There’s a shuffle in the darkness that wakes you from a deep sleep.

You’re afraid to open your eyes. You don’t want to know what lurks at the foot of your bed. And then that chilling wail comes.

“Mommeeeeeee, I had a bad dream….”

Not again.

Nightmares are common among children, especially elementary ages and younger. But what should you do if your child says he or she is too scared to go to sleep? The National Sleep Foundation offers these suggestions:

Listen. Try to understand your child’s fears, and don’t dismiss or make fun of them.

Be comforting. It is important to reassure your child if he is afraid. Communicate the idea of safety over and over again.

Seek simple solutions. Many families use “monster spray,” air freshener or water that can be sprayed under the bed and in closets to soothe bedtime fears. Some children are comforted by having a pet nearby for nighttime company — even a fish tank may help. Whenever possible, have your child be actively involved in coming up with solutions to help him gain a sense of mastery and control.

Security object. Help your child become attached to a security object such as a stuffed animal or blanket. This can help your child self-soothe and feel more relaxed at bedtime and throughout the night.

Light and love. No matter what your child seems to be afraid of, a night-light can help. Also, try leaving the bedroom door open so that your child doesn’t feel isolated.

Check in. If your child is anxious about you leaving, check on him frequently. It is better to check on him on a predictable schedule, every five or 10 minutes, so that your reassuring him is not based on him crying or calling out for you.

Back to bed. Don’t encourage your child to get out of bed. He should stay in bed to find out for himself that he really is safe. If your child gets up in the middle of the night and comes into your room, it is better to take him right back and gently tuck him back in.

Face fears together. If your child is too frightened to stay in his room alone, it is okay to occasionally stay with him until he falls asleep. However don’t do this too frequently, as he may come to depend on your presence.

Switch the focus. Some children get reinforced for being scared at night by getting lots of attention for being afraid. If this is the case, switch the scenario. Tell him how proud you are of him for being brave. Set up a star system so he can earn stars for sleeping on his own. After earning a certain number of stars, he can turn them in for a treat, such as watching a favorite video, going to the park, or baking chocolate chip cookies.

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