Q: For the last six months, my 8-year-old daughter, who has slept in her own room since she was an infant, is terrified to sleep alone. This began when she saw the making of "The Exorcist" on television--the part where the bed shakes. Since then, she has claimed that there are demons in her room or that someone will steal her while she's sleeping. We repainted her room and redecorated it with butterflies. We even bought a new bed, but she will not sleep alone. She will sleep in her room with her 14-year-old sister in bed with her, but when I try to get her to sleep alone, she shakes, sobs, and begs me not to leave her. We don't know what to do. PLEASE HELP.

A: This kind of problem is terribly difficult for parents. When our children are terrified, we want to help them. We want them to feel safe and comfortable. All of the things you did were designed to help your daughter get over her fears. They may not appear to have worked, but you can be certain that on a deep level she feels your commitment and love.

Don't think you are alone in having this problem. Many children have night terrors that last for years, and they usually begin with just such an experience as your daughter had. Many children are extraordinarily imaginative, and we honor this in children. However, the same imagination that makes their play so wonderful can turn on them at night. You have been right to take her fears seriously. Too many parents try to argue away their children's fears. This doesn't work. It usually makes the child feel more alone and vulnerable.

Your fear, of course, is that she won't get over this, or that she may use it to manipulate you, or that giving in to her will make her weaker.

In our opinion, it is always best to treat a child's fear with respect and to be willing to go to extremes to help. When one of our sons was 6, he and his brother were at home when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. We weren't there and weren't able to get home for several hours. By the time we got to him, this boy was literally frozen with terror. He couldn't speak, and he was shaking uncontrollably. For three weeks, he slept in bed with us. Then we moved a bed into our room for him.

He had been attending an alternative kindergarten, but he didn't want to go back because he said he didn't feel safe there. We transferred him to a Catholic kindergarten because the routine and structure made him feel safer. When we left California, he continued to sleep in a bed in our room whenever he wanted.

Children aren't always good at explaining why they feel so terrified. Sometimes they don't know. However, the terror is real, and in particularly imaginative children, it often builds upon itself and takes on a life of its own. In our opinion, it would be helpful to all of you if you don't focus on getting your daughter to sleep alone. This simply is too frightful to her and too frustrating for you. If she's able to sleep all night once she falls asleep, perhaps you can take turns staying with her until she does go to sleep. Obviously, leave lights on if this is helpful and institute a routine that instills a sense of safety. Praying with her may help, although children are less comforted by words and concepts than are adults. Some kind of icon might help as well. We have known parents who used Native American dream catchers or statues of saints or other religious figures.

But again, children usually need the presence of a warm body to feel safe. In our opinion, it's fine to provide that warmth for as long as needed. Loving our children in every way we can think of cannot possibly cause long-term harm. To the contrary, it teaches them to love.

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