Of course, not all children who exhibit such behavior have true sleep anxiety. Many kids will do things like this because they crave the attention. It's up to you to figure out whether your child's behavior is a ploy for more attention or true anxiety.
What causes child sleep anxiety?
There are a number of reasons that kids might become anxious around bedtime: Excessive stress; fear that they won't be able to sleep or that they might have nightmares; arguments with parents or being scolded before bed; and so on.
In every case, however, the underlying anxiety has to do with the fact that going to sleep on your own in a big dark room can be scary. It requires courage, demands faith that after losing consciousness you'll wake up again, and involves separation from one's primary caretakers. This is why bedtime rituals are such a common trigger for children with a general anxiety disorder. They can trigger stress and a sense of abandonment, all while accommodating a child's darkest fears at the same time.
Dealing with sleep anxiety in children
1. Have children help you formulate their own bedtime ritual. A certain number of hugs and kisses, a story in a particular order, and so on. Keep the ritual constrained to a realistic time frame, but let kids dictate how it should go. This lets them feel a sense of control over this scary transition, and allows you more authority to cap the routine at a certain point. If a child fusses, simply say, "I've helped you in every way I can help you. We went through the routine you chose. Now it's time to get to sleep."
2. Read and apply the information contained in our section on children and anxiety.
3. Limit stress as much as possible in the evenings, and create a wind-down ritual that will help calm a child. Stress and anxiety are like water in a pot: the more you add, the easier it boils over. Reducing daytime stress can make bedtimes easier. Teach children focused breathing techniques to manage anxiety.
4. Try the assorted techniques listed in our sleep training & sleep solutions section.