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Agnieszka Bleja - Before you say “good night” to your child...


A few tips on how to relieve a child’s anxiety at bedtime.


  1. Kids can tune in emotionally with their parents and guardians. They are said to be perfect emotional barometers. Therefore, in order to calm a child’s anxiety, adults must first calm themselves. Just as in the case of pre-flight safety instructions for plane passengers (where adults are advised to first secure their own oxygen masks before helping the accompanying children), when a anxious child is being calmed down, its parents must first give themselves a moment to self-regulate and assess their own level of tension. When you are upset or highly anxious, it helps to inhale and exhale a few times with the intention of releasing unnecessary tension each time you breathe out.

  2. In the evening hours before bedtime, it is better to gradually wind down the child’s activities by reducing its level of stimulation, especially from negative stimuli. Care should be taken to switch off screens and other devices transmitting disturbing information.

  3. Repetitive and consistent bedtime routines are helpful for children of any age (and for adults, too). Such routines ”brought over” to the new places of residence of children traumatised  by war that have fled their homes and homelands can be especially helpful because they provide a sense of continuity and build a sense of security. These routines may involve a fixed sequence of events (e.g. supper, a bedtime story, bath and good night hug),  the use of favourite objects (e.g. a cuddly toy, blanket or pillow) or a specific type of routine (e.g. rocking, reading a bedtime story, massaging).

  4. Some children will need a dim light or half-open bedroom door to hear distant sounds from other rooms – while other children will need a dark room and quiet bedroom environment.

  5. For some children, especially school age children, a good way to calm down will be to hear a story or fairy tale read or told to them, whereas for other children it may be better to spend some time together with a parent in a dark room or listening to relaxing music.

  6. If a child likes bathing before bed, bathing can serve the purpose of cleansing its body and mind of the unnecessary tension, thoughts and events of the past day. It can be a fun bath with magic foam to reduce the child’s fatigue and dissolve its stress. The child may blow bubbles in the bath with its mouth or through a straw – and each time it exhales and makes a bubbling noise – it can get rid of some tension.

  7. In these difficult and ever-changing times, despite the parent’s attempts to calm down the child at bedtime, disturbing thoughts or questions about its relatives, future or home may come to its mind … In as much as it is a good idea to talk about these things during daytime, to provide the child with the (age-appropriate) information it needs, parents are not advised to hold such conservations at bedtime to avoid aggravating the child’s anxiety or hindering its sleep. It would be helpful to invent a way for leaving these thoughts and questions unanswered until the following day. One such recourse is to use a small piece of cloth, blanket or handkerchief to gently „scoop up” the child’s thoughts and assure it that these thoughts can surely wait until morning.

  8. Visualisations that strengthen and relax the child can be used to replace the thoughts that were dismissed until the following morning – e.g. visualisations of an imaginary place in which (or of an imaginary companion with whom) the child feels safe – such as a magic palace, enchanted garden, wizard friend & defender or powerful spirit animal. In the case of children who have experienced trauma after fleeing from their home, the elicitation of positive memories is not advised (so as not to trigger feelings of loss, sorrow and fear); it is better to unlock imaginations and phantasies instead.


These suggestions can prove helpful for all children having problems with falling asleep, but may be insufficient for some. Children who are refugees haunted by terrifying sounds (the wailing of alarm sirens, pounding of artillery fire, screams of terrified civilians) and cannot erase from memory the terrifying sights (of bombarded towns and injured men) may be in a state of acute post-traumatic stress. They will experience an extremely high level of tension and fear, and may behave in an odd, incomprehensible way (i.e., may be apathetic, deny reality, avoid social contacts or conversely, may cling to people who offer a sense of support). All of these behaviours (and many other more) are natural in such trying circumstances. It is important to know and to inform children that such behaviour should be seen as a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

For some of these children, the psychological assistance of a crisis intervention specialist may be necessary. If such treatment is unavailable, it would be helpful to use an emotional first aid kit – e.g., Emotional Aid (psse.net.pl/emotionaid) - or to recount therapeutic stories (such as the stories written by Marcelina Tatarynowicz ) in order to stabilise the emotional state of the children.

The post-traumatic stress the child is suffering will most likely be gradually dispelled as the child adapts to the safe new environment and returns to its daily activities, such as learning, playing and outdoor recreation. If, however, the disturbing symptoms persist for more than a month, a chronic post-traumatic stress disorder may have developed. The child must be given therapeutic support in such case.



A psychologist,  certified psychotherapist and supervisor trainee. Graduate of Psychology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and member of the Polish Psychological Association.

Has completed many trainings in Ericksonian psychotherapy, systemic and short-term psychotherapy. Has been providing specialised psychological support to children and teens and their families for many years, offering diagnosis, consultations and psychotherapy in a psychological and guidance counselling centre. Has led psychotherapy training sessions at the Polish Ericksonian Institute in Łódź.