For two nights this week, my eight-year old son has fallen asleep under the bright overhead light of his room.
After he called me in over and over, after he got weepy and shaky-voiced over sounds I could not hear and shadows I could not see, after guided meditation, after visualizing holding a bouquet of 100 balloons and letting them go and watching them float to the sky one by one, my last-ditch effort worked. I offered to flip on all the lights. He said yes. Two minutes later, he was sound asleep.
My normal assurance — “You are in your safe home, in your safe room, in your safe bed, with your mommy only a few feet away in the kitchen, and you are OK” — seems to have lost its relaxing potency.
He is now, he tells me repeatedly during these fretful nights before he succumbs to sleep, too afraid of the dark to sleep. I am not sure where this comes from. We’ve discussed it (at length), I’ve tried many tactics (so many), I’ve read, I’ve even crowd-sourced Facebook for parent advice. What’s working are glaring LEDs shining down from the heavens (or at least ceiling) to envelope him (and most of the hallway).
Other parents advised me to:
- Establish a bedtime routine (ohhh, do we already have one)
- Let him read until he falls asleep (this would give my will-of-steel kid a bedtime of just shy of 6 a.m.)
- Spritz his pillow with lavender (some also gave warnings of how lavender impacts boy development)
- Give him warm milk and honey or bedtime tea to sip (will sprinkling Annie’s mac&cheese powder in it help even more?)
- Offer a sleep-inducing snack like turkey (not a fan of food in bed)
- Tell him to sing happy songs in his head (he said he was done and afraid again within a minute)
- Read this book together (I ordered this — has anyone else read it with their dark-fearers?)
- Try melatonin (I need to know more before we go this route — anyone have advice?)
- …or another natural sleep aid for kids, like this one (I’d love to talk to a doc about this)
- Play soothing music (and this may mask the scary “sounds” that amp him up)
- …or run a humidifier (the price of filters would be worth it)
- Let him stay up later (has this worked well for your kiddos?)
- Practice breath work (balloon breaths are a regular practice around here and I highly recommend them, too)
- Give him the chance to ask three questions about his fears (or some similar way to release the anxiety)
- Foot massage with oil (this sounds lovely and I can always keep track so he’ll owe me a bunch later)
While parents agreed and disagreed and offered up many different kinds of tactics for helping a child overcome nighttime anxiety, the common thread among every idea is patience. It clearly takes a good dose of it to help a little one breathe through fear of the dark to fall fast asleep — even if it is in the bright light.
What’s your best advice for me and my boy?
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