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Calming Scared Toddlers During Stressful Bedtime

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Dr. Laura,

I absolutely LOVE your website and your parenting advice. It always resonates with us so much. I have a question about my four-year-old little guy. There are nights when I have to put the kids to bed by myself because my husband is a pilot and is not home every night. I have a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a 5-month-old. When doing bedtime by myself, the 2 & 4 are in bunk beds, and I'm in the rocking chair in the same room, nursing the baby to sleep. Tonight my 4y-old kept saying that he was "really scared". He kept repeating it, saying he was afraid of lions (a recurring fear for him since he was 2). I couldn't do anything because I was sitting in the chair nursing the baby. I prayed with him but he still kept saying he was scared. Also - the two-year-old kept crying for me, and she wouldn't stop or be soothed by singing or anything, so I had to take the baby into bed with her to cuddle until she settled, but the baby was fussing. It was a pretty stressful situation, and I'm wondering if you have an advice for a smoother bedtime. Normally Daddy does bedtime with the older two, so it's not the usual routine, but I hate to hear them crying and whimpering for cuddles and such when I can't give it to them.

Thank you!


Since Daddy usually puts the older two kids to bed, it could certainly make them a bit anxious to have him gone from time to time. These are the kinds of situations that make families use a family bed, so you can snuggle with everyone at once! Bunkbeds, in my experience, are hard to snuggle in.

But I do think you can turn things around by helping your kids process any anxieties about bedtime in advance. So, for instance, do a roughhousing game with your two oldest before bed. (Not immediately before bed or they will be two wound up, but before story time and maybe before pjs.) Get them really giggling, which releases anxiety.

Then, tell them a story. Once there were two kids whose daddy usually put them to bed, but Daddy had to work one night. They were both frightened, especially of lions. They climbed up in a treehouse. But lo and behold, a lion came to the bottom of their tree and purred, like a housecat. The lion wanted to be their friend. The two kids summoned up all their courage and climbed down and petted the lion, who licked their hands and gave them rides and snuggled up to them. Then the kids climbed back up into their treehouse to sleep and the lion guarded the bottom of the tree......

Move your chair next to the bunkbed, and tell them you are the Mama Lion, and you are guarding the two of them in their bunkbed treehouse. Put your foot into the bed with the two year old, so she can snuggle up to you. And sing both of them lullabyes while you're nursing the baby, before they start crying. (Of course, you already did lots of kissing and hugging and snuggling with both of them as you tucked them in.)

Does this mean your kids won't cry and be frightened? No. But it will probably help a great deal. Good luck, and please do let me know how it goes!
Dr. Laura

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