A: I recently had the parents of a 4-year-old with the very same problem tell their daughter that they had talked to a doctor who told them that bedtime fears happen when a child isn’t getting enough sleep. The fictional doctor prescribed a strict 6:30 bedtime until the child’s fears, including the screaming in the middle of the night, stopped for two straight weeks. At bedtime, the parents simply asked the girl, “Do you want us to stay with you?” If she said yes, then the two weeks started over the next day.
The parents later told me that it took three days for the child to realize that early bedtime was not worth having her parents stay with her while she fell asleep. At that point, she began proudly going to bed and off to sleep on her own.
It’s important to mention that I also told this little girl’s parents that they absolutely had to stop talking about the child’s fears. Asking questions like, “What are you afraid of?” and trying to reassure children that their fears are not real only makes matters worse. Why? Who knows?
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, rosemond.com.