they have no reason to be afraid. Stay calm, and your child will likely follow your cue. The Lully Sleep Guardian 2 can help alleviate recurring night terrors before they occur.
As parents, it’s normal to worry when our children are scared. Try to see things from their perspective, and be confident in the knowledge that nighttime fears are a normal part of childhood development. If you have any unanswered questions, don’t hesitate to tweet us @lullysleep.