Fear of Spending the Night!

Updated on September 17, 2012
T.S. asks from Unity, WI
14 answers

Hi ladies!
My girls will not spend the night anywhere but home! It's driving me nuts because I know they're missing out on lots of fun. It started this past summer after my oldest daughter spent 4 days/nights in Chicago with her best friend and her family. They had a blast--6 Flags, a waterpark, Kenny Chesney concert--I was a bit jealous!
She never hinted at all about being homesick when she called--it was all about the fun she was having.
Since then though, she will not spend the night anywhere...friends, aunts/uncles, even grandparents!! I have taken her and her sister to friends' houses, only to be called at bedtime to come and pick them up because they don't want to stay! The last time they spent the night at grandma and grandpa's it took everything I had to stay home and not drive an hour to go get them. They came home a day early--flat out refused to stay another night.
I feel bad because, like I mentioned, they're missing out on fun times! Without being totally mean and refusing to go pick them up, any suggestions on how to fix this?? I get this picture in my head of them crying and hysterical because I won't pick them up, so I give in and go get them.
They are supposed to go to grandma's at the end of the month for a Halloween party and when I told them about it, they both got visibly upset...the little one even started to cry and tell me that she would miss me too much if she went.
Have I spoiled them by being around too much? (I lost my job a year ago and am in school now) What are they gonna do if/when I go back to work!!!!!???
Any suggestions?? I'm open to try anything at this point! Thank you moms!

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answers from Omaha on

Maybe since this is something new maybe something happened to make her fearful of being away or maybe being away from you. Might just be a dream that something happened to you when she was gone or more series. Maybe you should have them go talk to a professional.

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answers from Omaha on

I would do what they want and keep them home. Why the urgency to get them out of the house? It's their house let them stay. You keep saying how much fun they will have. They're telling you they won't like it. It sounds like you are wanting some alone time and that is fine, but it should not be at the expense of your daughters happiness. Something happened while they were gone for 4 days. It may not have been blatent but something happened that made them uncomfortable. Was there a male parent on the trip with them. If you push the issue it will make it worse. Get to the root of the problem rather than trying to force them.



answers from Appleton on

Hi T.:
I read the other posts and I agree that something happened while your daughter was on vacation with her friend and family. It could be any one of a number of thngs, molestation, someone playing a game that scared the daylights out of her, some violent event at the hotel, who knows. I would try and talk to her see if she can open up about the time she spent with her friend.
This may sound silly but I would go to Grandma's house with her take a night light so the room is not dark. Both of you spend the night in the morning she will wake and see that everything is okay. Do this several times and the first night share the room with her and spend the whole night. The second and third night sleep in a different room but spend the night. After that stay part of the night then go home. In the morning she will see that she is safe and hopefully this will help her with her fears. I would make sure that the room she sleeps in is well lit and she has her favorite stuffed animal with her, if she does not have a favorite stuffed animal take her shopping. Have her pick out an animal that will stay awake all night and keep watch over her. Bears, big cats, owls, all are nocturnal animals, tell her that while she sleeps the animal will be awake and watching over her to protect her while she sleeps. Right now she needs reassurance that she is safe. Light and a stuffed animal just may be the thing that lets her know she is safe.



answers from Des Moines on

Hi T. - I can relate to your kids! When I was about 5 my mom sent me to camp for a week with my sister. She didn't realize that the older kids (and thus my sister) were housed in a completely different area of the camp. While I did have fun during the day, the nights were *terrifying*! After I came home (they wouldn't let me call my mom to come get me) I had the same problems as your little ones. I didn't want to go anywhere to stay the night. If I tried to stay the night - even at my best friend's house down the street - undoubtedly I would call after dark and want to come home. I was just absolutely terrified. And my mom also tells me I was never afraid of being alone or being in the dark before that camp experience.

I wish I had some great advice to share on getting over it, but it really took me until 8th grade before I could "go away" again. And to be truthful I *still* don't love being alone in the dark (being home along, being in a hotel alone, etc). I would see how it goes for a few months and if either of them doesn't show any improvement, I'd seek some counseling to help them put their feelings into words and then work them out! Best of luck!!



answers from Des Moines on

I had the same problem with my daughter when she was about 12. She had always stayed at friends houses and loved going to g-mas to sleep over, then out of the blue she started to have problems staying all night and would cry and call me to come get her. I was pretty quick to figure out that the problem was anxiety and mini panick attacks (her heart would race and she would shake and feel unwell) I had had panick attacks when younger so as hard as it was i kept pushing her to try and to remember that the scary feelings were not going to hurt her. I started out with her staying at g-mas and told g-ma to distract her when she started feeling the symptoms. It was a long struggle but a girl she met at school invited her to stay over night so i called the mom and told her the situation and she said she would distract her and see if she could get her to fall asleep. Well she gave a my daughter a really nice back and foot rub when the symptoms appeared and talked to her about school and her favorite subjects, after awhile she fell asleep.... and after that the fear was gone and she was fine.
I also explained to my daughter what she was feeling and taught her some copeing tech. (changing her thoughts, breathing etc) to use if she feels it coming on again.
Its been about 7 years now and she is off at college and using those same skills to adjust to a dorm and roommate :)

I hope this helps!



answers from Minneapolis on

I agree with most of the others that you shouldn't force them to spend the night away from home. That will likely just make it worse. Kids need to have their fears acknowledged. My son had a variety of fears and anxieties at age 5 and he ultimately outgrew them. I think it might be less stressful and frustrating for all of you if you just plan on picking them up at a certain time when they are invited to parties or sleepovers unless you hear from them that they want to stay instead of waiting for them to get homesick and then call you to come get them. The certainty of knowing that you are coming to get them and that it's their choice if they want to spend the night might give them a little boost of confidence and after doing that for awhile they might decide they want to stay. You might want to check out some books on Emotional Coaching. I can't remember the name of the author for sure, but someone with a name like Dan Goleman wrote books on the topic when my son was going through his phase. Good luck.



answers from Rapid City on

T. -- a REALLY tough thing to suggest ... but did you ever talk to your daughter that went to Chicago to see if something "tramatic" happened to her there on the trip? If so, she might be discouraging the younger sister to never go anywhere overnight because "bad things" will happen to her like what happened to her.

GAWD I pray I am wrong - but this 'fear' makes me think otherwise. PLEASE speak to your daughter and be very frank with her ... really look into her eyes to find the true answer. A predator will scare children into never telling for fear of other family members being hurt if they tell. I know of this first hand and I would never wish it upon my worst enemy.

God Bless!



answers from Minneapolis on

There are two ways to go, and you might want to do both. One is to ask them why they're afraid, and really listen to them and respect what they say. The other is to use Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a way of resolving fears without necessarily knowing where they came from. There's lots of info about it on the internet. For doing it with children, I'd recommend tappybear.com.



answers from Minneapolis on

they don't know they are missing out on fun...and fun doesn't only happen when you stay overnight at someone's house...

heck I'd be HAPPY if my kids didn't want to stay at their grandmothers house...as there are many issues that go along with it when they do...

but your girls are old enough to voice their own opinion and wants and 'dis'wants. I would however talk with the older one and see what may have happened on that trip as to what may have frightened her...



answers from Iowa City on

I can't offer a lot of advice, but we're in a similar situation. My 8 year old has been on sleepovers at Grandma's and a couple at friends houses and was always fine. This summer, she seems to have developed separation anxiety and refuses to go on sleep overs (even to Grandmas, like yours), dropping her off at school for the first couple weeks was very difficult, and she's reluctant to participate in her outside school activities unless she can see a parent is waiting there for her. Apparently separation anxiety can develop during the school age years so we've started having her see a psychologist which is helping. That might be worth a try if this continues.



answers from New York on

Don't worry!!!!!my mom gives in to my brother all the time !!!when they call tell them to go outside(u 2)and tell them that your right there watching them and you'll be there soon.if that doesnt work ask to speak with the adult in charge.see if they can make your kids feel any better.if that doesn't work(which I doubt it won't)then they're obviously not ready for the challenge !!!they will get there!



answers from St. Cloud on

I kind if get a red flag feeling when you said they used to enjoy spending the night away until recently: since the vacation with her friend. Did something happen to her??? Was she abused (molested)? I know that no mom wants to think that but it seems quite unusual that she is 11 and just suddenly started feeling this way. She may not open up to you but I would definitely have a heart to heart and make sure that she knows it is NOT her fault (if something did happen.) If she can't or won't tell you why she no longer enjoys sleepovers I suggest having her talk to your pastor (or a local non-denominational pastor) and see if they can help.....

As for the younger one. It sounds like she is feeding off your older daughters' fear. YOU have done nothing wrong. You have not spoiled them by being home with them. I am with my kids 24/7 almost every week and they still beg to go sleep over at Grandma and Grandpa's house and to go places. (They are 4 1/2 and 2.) I would not suggest forcing them to sleep over at other peoples' houses. This will only make them more fearful.

I wish you the best. I hope you can find where this is stemming from! I am so sorry to even suggest this and I hope that I am very wrong. It was just my immediate thought when you told your story...... And I wanted to put it out there in case it had not crossed your mind.



answers from Minneapolis on

I would not force them to do any sleepovers they dont want to - unless it was something that was a must, like if you and hubby were going out of town, something like that. If they dont want to, dont make them. They will do it when they are ready. My girls are 6 and 8. My 6 yo has spent the night at my sister's house and that is all. She just isnt ready. My 8 yo has spent the night at friends' houses, but sometimes calls and wants to come home. I have not gone and gotten her, but just talked to her on the phone and she was fine (although with some kids, talking to mom on the phone makes it worse). I would work on having sleepovers at your house, get them more comfortable with that. Also, having them sleep somewhere other than their beds - like in the family room on a weekend, with you in your room, so they are getting used to sleeping out of their beds, but with you near by (even if they arent having anyone else over, they can do a "sleepover" with just them). Then I would work on having them gone from you, but just for they day, not overnight - with them knowing it is just for the day. You could also work on all of you spending the night away from home - at a hotel, or at grandma's, etc. I would just work on it small steps at a time. It is them who are missing out, eventually they will be ready again and will do it on their own time. I was very clingy to my mom as a kid and took a long time until I was comfortable sleeping away from home.
(ps, I am sure they will do great once you go back to work, it is probably just a night time thing, and I am sure it has been wonderful for them having you home!)



answers from Duluth on

I have a very fearful five year old--he is very afraid of new situations, which is weird, since he is this loud, outgoing, super-friendly kid. And, we lived in WA state for quite a while, while our family was in the midwest, meaning our kids never did nights away with any relatives without us. Now that we are back in MN, I really wanted my boys to be ok with staying away from us, if for no other reason than if we should HAVE to, they wouldn't have the double whammy of whatever crisis came up PLUS staying away from mom and dad. So I tend to think you should encourage the nights away. Your girls are old enough to tell time; do they know when you're returning? Maybe having grandma or grandpa stay at YOUR house while you get away would transition them a little more easily? My son needs to know what to expect, and not knowing makes him VERY anxious. We prepared him for months to spend four days with grandma and grandpa on their farm. He also liked knowing he was going with his baby brother. Maybe telling the girls where you'll be when they're there would help? Planning a phone call? Talking about all the fun they'll have (when my son starts fretting about being away from us, all I have to do is look at him sternly and say, "Now, daddy and I will be gone, so don't have ALL the fun with ...grandma... ..aunt...babysitter..." and he looks at me mischieviously and laughs, saying, "We're gonna have ALL the fun!" and then he's suddenly fine, realizing that he WILL have fun without us--all on his own. Hmmm...don't know if any of this is great advice, but I'd just take it really slowly--maybe an afternoon at grandma and grandpa's? Then an evening? Then an overnight? I'd work hard with grandma and grandpa, esp since they're relatively close, to get the girls out and about a little more, because I think you're right--they are old enough to be alone for a night with someone they trust, and they should be able to enjoy it. I also think, though, that forcing it could backfire--so it's matter of walking that thin line! Good luck!

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