Equipping Children To Battle Nighttime Fears


Parenting / Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says.

Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says.  Click To Tweet

Our Experience

Little Man sometimes wrestles with nighttime fears. His 8-year-old mind is curious, yet cautious. While he wants to learn about tornadoes, volcanoes, sink holes and all kinds of naturally occurring phenomenon, his mind can become fixated on them in the quiet of the night.

About once a week, he mentions being scared the night before. Usually, he goes back to sleep on his own. He has a routine. First, he turns on the hall light, then uses the bathroom, and heads back to bed to pray. When he can’t shake the fear on his own, I learn about usually between 2-4 am.

A Short-Sighted Solution For A Long-Term Problem

Before talking about equipping our kids, can I share my heart? You guys, for quite a while, I wasn’t doing this nighttime fears thing right at all.

Between the ages of 3 and 5, our son was up almost every night. Added to his sisters’ nighttime feedings, I’m ashamed to say the frequent nighttime fears felt burdensome. I was exhausted. While I get up with him, sometimes with frustrated sighs and sharply whispered words, my attitude sucked. I’m not proud of it. Our son is tender-hearted and perceptive; he began apologizing for waking me up. I hate how my response made him feel the need to apologize for not being able to handle his fears on his own.

My focus was narrow and short-sighted, with the goal of just getting us all back to sleep. No, mainly getting me back to sleep.

I had no vision for anything beyond the next 20 minutes. With my poor attitude, I failed to equip him to cope with the fear or to battle it on his own. Of course it kept happening! My sleep-worshiping heart was selfishly hard where it should have been soft towards our son. We talked about other things for a few minutes, then prayed and headed for sleep. It was marginally effective at best, and didn’t equip him for any long term fight against fear.

My Own Struggle With Fear

As we moved past the baby stage of life, God began to gently remind me of my own struggles with fear as an adult. He also reminded me of my own childhood fears. I’m 37 years old and I had an all-too familiar recurrent nightmare from my childhood. I often needed help going back to sleep too.

The dream makes no sense. I’m alone in my grandparent’s basement; A place full of sweet childhood memories. Everything is the same, except for the floor is lava instead of mismatched carpet scraps. On top are chunks of weird white foam. I need to hop across the foam to the stairs where the dream implies I can ascend to safety. Oh, and obviously, there are crocodiles swimming in the lava that pop up, ensuring I wake with heart-racing fear. The nightmare’s origin was a childhood game. The floor was lava, and furniture was safe. We’d hop between them, cracking up when someone missed and ‘burned up’. My fearful mind transformed a child’s game into a nightmare.

Do you ever wake up and try to end a bad dream in a not-scary way? I used to try to convince myself I made it out. Of course, that didn’t work and just increased anxiety and further delayed sleep. Until recent years, I didn’t have a good tool to battle fear other than to wait it out.

Adults struggle with fear too. Do you? God equips us to comfort others as we’ve been comforted.

Adults struggle with fear too. Do you? God equips us to comfort others as we've been comforted. Click To Tweet
Equipping Children To Battle Nighttime Fears | Thisgratefulmama.com Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says. #fear #children #equip #parenting #motherhood #childhood #afraid #nightmare #baddreams #God #faith #pray #prayer #ABCs

Embrace Grace, Not Mom-Guilt

Through my fears, God opened my eyes to the opportunity we all have as parents: we have the chance to equip our children now, with tools to battle fear for a lifetime. It’s a chance we must not squander.

Let’s talk about what to do if you have handled your child’s nighttime fears like I did. Don’t be like me and wallow in mom-guilt. While true sorrow over our failures as parents is a right and normal response, mom-guilt is not. Nothing good will come of it and it won’t help our children either. Instead, recognize the truth of God’s uncommon grace. God’s grace is enough for our worst parenting mistakes. He promises to restore the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25), in you and your child. Beginning right now, He can help us parent in a new way.

Though painful, I’m grateful God revealed my selfishness. My heart aches over the way I handled things before. When I apologized to our son, he was so gracious, and I could see how much my apology meant to him. Now, I’ve asked God to help me greet our son with loving-kindness, no matter how tired I am. It hasn’t been perfect, but God is changing me. God has been faithful to me; He will be faithful to you too. 

Don’t beat yourself up, move forward in the truth of God’s uncommon grace.

Equipping Our Children to Battle Nighttime Fears Is A Privilege

We can’t stop our child’s imagination from creating nightmares, or prevent them from having daytime or nighttime fears. But we can equip them to deal with fear, night or day, when it comes up. 

God gives us the privilege and responsibility to get up in the middle of the night to help our children learn to battle nighttime fears. Equipping our child’s mind to focus on God in the midst of fear takes time and practice. Refuse to squander the opportunity by rushing, just because you might feel tired in the morning. 

Equipping Children To Battle Nighttime Fears | Thisgratefulmama.com Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says. #fear #children #equip #parenting #motherhood #childhood #afraid #nightmare #baddreams #God #faith #pray #prayer #ABCs
God gives us the privilege and responsibility to get up in the middle of the night to help our children learn to battle nighttime fears. Equipping our child's mind to focus on God in the midst of fear takes time and… Click To Tweet

Distraction Isn’t Enough

Children have vivid imaginations. While imagination is a gift, it sometimes needs to be tamed in the area of fear. I recognize it, because I do too.

Fears can take adults by surprise. Real life situations involving loved ones are far more terrifying than a lava filled basement. Our minds run down rabbit trails of what-ifs of everyday circumstances: a husband traveling, a child’s food allergies, or losing sight of a child suddenly becomes the worst-case scenario. Unchecked, the craziest, scariest and heart-wrenching disasters send our hearts racing. We aren’t good at distracting ourselves out of these fears either, are we?

Distraction isn’t enough to stop a fearful imagination.

It takes discipline to STOP and refocus the mind. Even after years of practice, my mind wanderers more than I’d like to admit, but I do see improvement. I can choose to stop fixating on fear by focusing on God. 

Our children can too.There is no better time than now to start.

Distraction is a short-term solution. It doesn’t lessen the frequency, nor does it give lasting peace or comfort. It’s a band-aid, covering over but not healing the wound itself. Distraction doesn’t change a child’s mindset or offer a way to rely on God when afraid.

The repetitive nature of a nighttime fears requires a new plan. We can harness our children’s ever-increasing age, and growing faith and knowledge of God to equip them to battle nighttime fears.

Turning Our Child’s Focus to God

The Bible has something to say about anxiety and worry that we can apply to nighttime fears. 

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

But saying a scripture verse alone isn’t really enough for a child or adult wrestling with fear. It needs to be digested and lived out. Apply God’s Word to our lives requires practice. As parents, we can demonstrate and help our child practice and learn to use God’s Word to battle nighttime fears. To do this, we need a practical way to equip our children to follow this instruction. I’m sharing ONE way to begin today.

For the past 6 months, we tried something different with our son. I’ve been using this tool for my own fears since I heard a wise woman talk about it at Bible Study Fellowship a few years ago. Not only has it given me a tool to use with my own nighttime fears, it’s changed my heart. I’m so excited to share it with you, because it’s working for our son too!

Equipping Children To Battle Nighttime Fears | Thisgratefulmama.com Does your child struggle with nighttime fears? Equip children to battle fear by recalling who God is, what He has done, and what His word says. #fear #children #equip #parenting #motherhood #childhood #afraid #nightmare #baddreams #God #faith #pray #prayer #ABCs

Using the ABC’s to Focus on God and Battle Nighttime Fears

Now, when our son is feeling afraid at night, we stop and use the ABC’s to recall:

  • who God is
  • what He has done and will do
  • what His Word says

This method reminds us of a truth we need to know when afraid – God hasn’t failed us yet, and He won’t begin to fail us right now.

Use the ABC's to recall who God is, what He has done and will do, and what His Word says to equip your child to battle nighttime fears. Click To Tweet

Using the ABC’s to battle nighttime fear is more than distraction. It trains our child’s mind to stop dwelling on fears and look to God, who is bigger than any fear. Young or old, we’re reminded that God is BIG and capable. Therefore, we can trust Him, regardless of our fear – come what may.

Here are our son’s answers from last night. The next post will include two printable resources to use with your family. One is a printable list of WORDS to use in the ABC’s, and one is a printable of ABC scripture verses to learn together. I can’t wait to share these with you!

A 8 Year Old’s Responses

  • A – God is AMAZING
  • B – God is BIG
  • C – God is in CONTROL of all things
  • D – Jesus DIED on the cross
  • E – God is ETERNAL
  • F – He is FAITHFUL
  • G – GOD is GREAT and gives GRACE. God gets the GLORY
  • H – HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
  • I – The Holy Spirit is IN me. “He is the great I ‘something’ ” (I AM)
  • J – He is GENEROUS (we talked about that being a G but I love his heart on this one)
  • K – He is the KING
  • L – God LOVES me
  • M – God is MIGHTY. He MADE me
  • N – God is NOCTURNAL (then, wait, what is nocturnal again? So we talked about how God doesn’t need to sleep when we do. He is awake and we can rest while we sleep because He never stops doing His job). And God NEVER changes
  • O – God is OVER all things
  • P – God gives us PEACE. He is POWERFUL
  • Q – Jesus can QUIET the storm
  • R – Jesus is the RESCUER
  • S – Jesus SAVED me from my sin
  • T – God TEACHES us
  • U – God made US, saved US, loves US
  • V – God has the VICTORY already
  • W – God is WITH me
  • X – God is EXTRAORDINARY
  • Y – we came up with YEARNS for us to know Him together
  • Z – we came up with ZEALOUS together

Prayer

When finished, talk about how BIG God is and how He is trustworthy. Then, take the opportunity to pray together.

Praying after recounting all of these truths about God, is powerful. We know exactly WHO we are praying to because we’ve been reminded of who God is, what He has done and will do, and what His Word says. He hasn’t failed us yet. And we can thank Him for the peace and joy we’ve experienced through the process of praising Him.

Lord, thank you for reminding us of who you are and what you can and will do. God, you are faithful! Your Word tells us that nothing is too hard for you. Thank you for listening to us and hearing our prayers. We know you are with us. God we trust you. You are bigger than our fear and any dreams or thoughts we can have. Protect [INSERT CHILD’s NAME]’s mind from being afraid or having any more bad dreams. We love you. Amen.

Don’t Wait!

We should have started sooner. I wrongly assumed it would be too hard. However, since day one, our son has been able to do most letters on his own. If your child knows their letters and sounds, they can do this; It only gets easier with time.

You guys, God is so cool.

Afterwards, our son’s prayers are confident and bold. I literally see peace washing over him before he dozes off. Distraction, without training his mind to seek God never brought this kind of peace.

And me? What better way to fall asleep than to know ALL this truth is hidden in our son’s mind and heart?

I know this seems like a big list. It seems like kids can’t possibly do this. But I urge you to not over-think it. Try it. Don’t worry about getting through the whole alphabet. Some nights we do A-G. Others A-M. How far you go really depends on how your child is feeling.

There is more hidden in the hearts and minds of our kids than we know. If  it’s a struggle, practice during the day using the resources in the next post to build vocabulary for nighttime use.


And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (ESV)

Learning the ABCs of God’s attributes, character and word creates a simple way to fulfill Deuteronomy 6 living with your family. Talk about God’s character during the day as you see Him working in your life. Talk about His creation as you explore the world. The vocabulary of God is unending!

Additional Resources

While this method can help a child train their mind to focus on God, it is not a cure-all for fear or anxiety. I share it as ONE resource to try. As parents, we all need additional resources. Here’s some that your family may find helpful, and as always, consult with a medical professional if you have additional concerns. 

25 Replies to “Equipping Children To Battle Nighttime Fears”

  1. I love this! Gonna get my kiddo to write these affirmations down and I want to start speaking them over my super littles! Our daughter had night terrors when she was 2-3 years old. Our now soon-to-be 3 year old son wakes up some nights just yelling… 🙁 This post came in handy for such a time as this!

    1. It’s amazing how these phases come and go for each child. I’m so thankful God prompted this post at a good time for you!

  2. This is so good. I always pray with my daughters when they have bad dreams, but one of mine really struggles. I made her a card to write a prayer for when she has bad dreams on that she has tacked not he wall at the head of her bed. It has helped so much that she can turn on her lift and read that to help her focus on God instead of her fear. This is such a great idea too, we will definitely use it!

    1. I love the idea of a prayer card right by the bed! I’m going to talk to our son about what would be helpful to have as a reminder to pray and give this a try too! Thank you for sharing what has worked for your family!

  3. These are very helpful tips my 21 month old woken up a couple times screaming I am starting to think she probably is having nightmares and I’m definitely going to start practicing some of these. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. You are welcome Denise. Praying your little one doesn’t have many nightmares but also that God will lead you in your words and actions as you comfort your daughter.

  4. Oh I’m nervous about this stage of motherhood. My son is two and we haven’t had to experience nightmares yet but I will save this for later, for sure!

    1. While nightmares aren’t fun, and it’s hard to watch them experience fear, there’s something very special about being their safe place. Best advice I can give is pray now-for their minds to be protected from seeing scary images, and for them to have a deep rooted sense of where their help comes from.

  5. This is such a great post! I need this! Love this method. I’m also going to share this with my parents who are in our ministry at church. Many share with me that their children have nighttime fears. Thank you for writing this! 🙂

    1. Thank you Marcie for your encouragement and for sharing this with others! It’s my hope and prayer that God can bless others through recalling His truth. The power lies in God’s Word, work and character, not the method!

  6. This is just so good. I read it a bit ago. I’ve been thinking on it. It’s been convicting me. You HAVE NO IDEA how much! And not just about night time or sleep either. But every time I see me, putting my own selfish needs before my children, I remember this post and I try (though I’m not always succeeding:) to stop right there and get right with God and my kids. This post is going to be a staple for me that I’m going to come back to. I’ve pinned it twice to make sure I don’t lose it! Thank you for the work and prayer and thought you put into this.

    1. Oh Stephanie! Thank you for your sweet encouragement and for also sharing how you relate to much of what I struggle with as a parent: selfishness! I thought marriage showed my selfish nature, then I had kids. It’s a whole new level of God showing me I’m just not as self-less as I ‘thoght’ I was. Thank you for pinning, and sharing your thoughts here!

  7. Great words of advice for a very tough situation. Fear in children is extra difficult because they don’t fully understand what is real and what is not. I pray many parents find this article to help them deal with it the healthy way.

    1. What an excellent point, Yvonne! Our kids certainly do need help learning what fears are real or not, and how a dream can not hurt them physically. Dreams feel so real! Thank you!

  8. I love your honesty in this post. As mothers, we have all had our struggles with being patient, and being mindful of our words, and regretting things we could have done better. But every mother struggles with that, and God certainly knows. He is gracious to gently guide us to deeper truth with in ourselves, and he always helps us become better people.

    My son to struggled with nighttime sleep habits for years. I know the exhaustion from sleep deprivation. It does cause lots of other issues, and that’s why we always have to give ourselves lots of grace in the process. Your tips and advice are excellent! I am sure they will help many people. God bless you for this post. And may he give you many sleep-filled nights!

    1. Lisa, thank you for sharing about your story, and the comfort of knowing others have experienced similar challenges and can relate! I so appreciate the reminder of how we all need grace, especially as parents. Thank you for your encouragement and thoughts!

  9. This is great! Love the idea of the ABC’s of who God is, what He has done and will do, what His Word says. It is so easy to just give a trite answer, try distractions or dismiss our kids fears. But since they are very real and need to be replaced with truth, you give such a wonderful tip to help. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Karen! I’ve been practicing the same method for several years to quiet my own late night rabbit trails of anxiety. God is so good, there are always new truths to recall, and new words from recent reading He brings to mind. I’ve experienced such kindness from God in this area, I pray our kids will have the same tangible experience of God’s power and presence!

    1. Thank you Stephen! Yes, it’s amazing what comes up during the day, that our son remembers at night! Sometimes I hear more about daytime discussions (what I talked about as he appeared distracted, or what we heard at church but he didn’t really want to talk about), at night! I’m amazed by what God prompts him to recall, ask questions about, or surprise me with while we do our ABCs. We have been so blessed through this process, it’s my hope others will be too.

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