The Bedtime Blues

Sherri Frohlick, M.A.
Wishing Star Associate

Bedtime is often the most difficult part of the day for both children and parents. Not only are we tired and exhausted (and our brain isn’t working as efficiently as it does earlier in the day!), we are also put in the position of having to help our children manage their anxieties about separation and relationships.  This is most common time for children to express their attachment-based fears; they too are tired and have less brain power to manage their difficult and frustrating feelings about having to separate from the safety and security of their parents. Although as parents we may think that they shouldn’t feel that way because we are still close by, for children bedtime can be scary – this is the only time that they are required to be completely away from us physically a prolonged period of time. The result may be that your children outright refuses to go to bed, has temper tantrums, cries, frequently gets out of bed, or maybe even has nightmares. If your child is already anxious, fearful or sad these feelings or behaviors may be even more apparent at this time.

The challenge as parents is to help alleviate our children’s anxiety without getting so wrapped up in their challenging behavior – because in these situations their behavior is not the “real” problem, even though it is certainly frustrating to deal with.  What often helps is the recognition that bedtime is difficult and helping the child to feel safe and calm even when you are not physically present. At this time, reassuring or communicating to them that you are “keeping them in your mind” while they are comfy and cozy sleeping in their bed is important. This could occur in several ways. One way would be to tell them you look forward to seeing them in your dreams, or you could tell them that you will put a book under their pillow for them to find in the morning and that they can bring into your room to read. You could also plan to set up a “special” breakfast with the child where you would “look forward” to them sharing their exciting dreams with you. Other strategies might include leaving a physical part of you with them, for example an article of your clothing that they can sleep with or a picture of you beside their bed.

In the end, it is important to understand that bedtime brings up anxiety for our children and that at night children have less energy and mental resources to deal with these difficult feelings as they normally might. This can result in challenging behavior, which is a warning sign that our relationship is needed to “collect” and “comfort” these difficult feelings. There are many ways to do this, but whichever method you choose, be creative and think about this tough time of day as an opportunity to connect with your child. You might be surprised what happens!

This blog posting is not a form of psychological counselling, advice, therapy, or assessment and should not be used as such by any individual. This blog posting is provided only as an article intended to encourage thought and discourse. For specific psychology related services, please contact an appropriate healthcare provider.