Night Terrors: Is There a Monster Under My bed?

As our children become toddlers, they also become adjusted to their environment, and how their space becomes their own. Ownership over space can build confidence and responsibility, however, it can also start abstract thinking. Abstract thinking is when your toddler begins to mimic actions, use symbols to visualize an action, or mime an action when a prop is unavailable. Their imagination grows and with it, many new thoughts can generate, and often they can be fear-based due to a story they hear, a show or cartoon that may frighten them, or other thoughts that manifest into something frightening. This is the time to really monitor exactly what your children watch.

When these thoughts grow, they may use abstract thinking to make them bigger and more pronounced. We know there is nothing to fear, and that they are simply imagining a scary scenario, however, it is important to let your child feel heard. We need to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings and work through this with them, in a way they can understand. 

Building confidence is key to this situation and actions are best received by toddlers and children when they are visual and auditory. This means seeing our actions and hearing our thoughts as we help them through this are the two best ways to get their attention. We create positive actions surrounding bedtime and build them up to feel confident and remove the negative and fearful thoughts they have created around bedtime, so they feel safe, in control, and able to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

What Are You Afraid Of?

Asking our children to describe their fear, or why they are afraid is the first step. We need to find out exactly what they have created and why it is so scary. Here are some steps you can take to determine what is scaring them, and how to react to it. 

  • Ask them what they are afraid of. Most often, children will manifest a “monster”. Something that seems big, and frightening, and is in charge. 
    • If they are afraid of a monster, a good response is to use affirmations. “Your room is safe.” “Your house is safe.” “Mom is right here.” Using affirmations acknowledges these feelings without continuing to build on the vocabulary. 
  • Use motion and action to act out how the monster may behave or draw a picture for them making it fun and silly. Encourage your child to join in or have them describe how to act or what to draw. 
    • By playing the monster or using the drawing to create a story can help curb their fear. You can also play a game where you search for the monster through the house. The idea is to make it fun, and silly and not threatening.
  • At bedtime, especially at night, encourage your child to help you tell the “monster” goodnight. Have your child tell the monster to go to bed, or give it a hug or kiss, and tell it that it is bedtime. 
    • If your child states the monster doesn’t want to go to sleep, you can tell them that monsters listen very well to parents and that you saw the monster fall right asleep after your child hugged it goodnight. Reiterate the monster is a good monster and obeys parents’ orders. 
    • This tactic works for some children. For others, acknowledging the monster’s existence might cause them to be more fearful. In this case, reassuring that there is no monster is the better course of action.
  • If your child is resisting sleep, and still overly concerned about the monster and not wanting to go to sleep, you can revert to your sleep training and implement the consequences you created during that process. 
    • Remind your child they are breaking the bedtime rules and share the consequence they will receive if they do not listen and go to bed.
  • Dr. Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D. creator of “monster spray” used this tactic to help his child during this phase. He used an empty, though brightly colored empty bottle and named it “monster spray”. Using a monster spray, he, and his child, sprayed the room thereby removing the monster together. 
    • Leaving the bottle for your child to keep if they need it may help soothe their fears knowing they are in charge and can spray more if they feel it is necessary.
  • If your child is afraid of a noise, ask them to describe the noise. 
    • Having a ready response to any noise they hear, and even having them listen for other noises such as the air or heater turning on, the washer or dryer, toilet flushing, rain or a car outside, etc. can help them ease the fear of any noises they hear.
  • Visually seeing items around the house and hearing their noises can help, too.
    • Walk your kid around the house and show them where various noises are coming from. Remind them that if it’s a noise they cannot see, there is still an explanation and share some noises that may not be able to be visually seen such as something outside, insects like crickets, etc.
  • Keep it short and simple. 
    • If your child is continually mentioning what they are afraid of, downplay it. You also do not want your child to see a reaction out of you as it will heighten their fear. When your child has indicated they are no longer afraid of the sound or object they have created, move on. The less you discuss it, the more likely they are to forget all about it. 

As always, our certified sleep experts at Rocky Mountain Sleeping Baby are here to help you with all your sleep needs. Please give us a call, send us an email, or use the form on our website to get in touch with us. We work with families across the United States and look forward to helping your family get the sleep you deserve. 

We are sleep consultants in Denver, Colorado, Kansas City, and Ft. Worth, Texas. Everything we do is virtual. We help families all over the world!

Night Terrors: Is There a Monster Under My bed?

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