Q&A: My 3-year-old is terrified that there are bugs in her bed. Help!
My 3-year-old daughter is suddenly terrified of bugs getting into her bed at night. I'm not sure where the fear comes from since I cannot think of any shows, books, songs, etc. she has heard lately that talk about scary bugs. The fear is obviously illogical to me as an adult because her room is on the second floor; there are no bugs there.
We have tried explaining that her "buddies" (stuffed animals) will keep an eye out for bugs, we have even given her a "bug wand" that she can shake around the bed to be sure that no bugs enter. Nothing works. The only way she can fall asleep is in our room or with one of us there with her. This is her first sleeping issue ever—she does not even come to us in the night with storms, we've never really had to let her cry it out, etc. So there is no history of anxiety at sleep time. I cannot think of any particularly anxiety-producing situation in her life right now, either.
Any suggestions on how we can help her? I don't want her to get into the habit of falling asleep in my bed.
One of the hallmarks of preschoolers is an emerging, often vivid imagination. This allows them imaginary friends and to be more creative in their play. But the downside is that 3-year-olds can’t yet ‘turn off’ those imaginations or easily tell reality from fantasy.
Nighttime fears can be an extension of an active imagination and don’t automatically mean your daughter is stressed or has even been exposed to what she is afraid of.
The trick is to empower her with a solution (sometimes using that same imagination) before a sleep issue—such as depending on you or your bed to sleep—arises.
Your solution of a bug wand is exactly right, as it gives her a way to banish the bugs without needing your help. If it isn’t helping, try the closely related “bug spray”, an empty plant spritzer for bug ‘extermination’. At the same time, minimize the time you spend in her room and don’t let her sleep in your bed, lest a separate sleep dependence issue develop. It may take several nights, but if you are consistent (and as persistent as the bugs) it usually works.
Other techniques that may help are for you to wash her sheets together to remove all bug traces or to find a book for children that addresses this issue so she can hear how other kids have conquered their ‘monsters’.