Bedtime Routines and Fears
How can you make bedtime a more peaceful and less fearful event?
Most three- and four-year-olds will sleep about twelve hours each night. A daytime nap may continue to be part of your child's routine, but don't be surprised when it is phased out during the next several months.
Remember that bedtime should be early because your child needs the sleep and you need time with other children, your spouse, or yourself. During the middle of summer, this can be a challenge. The sun may still be shining, and all sorts of activity may still be going on outside at what is normally bedtime.
You will need to decide how much to bend your routines to match the seasons, or perhaps invest in heavy window shades if you need to darken your child's room at this time of year. You may also need to exercise sensible flexibility to accommodate family work schedules.
The activities that surround getting tucked in should become a familiar and quieting routine. At this age, bedtime can be a delightful, enlightening experience. You can introduce your child to some wonderful stories, including books with several chapters that can create eager anticipation for the next night's installment. Your child's desire to keep the lights on and you in the room as long as possible will usually cause her to be remarkably transparent and receptive.
Expect to hear some of her private thoughts ("I think I know what Buster is saying when he barks . . .") or to tackle some riddles of the universe ("Where is heaven?"). Without being manipulated too much, allow enough slack in your day so you can relax during these wide-eyed sessions.
You will probably have many more opportunities at bedtime to talk about God and the values you care about than during family devotions or even at church, Sunday school, or other formal religious teaching sessions.
You will also need to deal with some childhood fears when it's time to tuck in. Monsters in the closet, under the bed, or outside the window may need to be banished.
Be sure to ask what your child has in mind — is the creature something from a book or video, or perhaps a tall tale spun by an insensitive adolescent next door? Are we talking about space aliens, Brothers Grimm concoctions, or something from the nightly news that is in fact a reality somewhere in the world or the community? Are there tensions at home creating a need for reassurance?
Very often the beast in question doesn't exist except in someone's imagination. In this case it can be tempting to give a lighthearted, direct inspection ("I don't see any monsters in your closet — just a lot of junk!"), but you may leave the impression that there are monsters or aliens running around somewhere — they just don't happen to be here at the moment. For these fears, more decisive reality checks are important ("Bigfoot isn't under your bed or anywhere else").
When the issue is burglars or other villains who actually do exist out there, you will need to be more specific about the safeguards in your home: You are present (or if you are going out, someone you trust will be there), the doors are locked, and perhaps you have a dog or an alarm system that adds to your home's security.
In addition, remind your child that God is keeping watch over her twenty-four hours a day. What your child really wants is reassurance and confidence that things are under control.
If a fearful bedtime resistance persists or escalates, take time to find out if something else is bothering her. Did your child see a disturbing image on TV or a video? Did she hear an argument the other night? Did something else frighten her?
Once you have spent time exploring the problem, it's okay to make some minor adjustments to reduce the anxiety level: leaving a light on in the hallway or the door open a little wider, for example.
But don't get pulled into more elaborate or manipulative routines, such as her insisting on falling asleep in your bed or on the living-room floor when she claims that she's afraid of something. She needs to know that she will be just as safe and sound in her own bed as anywhere else.
Adapted from the Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 1999, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.