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Parent-Assisted Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Children's Nighttime Fear

  • Sandra E. Stewart (a1) and Jocelynne E. Gordon (a1)

Abstract

Nighttime fear, including fear of monsters and the dark, is common. For most children and adolescents, nighttime fears are transient. However, approximately 10% experience severe nighttime fear that negatively impacts sleep, adjustment, and family life. Research conducted in the 1980s indicates that cognitive-behavioural therapy can reduce nighttime fear in as few as three sessions. The aims of the present study were to replicate and extend earlier research by evaluating a cognitive-behavioural treatment package for children's severe nighttime fear, and address methodological issues in previous studies. A manualised, multi-component treatment package was developed, based on current evidence-based practice for the treatment of children's anxiety. Interventions included graded exposure, muscle relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and social and material reinforcement. Treatment was individually tailored and delivered via weekly modules. A multiple baseline across-subjects design was utilised. Four ‘families’ — one parent and one child — participated; children's ages ranged from 6 to 10 years. Families attended five weekly intervention sessions and a 1-month follow-up. Multiple outcome measures were administered pre- and post-treatment. All children displayed changes consistent with reduced nighttime fear following treatment, including fewer phobic symptoms, reduced general fear, and improved nighttime and general behaviour. These changes were maintained at follow-up. Parents reported a high degree of satisfaction with the program and would recommend it to other families. The results support the effectiveness of manualised, parent-assisted treatment for nighttime fear in as few as three sessions. In cases of severe nighttime fear, therapist support is recommended. Treatment implications for children with complex presentations are discussed.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Sandra E. Stewart, Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University, PO Box 6, Clayton VIC Australia, 3800. E-mail: sandra.stewart@monash.edu

References

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