Older children can develop a range of night-time fears as their imaginations grow. Sometimes these occur in isolation, sometimes your child may exhibit a number of them at once.
Night fears may simply reflect your child's growing underÂ¬standing of the world. Sometimes they are triggered by images she has seen, so monitor your child's television viewing, particularly before bedtime.
Alternatively, night fears may be triggered by real anxieties in her life, such as starting nursery, the arrival of a new baby or stress within the family. If your child is going through a period of change that may be unsettling for her, reassurance during the day will be a big help in making her more confident at night. Without spoiling her, try to build some fun events into her day such as a trip to the park or a visit to friends, give her extra cuddles and tell her that you love her.
Fear of the dark
It is important not to reinforce ^is, but to treat the dark as a warm and welcoming place in which you feel comfortable.
Strategy - You can give your child a nightlight, but this confirms that the dark is something we need to banish. However, most children who rely upon nightlights grow out of them during their early years at school, when they realize the dark isn't something of which they need to be afraid.
Fear of monsters
We give children conflicting messages about monsters. We read them stories about them, and then think they are silly when they worry that there are six-headed creatures lurking under their beds! You may know there aren't, but if you dismiss your child's fears you are giving her the message that you don't believe her.
Strategy - Listen to her fears, but seek to dispel them. Look for monsters in the places she says they are hiding, to reassure her that there are none. If necessary, 'cast' a magic spell to keep monsters out of her room during the night, or position a trusted toy by her door to keep guard.
These are common from the age of 2 right through until the teenage years: half of all 5-year-olds have nightmares. They are generated during REM sleep, and are most likely to occur during the last two-thirds of the night. They are more likely to happen if your child is stressed or anxious; however, most nightmares have no cause and no real significance.
Strategy - If your child wakes from a nightmare, go in and reassure him, tuck him back in, say your special bedtime phrase and leave the room as soon as you can. If your child has recurrent nightmares, keep a diary to see if there is a pattern. Repeated nightmares can often be controlled, as they occur in the lighter stages of sleep: for example, if your child dreams he is being chased by a bird, suggest that you both catch it in a cage.
These are different from nightmares, although they can easily be confused with them. They can be traumatic to witness, especially as your child is unlikely to recognize you or want you to comfort him - he may, in fact, become more agitated if you try. However, your child will not remember a thing in the morning! This is because night terrors occur in the deepest part of sleep, usually in the first few hours after going to bed: although your child may appear to be awake, he isn't. He may seem very agitated and frightened, possibly screaming or moaning. However, as there is no dream occurring, when your child does wake he will not be scared (which you would expect if he had a nightmare); on the contrary, waking can provide immediate release from the night terror and he is likely to go back to sleep quickly.
Strategy - Although night terrors are disturbing to watch, your best response is to do nothing. If you do try to rouse your child before the episode has run its course, you may frighten him by your own anxiety. In addition, as your child won't remember the event, it will not cause him anxiety about going to bed on subsequent nights.