Today I simply have a question for you all.  I’d love to hear from
parents who have experienced the return of night fears in the eight-
nine-ten-year old age group.  I remember reading somewhere (I am
dredging my memory for the source and coming up with nothing) that
this is a common age for the return of night fears.  This resurgence is
usually based on a child’s growing awareness that bad things do
happen in the real world (car accidents, kidnappings, murders,
robberies, etc.)  The earlier night fears (age three-ish) were, in
general, based on fears of fantasy dangers; monsters and such.

While I understand the possible cause of the new night fears, my
constant reassurance doesn’t completely help them go away.  My
daughter won’t even go upstairs at night without one of us
accompanying her.

Please share your experiences about processing night fears with your
children.  If you are not able to post a comment on this blog, please
send me an e-mail at and I will collect some
responses and do a “Night Fears, Part 2” post next week.

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in
Northern Colorado.  For more information on her stepparenting book,
go to

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2 Comments on Night Fears, Part 1

  1. What I have found is that being willing to be flexible and spend time with the child while falling asleep (instead of creating a habit as one might think) at this age is very reassuring and won’t be needed for long. I find a spot in the room with a surface for my computer and simply work there for 30 minutes (with the understanding that I’m not available for further conversation, just for a comforting presence) until my child is asleep or mostly comfortable.

    Second, I’ve found that at least for my son (whose fears are more about upcoming stresses), the evening is not the time to talk through the fears as they seem to make him focus on them when he is not in a state to be logical and upbeat. Instead we talk at other times, and stay matter of fact during the evening that it will feel better in the morning.

    Also, I believe night fears can be caused or exacerbated by changing hormones and growing bodies; the body feels restless and the brain tries to come up with an explanation. Experimenting with whether and how late the child has a snack, whether it is protein or complex carbs, etc can help. In particular, sometimes children at this age need extra minerals – I think it is magnesium and potassium? Magnesium is a very calming, gentle mineral and is worth trying just for that reason; you can get it as a drink mix, but ask the clerk which brand is not “grainy” and dissolves well. If more is needed, we’ve found melatonin to be a gentle help to our child getting to sleep, as well as tablets I found at a health food store called “GABA Calm”. (I take GABA for my anxiety as well; you’ll want to do your own research of course!)

  2. csw2 says:

    I think the idea of providing a reassuring quiet presence by working quietly in the room while the child settles down to sleep is a good one; (my children, however, never seemed to be able to keep from conversing with me! They seemed to be more stimulated by my being there) The approaches which work with kids with night fears are greatly dependent upon the child and his/her personality, of course. Some calm with just a few minutes of reassurance; others find a way to push the extra attention into an extension and elaboration of the whole bedtime routine.

    One suggestion I have is to encourage the child to have confidence that she really CAN venture upstairs by herself; perhaps this could be done in a gradual way (one night she walks to the top of the stairs alone, then has the parent join her; the next night she spends another minute up there by herself before having the parent come, then a bit more time, and so on,) so she realizes she really will be OK upstairs by herself.

    I’m sure it goes without saying that she needs the chance to explore and verbalize anxieties/fears during the daytime, when things feel safer. It often seems like kids really aren’t in touch with these things, though, so it’s hard to discover the root cause of worries.

    In the first comment there are some good points about nutrition, growth and hormones; those certainly could be a factor. One caution I’d like to add as a Pediatric R.N. is that it would be prudent to check with your pediatrician before starting a child on a supplement:
    Children can be very sensitive to changes in electrolyte balance, and it may not be safe to give magnesium or potassium (particularly potassium) to a child; a pediatrician could give guidelines or perhaps safe dosages regarding that. Melatonin, while it’s been shown to have some effectiveness in adult sleep problems, is contraindicated in people under age 18 as it may interfere with growth hormone synthesis. I don’t know about GABA but it’s good to just keep in mind that supplements could have a different effect on a developing body than on an adult one.

    These bedtime/sleep issues create tensions and challenging times for all the family (plus are just really tiring!) so I wish you success, and/or that it may run its course as another developmental stage emerges.

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