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Parents Can Relieve A Child's Bedtime Fears
By Marcela Cartagena
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Children's imagination can invoke monster or ghost images in the closet, under the bed or somewhere in their bedroom, but experts say parents can explore alternatives to help them cope with fear.
Dr. Jan Cooper Taylor, a professor of human sciences at Mississippi State University, said children develop their imagination as they grow.
She said by age 2 to 3, children are able to imagine scary situations because they begin to think about possibilities of harmful things happening. Too much fear can be a terrifying experience for a child.
"Trying to explain to children their fear is not real is not going to solve the problem," Taylor said. "During preschool years, children begin to develop the ability to imagine and pretend, which indicate normal intellectual and social-emotional development. The ëdownside' is that children cannot always distinguish reality from imagination."
Taylor said many things contribute to children's fears. Sometimes siblings may tell the young child a scary story they will believe to be real; they may watch a violent or frightening television show; or they may even sense feelings of fear from friends or parents.
"Finding ways to solve the problem, will depend on the child's age, type of situation an parental response," Taylor said. "Parents should acknowledge their children's fear. Reassure them that no one is going to hurt them. Avoid leaving the child alone and telling them nothing is wrong or making fun of their fear."
Parents need to differentiate between their children truly being afraid or just not wanting to go to bed.
Find out what helps the children go to sleep. Some suggestions Taylor said include leaving the lights on, keeping the door open, encouraging the child sleep with a favorite toy, blanket or other item, playing soothing music or a favorite taped story.
Other solutions may be a parent staying in the room until the child falls asleep or allowing child sleep in a sleeping bag near the parents or in the hallway.
A consistent bedtime routine is especially important. Taylor said this helps the child relax and eventually go to sleep. For example, parents can set a time to begin to routine that signals rest time such as picking up toys, taking a warm bath or reading a book before going to sleep.
"Parents can make a partnership with their children," Taylor said. "For instance, if the child is afraid of a monster in the closet, both the parent and the child can go to the store to find something that will ëscare off' the monster. Look for creative ways to solve your child' fears."