My son has recently become afraid of being attacked at night

Categories: Anxiety | Boys | Covid-19 | Primary


My 8-year-old son has always been a bit anxious. His latest fear is that someone is going to come into his room at night to attack him. He wants us to sit on his bed until he falls asleep and in the night wants to come into our bed. I do not allow this. During the day, I sit down and explain to him that we have a lovely home, in a safe area and always check the doors before bed. I don’t know what else to do? It’s leading to arguments at an already stressful time with the whole virus lockdown.

I’d be very interested to know when your son’s anxieties about robbers or burglars attacking him in his bed began. I could imagine that, if they are recent, they may actually be associated with the general uncertainty and anxiety that may surround your house regarding the Coronavirus.

If your son has a tendency to be anxious anyway, then he will probably have been quite alarmed by the changes that the virus has brought to all our lives. Quite suddenly, his whole world will have changed and that alone may have provoked anxiety, never mind any specific worries he could have about himself or your family becoming sick.

It is not uncommon for children to assign worries that seem general, non-specific or are in some way unidentifiable, to a specific thing or things that they can then target that anxiety on. The fact that his worries centre on being attacked, suggests that he may have some, as yet, unprocessed fears about his own vulnerability, perhaps associated with Covid-19.

You acknowledge that it is a stressful time for you, and it may be that some of that stress has transferred to him, since he sees, perhaps, that you and his dad are more on-edge, more vigilant about germs, or being outdoors, or keeping physical distance. Perhaps he witnesses your increased insecurity about certain things and this has heightened his.

So, rather than focusing on the rationalities of how safe your home is, focus more on exploring his worries. He is still quite young and so empathy statements, where you guess at what you think he might feel, will be the most effective way to do this. Those statements will sound like, “I wonder if you are finding all the virus stuff to be a bit scary and a bit stressful.” Or, “It probably feels a bit weird and strange that we are all stuck in the house so much and can’t do all our usual things”.

Those kinds of conversations, during the day, will be much more helpful. Then at night I think you can offer several options to him. Firstly, there is no harm staying with him while he falls asleep. If this seems to take too long and is too intrusive into your evening, then offer to stay for a few minutes and then do checking visits on him, every 5 minutes until he is asleep.

I note your comment about not “allowing” him to come into your bed at night. While this is quite a rational approach, and seems pragmatic, I just wonder if a more emotionally sensitive approach might also suit for the moment, under the particularly uncertain circumstances we have just now.

Being snuggled in beside parents is the most secure place to be! Even if it becomes a habit, it is one that you can reverse when things have settled down and his life (and your own) feel a bit more secure and predictable. If having him in the bed would be too squishy, you could create a “nest” for him, with blankets or spare duvets, where he could some and sleep on the floor of your room instead. He needs to know that you have his back while things seem so on edge.