Nighttime fears can cripple just about anyone of any age but I have found nighttime especially affects those who have experienced trauma. Trauma is such a big word, potentially encompassing so many different aversive and impactful experiences on children and adults. But one thing I know about ALL trauma is that it jeopardizes one’s sense of safety. The world can come to be seen as mostly a very unpredictable and threatening place.
Almost all of the children I have worked with who have trauma histories, struggle with bed time. Whether that be a general fear of the dark, nightmares, tantrums, etc. To sum it up, the fight or flight brain comes online when the sun goes down. Which makes sense considering how unpredictable and scary the dark can be, even for those not being actively affected by traumatic experiences and memories.
The key is to reestablish this lost sense of safety. To allow an inner sense of security to prevail despite the darkness of nighttime.
Glow in the dark paint has been my all time favorite craft to keep on hand to help children with bedtime insecurities. The possibilities are ENDLESS. It is available at any craft store and can usually be found in the fabric paint isle. I found some stores also carry glow in the dark glitter.
Little ones: have the child or caregiver paint a picture of the child’s safe place or safe person (real person or superhero) to hang on the wall.
Make a glow in the dark glitter calm down bottle to practice deep breathing as the glitter settles (I have the most luck finding glow in the dark glitter at Michael’s craft stores). Teens also LOVE glow in the dark glitter bottles.
School age: use glow paint to create a picture or write text about a favorite safe memory (real or pretend!), safe place, person, story etc. try to include all the senses to help integrate the experience and truly help the child feel safe in the imagining of the place (what you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear).
Teens and adults: any of the above ideas can work for any age so feel free to also use those! With teens I have also had them paint positive affirmations or reminders to hang around. How cool is it to see the glowing words “I am beautiful, I am determined, I am good just the way I am.” The possibilities for positive affirmations or helpful quotes or reminders are truly endless!
Support system: I have even had children and teens draw or write the names of all the people who support them and help them feel safe on a poster to hang up as a reminder throughout the night. This can also be used in unison with a safety plan so the child or teen can remember who to reach out to when in need of support.
Feel free to share your ideas as well! Let’s make nighttime a safe time!