Is fear of the dark stopping your toddler from settling to sleep?
A lot of parents find that at some stage, their toddler may start to feel afraid of the dark, perhaps ask for a light to be kept on overnight or even mention nightmares. This can be a tricky time for parents to navigate as you want to support your toddler emotionally without any negative impact on their sleep. Commonly, fear of the dark can impact sleep somewhere between the ages of 2-3 years plus and ties in with their little imaginations kicking in, as well as exposure to more grown up content around them (TV/playground) and the development of feeling fear itself and being able to verbalise how they feel.
If your toddler’s sleep is being affected because they are “scared” of the dark the most important thing to do is always validate their feelings. Fear is a useful emotion that helps trigger adrenaline to keep them safe. Emotional development is good, so although hard to see sleep take a tumble, it’s an excellent sign of developing themselves! You can implement the following useful tips;
- Try “I understand that you are feeling scared right now” or “I used to feel scared sometimes too”. Encourage openness and connection.
- Try to understand and connect but not make too much of a big deal about the actual “thing” they are worried about. E.G agreeing that there are monsters under the bed!
- Talk about the dark and how useful it is. Talk about what happens when the body is sleeping and how the dark helps with that.
- Play in the dark sometimes, in a positive way rather than making it a worrying experience.
- Offer to leave the door ajar, or a small nightlight on as they fall to sleep – remember to use a warm light rather than anything with a white/blue light as this will help with their sleep. Here are some good options;
- Take time to reassure your child but don’t remove them from their room or introduce any new habits that might become tricky to set right again as fear can quickly become a good reason for getting up in the night!
- Some toddlers respond really well to books so try introducing some new books at bedtime that may help. The following books are great!
As with everything in parenting and child development, remember that it’s a healthy stage that will pass. Stay consistent yet loving, reassuring yet strong. This stage shall pass within a few weeks to months and your toddler has developed a useful emotion at the end of it.