Childhood fears are real — and common — and can interfere with a child’s ability to function at their best as well as to sleep. Sometimes, parents know and understand their child’s apprehension, like when a child is starting school. Whether it’s nursery school or college, children may experience anxiety. We all get that. Other times, however, parents may not be aware that their child’s fear is based on their own behavior — like giving them inconsistent messages (see Part 2) and/or sleep routines (see Part 3).
Children Have a Fear of the Unknown
When children haven’t been exposed to something, which is often throughout their young lives, they don’t know what to expect and lose their comfort level — which can lead to disturbed sleep. Fortunately, parents and other caregivers can help their children through these stressful times.
If you see that your child is having trouble sleeping, determine what in their present life could be causing stress. For example, maybe your child is nervous about entering a new situation, such as school. It’s important to remain calm and reassuring. Children pick up on and react to our energy and facial expressions, so we need to be careful what emotions we project. Have a conversation with your child. Be understanding and offer strategies to help your child adjust.
- If your child is entering nursery school, for example, there are several things you can do to make him or her feel safe and secure:
- Visit the school playground when school isn’t in session. Show your child this is where they’ll make new friends and be playing some of the time.
- Visit the school when it is in session. Introduce your child to the teacher(s).
- Explain to your child what a typical day will be like — what they’ll be doing and how long they’ll be there. Liken the time frame to something your child will understand. For example, it’s about as long as the drive to Grandma’s house or it’s about as long as your favorite movie.
- When school begins, be prepared to stay with your child at the start of the day, if necessary. Speak beforehand with the nursery school teacher and determine when a good time to part from your child will be. Maybe it’s at snack time or outdoor play time.
For older kids entering college, remind them that they can, and should, be their own advocate. They are (legally) adults, and there are people at school to help them adjust. From counselors to freshman orientation activities, there are support systems in place.
Additionally, speak with your child about your own college, or lack of, experience. What did you miss by not attending college? Stress the positive points around college, but don’t shy away from the reality that college life is a big change from home life. Remind your child of his or her strengths in handling change throughout their lives. And, as always, remind them the lines of communication between you, your child and other family members are always open.
Having open lines of communication from an early age will serve both you and your child as he or she gets older. If communicating with your child hasn’t been your strong suit, it’s not too late to start. What we teach children about security and coping with adjustments earlier in their life will help them adjust to changes — major and minor — throughout their entire lives.