Getting kids to sleep is a notorious challenge for parents. It often becomes particularly difficult with toddlers and preschoolers. The nighttime -- a considerable stretch of alone time -- can trigger some fear or separation anxiety. Making your child feel safe and comfortable is essential for her to get a good night's sleep, which, in turn, is essential to her health and mood during the day.
Talk to your child during the day about what upsets or scares her at night. Get her input about what the problems and possible solutions are.
Establish a predictable, calming bedtime routine for the last hour of the night before bed. It shouldn't involve video games, television, sugary snacks, caffeine or anything else that gets your child too excited. Instead, work in a bath, some reading time and other soothing activities you can do together. Stick to the routine so your child always knows what to expect at night -- it brings comfort to little ones.
Put a night light in your child's room. Even if she isn't specifically afraid of the dark, darkness is a common source of uncertainty and the illumination is a source of comfort. Keep her door at least partway open at night, too, so she has some connection to the rest of the house. Relaxing music, a big teddy bear, a security blanket or other sources of comfort can help, too.
Tuck your child in every night and reassure her that she's safe, that other people will be awake for a while, that people are in the house all night and that she's going to get a great night's sleep so she'll have lots of energy for the next day.
Listen attentively to your kid when she talks to you about her fears or concerns. Never laugh at them, ridicule her, brush her off or otherwise make her feel bad for sharing with you or that her concerns aren't valid. Be reassuring and supportive, and talk to her positively about why she's safe from the things she's worried about.
Devise imaginative solutions to combat the sources of your child's fears. For example, come up with a "monster spray" that can repel or shrivel up the creatures lurking in her closet and under her bed. Empower your child by teaching her to use it and leaving it with her at night.
Teach your child some basic coping skills for fear and anxiety. Show her deep breathing or tell her to close her eyes and count to 10 slowly when she's upset. Talk about bravery and how you deal with things that frighten you.
Tell your child you'll be checking on her every 15 minutes or so, and do it. Let her see you check on her, but in general, don't get dragged into engaging with her. In general, once your child has been put to bed, she should not be permitted to get up or talk.
Set clear rules and limits for bedtime. While many children have legitimate fears and anxieties in bed, they also often learn to use these as excuses to delay going to bed. This is likely to happen if your child learns she gets attention or is allowed out of bed if she complains about being afraid. It can be tricky sometimes to walk the line between being appropriately supportive and not indulging a child's manipulation. An important aspect is offering lots of reassurance up until bedtime but setting limits once you leave your kid's bedroom.
Reinforce good bedtime behavior with a star chart or other system. This helps prevent manipulation and encourages your child to face her fears on her own.