Once your child graduates from baby to toddler you may think your sleep problems are over, but a new nightly woe may be creeping below the bed. Literally, between around 2 and 6 years of age many children suddenly become afraid of the dark. This causes even the soundest of sleepers and most willing bedtime-going toddlers to become trouble-ridden and scared.
Why is my toddler suddenly afraid of the dark? Is it something I did?
It could be, but then it could not be. Many toddlers develop a fear of the dark simply as a result of their growing imaginations and memories. They can dream up more than a baby and have more information to feed that fantasy. Other toddlers find their fears in suggestion, such as a cartoon like Monsters Inc., or in innocent stories from adults. Other children become afraid of the dark after seeing scary movies or television shows that aren’t appropriate for their age range. Still others may pick up a fear of darkness from friends or siblings sharing their concerns with not being able to see at night. Why a toddler develops a fear could be from countless reasons. In this case, it’s better not to worry about something that’s already been done, but rather to work to fix it.
What can I do to help my toddler conquer their fear of the dark?
You want to offer reassurance and assistance, but avoid being so realistic you feed into the fear. You don’t want to make your toddler think the imaginary reasoning behind their freight is real.
What not to do to try to get rid of a fear of the dark:
-Don’t make light of your child’s fears or act like it’s a baby thing. Teasing your child, even if seems like a playful joke, will not help them overcome their fear of the dark. Don’t try to rationalize away their created issue.
-Don’t punish night-time waking or difficulty falling asleep due to a fear of the dark. You can’t discipline away fears.
-Don’t cuddle too much. For example, if you spend several hours each night sitting by your child’s bedside until they fall asleep, you’re over doing it. You’re giving your toddler a reason to believe their fears are real, because you seemingly feel they are.
What to do to get rid of a fear of the dark:
-Talk with your toddler about the dark, and do more listening than speaking. Let your child express what their concern is and work from there. Avoid telling or assuming as you may actually add new fears to the problem.
-Use what created the problem to fix the problem. Your child’s imagination is a powerful weapon against imaginary foes. Help your toddler find that weapon, whether it be a spray bottle of monster be-gone, an invisible sword, or a magic word of vanquishing. Find something that will make your toddler feel more powerful than his or her fear, and then let them defeat that fear. Make sure your toddler knows you will be there if needed, but don’t be your child’s protector.
-Consider a night light. Often a harmless dim light can solve a fear of the dark with the flick of a switch as most children outgrow this fear in time.
-Set an example. You can also read stories or watch cartoons featuring characters who are afraid but face that fear and prosper.
-Give gold stars. Be sure to reward even small steps towards successful defeat of fears.
You may also find helpful:
Nightmares and Night Terrors in Children: What Can You Do?