It’s 2 a.m. and I am startled awake by my 8-year-old, “Mom, I’m scared, can I sleep with you?” This is not the first time (or even the 20th time) he has woken me up like this. We have been playing this game for months now.  

He hates to sleep alone.

He is afraid of the monsters he is sure are in the heating vents.

He wants all the lights in the whole house on.

He is exhausted from not sleeping.

And me, I am exhausted, exasperated, sad for him, and so ready to find a solution to our situation.

In the morning, he looks at me with sad eyes. I give him a hug and tell him, “It’s OK, you’ll eventually be able to sleep through the night again.” He doesn’t look convinced. And as the weeks turn into months, I am feeling less convinced myself.

There are so many words of advice, ideas, tips, and tricks out there for helping your kiddo get over their nighttime fears. The thing is, it feels like we have attempted every single one.

We made monster spray, we had a ceremony and kicked the monsters out, we talked about the problem logically (surprisingly, logic was lost on him in the middle of his nighttime terror). My husband and I doubled down on setting boundaries and being consistent with bedtimes as well as watching what he saw on TV and in video games, and on and on.

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As the months progressed, we continued to work toward finding a solution. Some things have been helpful. He has learned how to do deep breathing and has found skills that work to get him to fall asleep with a lot less effort. He currently has his bed more than half full of stuffed animals and likes to sleep with a blanket over him and the animals. He calls it turtling (at this point, I figure, whatever works!).

The thing is though, as his sleep problems have stretched on and on, we have both slipped into a bit of hopelessness and fear.

It feels like a very real worry that he will end up being in high school and still coming into my room in the middle of the night.

But then, last week, he slept through the night. And then, he did it again the next night and the next. I look at him in the morning and smile. The look he returns is one of my favorite things I have ever seen. It’s a look of quiet triumph, a knowledge that he is conquering his fears, a look that says he knows he is loved and I am proud of him.

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If you are facing similar issues, you are probably desperately asking, “What worked?” In the end, it really wasn’t any one, magical cure (although I sure wish I could say it was that easy!). In truth, it was a combination of consistency, practice, and a willingness to not give up. It was a little bit of me letting go of my need to fix the situation, and a lot of him deciding to take charge of himself and find solutions that resonated inside himself.

Somewhere in the midst of all of our struggles, I came across the idea that children may never completely overcome their anxiety—but they can learn to work with it, learn to move through it.

That felt oddly hopeful to me. It allowed me to change my mind frame from one of trying to solve the problem, to one of trying to give my son skills he can use for the rest of his life. Taking some of the pressure off to fix or solve his problem was monumental.

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So, are our nighttime troubles over? Well, honestly, as with most parenting dilemmas, who knows. What I can tell you is that I am going to keep loving him, encouraging him, and being his number one cheerleader no matter what tonight, tomorrow night, or any other night brings.

Ruth Song

Ruth Song is an author and illustrator of workbook-style journals that focus on big transitions and mental health for elementary-aged kids. She is a mom, a wife and enjoys painting in her spare time.